Earlier in the week, I took my constitutional around the neighborhood in shorts and a t-shirt. By Friday, I had to break out a parka and gloves. I enjoy a change of seasons but, in the Midwest, they can slam at you in a single day. What better way to warm yourself after a chilly surprise than with good company, old or new? I did both this weekend.
There is a jazz loving gang of four, into which I sometimes insert myself. Judy, Tavia, Mark and Ann take the jazz season at Orchestra Hall. Ann keeps me posted, and when there’s someone I’m keen to see, she is kind enough to secure me a ticket. Friday night, it was Ahmad Jamal, and nothing could keep me away.
Ann always meets me at the station to make sure I actually get wherever we’re going. This is, perhaps, unnecessary, but I confess I’m happy to see her waving at me, and I downshift to an anxiety-free gear once I spot her. We joined the others at Pain Quotidien where I had a little touch of Paris, a croque monsieur, a hearty sandwich perfect for a nippy evening. The scintillating quartet can be depended upon to keep me supplied, not only with laughter, but something harder to come by, informed conversation about jazz.
Ann and I had seen Ahmad Jamal before, but that was thirty or even forty years ago. To our absolute delight, he had lost nothing of his phenomenal dexterity on the keyboard. Nothing! So often, as an artist ages, reviewers will fib respectfully and tell you that “He (or she) never sounded better.” Kindly meant, but never true, except that this time, it was. The man is a marvel of delicacy, invention, surprise, and a hundred other things that you long for in a musician. He played uptempo numbers unfamiliar to me but welcome. He played old standards I wanted to hear, like “But not for Me,” and Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” He played a song I’d never really appreciated, “This is the Life,” from Golden Boy. He said it was a favorite of his, and by the time he was through, I could understand why. With the very first hints from the percussion that he was about to go into “Poinciana,” the packed house went wild.
The lady two rows ahead, and to my left, had, unfortunately, been going wild all evening. Determined to convince us she was the coolest cat in the house, she danced in her seat, conducted, jabbing her arms about, (quite precariously for those on either side of her), never letting up except to try to film the proceedings, despite repeated admonishments from an usher. She kept popping up in my peripheral vision like an online ad. Sometimes I just had to close my eyes. Would I have said something, had I been closer to her? Nope. She was built like Jabba the Hut. No matter, this was an evening to remember, and nothing and no one could spoil it.
Sunday night found me again in excellent company. My erstwhile editor, Karen, was celebrating a birthday with her husband, George, and her sister, Anne, in from Duluth. And me. They picked me up in a car I’ve always found packed with personality, their adorably old fashioned looking Nissan Cube. On a trip to Williamsburg, John and I rented a Cube and thoroughly enjoyed tooling around in it. This time, I sat in the back with Anne, who manages the neat trick of being simultaneously soothing and delightful.
Karen had chosen Glenwood Oaks, both because the food is quite good, and also that they offer a percentage discount based on the age of the birthday diner. I looked forward to making out like a bandit in my golden years, but the increased lifespans of Americans struck terror into the management of the Oaks, and a cap has recently been imposed.
In hopes of adding to the general merriment, I had purchased what was billed as “the world’s most annoying birthday card.” As it turned out, the annoyance was mostly my own. You open it up, and it starts singing, You close it, and it keeps on singing. Like the energizer bunny, it never stops. The only way to make it cease and desist is to rip it to shreds, whereupon a glittering mess of stars spills all over you. What I hadn’t counted on was the group of loudsters whooping it up at the next table. Karen opened the card, but its songbirds were reduced to a gentle murmur amid the din around us. She closed the card, and I almost had to point out that it was still singing. it was passed around and held up to ears. Finally, someone inquired, “When does it stop?” With a devilish grin, I replied, “It doesn’t.” George stuffed it into the envelope and gave it a few swats. “No, that won’t do, you have to rip it apart.” Anne took the card, and I braced for the shower of stars. To my eternal dismay, Anne proved to be almost pathologically tidy. Not a single star hit the table or anything else, as she neatly patted them all into the envelope. So much for mirth and merriment. The card, now in tatters, continued to sing away contentedly. George snatched it up and ripped its entrails out. The song continued. He raised his fist, and with a mighty bam, thumped it into oblivion. He has missed his calling.
After a fine meal, the waitress brought Karen a small, but delicious looking square of cake with a candle. Karen made a wish, blew out the candle, and as she was sung to once more, she consumed it, the whole thing, before our eyes. When I got home, I broke into the trick-or-treat candy and gobbled a Baby Ruth.