Jazz Tales

I got into The High School for Performing and Visual Arts in 1992 as a trumpet player. I sort of made a mistake in choosing four academic classes and three performing groups.HSPVA Old Logo I was in the wind ensemble, the symphony, and Jazz II, the preparatory band for the one that won all the awards. I got my chance to audition for Jazz I, and I blew it. In hindsight, I could have won had I not been exhausted, because my embouchure was never right. I could only play for about an hour before my face started sliding down into my neck…. and because I was in three performing groups, I never had the time to back off and correct it. Plus, the audition was after school, where I’d already played for three hours.

When I was good, though, I was on fire. I wouldn’t have gotten into a performing arts magnet if I wasn’t. An audition is one slice in time, and it determines the big picture- the entire school year, possibly the entire time at said school altogether.

I am comforted by the fact that professional musicians don’t have it any easier. It’s just as common to blow a huge audition as it is a small one. The thing that made me the most angry is not that I didn’t win. It’s who did… a girl who straight up bullied me from the first day to the last. For some reason, she didn’t have a horn at one point, and my dad thought he could make it better by lending her his. It did not work. For some inane reason, a group of kids in my English class called themselves a family, and said bully said I was the dog. She barked at me every day, and this is just one example out of many.

I have a really, really long fuse… but after a year and a half of this, I backed this girl up to the balcony on the second floor and grabbed her. I wasn’t strong enough to throw her over, but she didn’t know that. I said, “this is going to stop. Right now. My family has been kind to you and every day, you still treat me like shit. That IS OVER.” Unsurprisingly, it didn’t stop the bullying altogether, but it helped. At least when she wasn’t bullying me, she had the good sense to give me the silent treatment. In retrospect, I can think of several good reasons why she was my high school bully, but that isn’t my story to tell. I will only say she was fighting a battle I couldn’t see and didn’t feel the need. Her sob story would have provided context, but not an excuse for the way she behaved. I wasn’t interested.

I was also outed to the entire school and my parents simultaneously, thanks to my counselor “being concerned” and calling them. The entire school came first- someone posted a flyer with a picture of me saying I was a “dangerous lesbian” or some crap like that….. which led to one of the percussionists holding up Playboy centerfolds where only the trumpet section could see them. I don’t exactly remember how long this went on, but I learned early to stick to my guns. If you weren’t bothered, they got bored. It all came to a head when I was sitting out on the lawn, eating my lunch, and the evangelical Christians came outside (link is to a PDF), carrying their Bibles, and read me all the clobber passages they could find. (As an aside, “clobber passages” is code for all the verses that Biblical literalists take at face value and think that the Bible is condemning homosexuality, when in reality, they’ve missed the point entirely.) I ran to my counselor and told her what happened, and she said, “well, what did you do to provoke them?” With that group, all you had to do was exist.

During that time, though, I got to hear some of the greatest jazz minds in Houston, and have now graduated to the international stage. Times like these are what made it all worth it… stars such as Robert Glasper, Eric Harland, and Jason Moran. I am very lucky that I have gotten to see all of them in concert, two here in DC (Glasper & Moran). Robert Glasper played The Reach, and Jason Moran played a small theater inside the “KenCen.”

The Glasper concert was crazy in a good way. So many hip-hop fans, with lights,IMG_0026 sound, and special guest Yasiin Bey. I managed to get an okay picture of them, because I was in the balcony and had to use optical zoom to get their faces. In case you are not familiar with either of them, Robert is at the piano and Yasiin is standing on the left.

After the concert, I wanted to joke with Yasiin that he was my favorite alien (because I for damn sure wasn’t going to tell the Ford Prefect he was my second favorite). By the time I made it to the crowds of people surrounding Robert, he was already gone. I did get to tell Robert that he’d sat behind me in history at HSPVA, and that was enough. It was literally the most fun I’d had in ages. Because I was a high school friend, I got more hugs than everyone else. 🙂

Jason’s concert in a small venue was something I couldn’t say was fun as in raves. It was fun like the way spelunkers explore a cave. There were just levels upon levels of mind-blowing musical figures, something he’s been able to do since high school and has just upped his game more and more over time. I got to talk to Jason afterwards, but more on that later.

