I’m a laid-back, six-foot-tall, New Mexican-born, fairly well-spoken, decidedly spiritual, dark-skinned black male who lives blocks from the beach in the expensive beach town of Santa Monica, California. I am married to a tall, blonde, energetic and determined New York born actress/writer/singer.
I have included this data in my introduction to give you a better idea of the view from where I am sitting.
When you grow up as part of a socially and urban conscious family, you have no choice but to spend a good chunk of your time nosing around observing the world as you move through it.
The particular event that I would like to share with you began at 6pm, according to the information given to me by my wife, who excitedly broke the news to me that we would be going to a Christmas Party organized by a well-connected musician, teacher and singer with whom she had recently befriended.
My wife…a professional judge of character was impressed by the woman who hosted the party after meeting her and hearing her sing sometime earlier.
“She’s practically an LA Institution, we have to go!” she said she insisted she, knowing full well that she rarely excited me to go places where she was not only a stranger but probably the only black person in the room.
“That would be strange, considering that our host was not only a singer, but also a Jazz teacher and student,” he assured me. “We’re leaving… It’s really no big deal… be ready to go at 7 o’clock!”
My wife got home from work shortly after 6:00 p.m.
I was ready to go… He was comfortably dressed in a slightly wrinkled dress shirt, black slacks, and black sneakers.
She approved and quickly disappeared into the bedroom closing the door behind her.
After what seems like hours, my wife resurfaced… She looked perfect! Her hair, her makeup, her smile, her scent… perfection! She was decked out in a tight black Donna Karan dress, matching jewelry, and a matching coat (which she didn’t even know she had).
We arrived at the party shortly before 9 pm.
The festivities were in full swing. Some people came out of the house onto the steps and into the front yard of this small, but well kept postcard of a house.
We greet… We smile… We enter.
Huddled immediately inside was a collection of very interesting writers, actors, singers, musicians, and a handful of old geezers.
Obediently standing in my spot, my wife smiled and waved at everyone, deftly floating around the room with the confidence of Grace Kelly. Without conscious intention, I found myself counting the number of “African American” partygoers… Three, I counted. Three exactly.
Sitting closer to the door was a group of older, generously proportioned men; who have obviously known each other for quite some time. Wrinkled, Wrinkled and comfortable, these men sit surrounded by framed pictures, of pets, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and black-and-white reminders of life that existed somewhere, and sometime before they were captured by the obvious comforts of the life. .
A colorful and nostalgic collection of expensive overstuffed chairs, well-chosen wallpaper, rare autographed photos, music shows, classic portraits, stuffed animals, and a host of clever books, magazines, and albums.
Not wanting to fit in, I make a sad attempt to iron my shirt with my hand.
The owner, hostess of the party, sees us and greets us warmly.
She is a little dream. A missionary of music. She is the sovereign saint of Los Angeles scat…a loose mane of shoulder-length gray hair, falling swiftly to the shoulders of a well-preserved woman in her 60s, dressed in a formal white pantsuit, with a matching cardigan sweater. and high heels as she floats effortlessly around the living room.
While still in the room, my wife and her hostess exchanged compliments with each other, then introduced me.
“This is my husband. He is a writer and an artist…”
“Really, that’s great! Make yourself at home,” replied this charming and well-groomed woman, who shook my hand, smiled politely, and, as if given a signal offstage, quickly led my wife away. .
Apparently, he was alone.
I move cautiously around the living room when a rather large and heavy man sitting in a worn brown lazy boy chair suggested that I find a place to sit because “like parking downtown…the space available It was hard to find.” .Have the food and entertainment brought to you.”
Apparently this man had been sitting in the same place since the war and was unwilling to move unless and until nature made a demand.
I stop, locate a discreet seat in the corner of the room, and crawl over to it. Arriving at my destination, and before I could sit down…she (my wife), grabs my arm and pulls me into the heart of the party…The Kitchen.
The moody comfort of the front room opens up to a hive full of untamed energy food. There is food everywhere. Snack plates and snack cakes. Wine, ripple and rum dance on the same table as kool-aid and cola.
Chips, chocolates, and chicken dot every corner, leaving plenty of room for soups, sauces, and sundries.
Keeping pace with it all is our hostess. He holds the audience, answers questions, and finishes off topics with Ellington’s ease and Cole’s class.
There were, of course, more gigs to come… “This is Mr. So-and-so, he’s a bass player… This is Carolyn whatever, she’s been on tour with Missy Struggs.”
