Flashback! The year, 1960.or ’61. The sound, jazz. The feel, beatnik wanna be. The setting, a dingy nightclub under railroad tracks in run down industrial city.
It was the T Club. I had one or two friends who I could easily convince to come along with me. In order to get there, I had to get my Mother’s car. That required some white lies, which I could easily justify to myself. If I had told Mom the truth, she’d never would say yes. She probably would think I’d lost my mind.
It was a summer thing. About once a week. Head up a very long and dark flight of stairs to the closed-door at the top of the stairs. Enter the dark and smoky T Club. Take a seat at a small table near the stage. Order cocktail(s). No id’s required. Smoke ciggies. Feel very devil-may-care. Look around to see if my current crush might be there. Rarely, but one could hope. Zone out to the sound of jazz. Look cool. Feel cool. We didn’t call ourselves beatniks, but we were under the influence for sure.
It was so dark no one could even see if we were cool, although I have my doubts that we caused any kind of stir. Mainly, we were young. So young. Jazz seemed to be a fitting soundtrack to my life. A little edgy, but not dangerous in any real sense. Just Alive! The strong rhythm pulsating through the music that required attention be paid. Sometimes sensual, leading to daydreams of romantic encounters. It was the time of life when your life could change daily, when promise of romance hung in the air, and when little seemed impossible, although life was pretty limited in knowledge of what might or might not be possible! Just venturing out to this club felt like going into No Man’s Land in terms of the culture I came from. Think Something’s Coming from West Side Story. I still believe the lead of Tony was woefully miscast for the film, but the lyrics tell the story and captured the feelings perfectly.
It all came back to me last night when we went to hear a friend play in a local brewery. The scene was very different this time around. Nothing “undergoundish” or subversive about it. If anything, there was an air of CA beach town wholesomeness about it. The jazz sounds were similar, but the denizens of the brewery were decades younger than I, often with children in tow. They didn’t seem particularly interested in what the musicians were sharing which told me that they were there to hang out and felt no need to pretend to be interested in the music or to “make the scene.” Times change. I still enjoyed it, more or less shutting out the bright surroundings and understanding the expectation and excitement felt decades ago when listening to jazz in a smoky club would not make a return appearance.
My first exposure to live jazz was when I and my future wife saw Charles Lloyd, Kieth Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette performing at Earl Warren Showgrounds in 1967 after the release of their hit Forest Flower. They were co-billed with Buffalo Springfield of all things. Our love of jazz really began in ’69 when we heard “Swiss Movement” by Les McCann, Eddie Harris and others, followed closely by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s “Country Preacher” live, with that crazy Austrian phenom Joe Zawinul. Shortly after that began a long series of concerts at smokey clubs and bigger venues in LA and SF where my wife and I saw most of the greats of the era including the aforementioned and Roland Kirk, Cal Tjader, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, Herb Ellis, Jim Hall and so many more. We weren’t looking for romance, which we already had, but we heard and experienced close up some of the greatest music ever. Our experiences as teens were “limited” to blues, rock and folk at local SB clubs and coffeehouses like the Establishment, on Milpas St. (John Fahey and a great local group called Alexander’s Timeless Bloozband among others), Borsodi’s and Beaudelaire’s, the Spigot, the Headband and more. We even played some of the clubs in our rock/blues band. Oh, nostalgia… Swiss Movement and Country Preacher are still among our favorite recordings, and if you love jazz, check them out.
Thanks, for bringing back those memories, Dianne!
Used to go to NYC in the 50′ and early 60’s to spend a few days going to the Five Spot, Half Note, Vanguard, and end up early morning at the Metropole to listen to great Jazz
You hit the high spots, for sure! Those were great years for jazz.
Love reading these
Love this, I remember sneaking down to The Ballad Man and being caught by my parent’s as they were driving by!
Oh no! My parents never figured this ploy out, although I always feared they would.