The concert shook me to my core. It was music I wouldn’t, couldn’t forget. It was centered around the 20th anniversary of “Black Stars,” with The Bandwagon and Sam Rivers. The intro was a documentary about the making of the album, and then they played it live. Sam Rivers is now dead, so they brought in another player that was so reminiscent of his sound that when I closed my eyes, he was right there.Black Stars

I left the concert shell-shocked. The frenetic music was playing in my mind, and instead of going home, I walked down the steps from the Kennedy Center and out onto the path on Rock Creek Parkway. I meandered to the Lincoln Memorial, then just kept on going. It must have taken me three or four miles before I even considered finding a Metro station. The entire time, I was trying to think of a way to turn Jason’s music into words, and I still don’t have them. I suppose the best I can come up with is “you just had to be there.” I’m listening to the album right now, and nothing will ever be as transcendent as the live show (of course). The piano gave me a brain race that I don’t experience unless I am listening to jazz that’s hard to understand on the first pass. And by that, I do not mean that the music is inaccessible to non-jazz fans… only that I was analyzing it from top to bottom, trying to put together the theory behind it. Music theory has never been my strong point, but I made a barely-educated effort.

As for talking to Jason, as soon as I said my name, recognition hit him. He said, “how long has it been?” I told him that with the exception of Facebook, probably 20 years, maybe longer. I asked him about his family, and told him about writing to “Ten” for over a year. He honored me by turning around and telling his bandmates, “hey! She wrote to “Ten” for a year!” I asked him about his commute, because he lives in Manhattan and is also The Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz. He said it wasn’t bad, and I was so glad to hear it, because it meant more Moran concerts in my future. He told me that in the spring he was going to do a Duke Ellington series. I said, “you are a brave, brave man.” We both got tickled, and it was so much fun to share something that really made him laugh.

For the uninitiated, Duke Ellington grew up here. His first job was selling peanuts for the Washington Senators.senators

To announce an Ellington series for his home town crowd could only take someone of Jason’s caliber. The crowd would trust him to play Ellington well, and if I know Jason at all, I know there will be some of his own ideas- paying tribute to Ellington in the most sincere way possible, but jazz is meant to evolve over time. All jazz players influence each other, and the music moves forward…. but it’s not just jazz. Jason listens to and remembers all kinds of artists. I remember from an article a distinct Björk phase……….

My only wish is that I could have seen the big picture with my little freshman mind. I got to be “raised” by the best- master classes with Clark Terry and Wynton Marsalis, and literally the best jazz director most musicians will ever experience. Dr. Robert Morgan is internationally known for being the teacher of some of the greats.

And also me.

U Street

I never want to forget this day.

My dad read my last blog post, about how I’d wanted a signed copy of Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History from the International Spy Museum, and how disappointed I was that they were sold out, and how I’d searched the Internet for a copy and couldn’t find one, etc. Maybe everything IS bigger in Texas, because when he searched for a copy, he found one. It is on its way to my house right now. Because of the cover, I think it’s an early edition, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity. For the record, though, it was not $20, and does not come with a coffee mug. I do not need the Argo coffee mug. I know this because I saw it at the Spy Museum and it only holds eight ounces of coffee. So, while cool, utterly useless to me. The screenshot of the signed copy of the book and the words “deliver date” made me cry so hard that my dad couldn’t even understand me on the phone. Just unintelligible sobs of “it’s not even my birthday.” I was going to meet Lindsay for dinner, so I was crying as I got into my Uber and retold the story to the whole carpool, and then they were crying, too. The driver, a big teddy bear of a guy, wiped off a tear and said, “that’s just what daddies do.”

Then, we switched subjects. He said, “so, you’re going to the Metro station?” I nodded and he said, “then you’re going to my day job. I sell them the rail cars.” I got really excited telling him how much I loved the new ones with the better signage and the electronic voices that are loud and clear, rather than muffled and/or give no fucks. Then he puts his Metro access pass on the dash and drives me RIGHT UP to the entrance. I think he was showing off, and it worked. I was very impressed.

Lindsay and I grabbed some ceviche for dinner and frozen yogurt for desert. Then, we went back to her hotel and watched Shark Tank. I left around 9:30 and started walking toward the Dupont Circle Metro, realized I was going  the wrong way pretty quickly, and proceeded not to care. I just walked. It was a tiny bit rainy- Portland spitting- and perfectly comfortable outside. The street lights shone and music spilled into the streets. I stopped for a drink at a bar with an AMAZING jazz band that I wanted to hear- the trumpet player being the main draw, of course, but the entire house was packed. I couldn’t find a seat anywhere, so I just left without buying anything…. although would have taken the trumpet and run if I could’ve- it was a Monette, unlacquered, with a sound as viscous as motor oil. Even on fast licks, one note oozed into the other, a brass Southern drawl. I don’t know the name of the band, or even where the club is. I was just out walking, and happened to pass it. It’s a true testament to a local band when there are no tickets being sold, it’s just a regular Wednesday, and the house is packed. I would have waited for a table if I thought there was a chance in hell that anyone was leaving.