She flies through a variety of names, places, and careers that she knows I’ll never remember, and she knows I know she’ll never remember.
“Are you hungry? Go get something to eat… go get your plate.”
She is in her element. This is the kind of thing she was born to do.
As I dodge plates, pies, tortilla chips, and the occasional salsa drinker, I find the best spot in the entire house: the music room.
Suddenly I am overwhelmed by a familiar feeling of warmth and acceptance. He swaggers me toward the entrance of the room, where “My People,” these music-infused, melody-drenched, jazz-loving craftsmen improvised snippets of jazz standards that no one but the in-the-know would recognize. Yes, these are, My People! This party is going to be fine.
I sit back to enjoy the moment when a deep baritone voice resounds in my ear…
“Hey brother, do you want to hear some poetry?”
I turn to find myself face to face with… Black Guy #2.
“I write poetry. Do you want to hear something?”
“Sure why not.”
We found two stools near the music room, and just below the kitchen folly. He quickly explains to me that he only writes poetry when he is inspired by a woman and that every word is true. I sit bewildered, waiting to be promised. The beginning…
Switching between his upgraded, constantly rotating bites of small crackers and cake; runs through a litany of what turns out to be fairly well-written prose.
When he finishes, he looks at me as if waiting for applause, when I realize… hey, it looks familiar…
“Yes, are you a fan?”
Before I can think of a response, he blurts out…
“Man, you sure are dark… what country are you from?”
As if struck dumb by the force of the question, I was left speechless when I was rescued by the Fogy I’d met an hour before, as he shoved past me on his way to the bathroom.
I see my wife crossing the room at a breakneck pace, arm in arm with a new best friend; (laughing and whispering like two schoolgirls who just saw the cute new guy at a dance) and I make a sad attempt to get her attention, when she bumps into…
“Hello, I’m Black Guy #3, and you?”
He is a very elegant-looking older gentleman who wears a velvet two-piece suit, loafers, and a dusty gray fedora. He leans over me reaching for his hand-carved cane, leaning against the wall just behind me.
“How did you get in here?”
The three of us laughed out loud at his joke in a shared moment. She picks up her cane, wishes us well, and moves toward the open front door, finally disappearing into the night like a well-dressed buttermilk pie-induced vision of an elegant past and a somewhat terrifying future.
I see my wife again, plate and wallet in hand, heading towards the music room. She finds a place on the sofa, gets ready and begins to dance to the music.
As if on cue, #2 starts talking again.
He shares with me his thoughts on acting, art, teaching, women, fashion, music, reading, and what feels like an entire library of random thoughts and musings.
Finally, there comes a pause to relieve the stress on the action.
Our host entices my tormentor to try a bottle of wine that she feels he would enjoy…I immediately fall in love with her.
I take this moment to take a break. I look for my wife, but she has once again disappeared. So I sit in the doorway to the music room and stick my head out. There she is, sitting on a tattered black couch near the front of the room, staring in awe at the pianist’s fingerwork. I join her. She is foreign to me. Most of the musicians are gone now, but there are some very talented souls left who connect and spread joy through their mutual love of Jazz.
I take a moment to collect myself and absorb my surroundings.
Sitting on a large chest/coffee table in the front corner of this small room is an attractive, dark-haired, fashionably dressed young woman who sings slightly off-key and behind the beat.
She is surrounded by random piles of sheet music, exotic instruments, empty cups, glasses, and coats, and dirty dishes.
There are fantastic photos of Miles, Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and, for some strange reason, Johnny Carson on the walls.
In alphabetical order, and arranged on the shelves behind us, and just behind the drummer, is an incredible collection of what I assume to be rare and classic jazz albums.
Finally. I’m in my element.
The trio go through a wild and totally improvised journey of mixed melodies, scats and arrangements that invoke a sense of the creative history of this house.
We are family.
The pianist passes the solo to the drummer and the spell is broken.
My wife finally catches on and smiles at me, asking if I’m having fun. I review the events of the night… the conversations, the personalities, the food and, of course, the music.
I look at this perfect, well-dressed, smiling, blonde, and I say… “yeah, I’m having a great time.” She looks at me knowingly. “Anytime, you’re ready,” she whispers.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and feel that all is well in the universe.
“Look at all those jazz albums. He has one of the best collections I’ve ever seen,” I say bravely.
“Jazz… no, those belong to her husband. He hates Jazz.”
“Yes, it’s time to go.”