Eventually, I made it to the U Street/African American War Memorial/Cardozo Metro on the Yellow Line, and made my way to Ft. Totten, where I transferred to Red. The train was delayed for quite a while pulling into the station, so I sat somewhere between Takoma Park and Silver Spring playing Solitaire on my phone. By the time we actually arrived, my bus had stopped for the evening, so I Ubered back home.

I walked upstairs to the sound of a movie in Arabic, obviously coming from Abdel’s room because he’s the only one on my side of the house that speaks it (the layout is that the homeowners have one side of the house and the renters have the other, with separate kitchens, bathrooms, etc.). Though Hayat speaks Arabic as well, I don’t know if Lebanon and Morocco have the same dialect. My friend Anthony says that if I’m going to learn Arabic, learn the Lebanese dialect first, not because it’s the easiest, but the most beautiful.

I believe him. Listening to Hayat on the phone is one of my favorite pastimes. She knows I’m not eavesdropping, I’m listening to the lilt of her voice. I felt the same way about Nasim, whose Persian phone calls reminded me of Tehran. Literally every time she started speaking, Cleared Iranian Airspace would start playing in my head. It was apt, as her own escape from Tehran is much worse than being rescued by Tony Mendez.

We’ve lost touch, but that is the book I was going to write before Nasim moved to New York, and unfortunately hasn’t been back since.

Tony’s book will have to do.

Pop

My Facebook status today:

I just got the best news I’ve gotten all day. I was supposed to be back in the kitchen at 1300. My kitchen manager just called and said, “could we change it to 1500?” Umm, yes. Yes we can. I worked from 9:00 AM until 11:00 PM yesterday without a break as the dishwasher- don’t feel sorry for me. I got line cook pay for all of it. But *not* having to be back so soon is a hug from Jesus. I might actually have time to write something. Life is beautiful and I love everything and everyone right now. God, I love my job, but it’s been years since I worked a double and 40 is so different from 28.

I don’t mean to complain in the slightest, because I am so lucky to be doing the work I want to do. But at the same time, I am constantly in pain, as well as perpetually exhausted. I thought I was going to have the day off today, but I was called in rather last minute. I only get one day off this week, though the rest are short shifts (relatively- mostly 5:00p to midnight or 6:00p until 9:00, though I often have extra hours added on those nights because we’re too busy to get all the cleaning done that needs to keep our kitchen up to code. I mean, I keep my station clean as I go, but stations need to be broken down and deep cleaned before I can really be satisfied with leaving. And the kitchen manager would rather pay me to get those things done than have me walk out and leave everyone else to do it).

Although today I am really not sure how busy we will be. Memorial Day is a toss-up, because we have a huge outdoor beer garden, but it’s supposed to rain. Also, on Memorial Day, people tend to grill outside in their own backyards. I have a feeling that most of what I will be doing is prep for the rest of the week, as well as stepping up to the line during an inevitable pop.

I had such an internal satisfaction in being the dishwasher yesterday, because I was so diligent about keeping up with the dishes that it only took 44 minutes to close down the kitchen. That’s the thing I love most about working in the kitchen- it’s all about self-esteem for a job well done, and I don’t need any external validation that it went well. Kudos are amazing, but never necessary. Also, because salaries are higher in this area, I’m basically $0.50 away from making as much as I did in IT. Like I said, I’m sending out resumes to places I think are interesting, but it feels good to be in a place where I’m not desperate to get out of the kitchen because it doesn’t pay the bills.

I just hope that I don’t get called in on my day off tomorrow, because Pri Diddy and I made plans for brunch at one of my favorite places, Teaism. If I do, though, it won’t be until the afternoon, so I don’t think I’ll have to cancel. I purposefully get together with friends in the morning because I never know what my schedule will be like. It’s hard not to be able to respond to messages until late night/early morning, but so far, my friends don’t seem to mind. I just always hope that they can sleep through their phone dinging…..

But I also hope they notice that I am happy, and that’s the best part. I get a place where, again, internal satisfaction is high, and I can relax with a beer or a soda at the end of the night with people I genuinely like. Heads up that we have Mexican style cola on draft. It is so crazy good that it’s officially on my Chef’s Game last meal. I don’t drink it too often, though, because club soda is still my favorite.

It reminds me of being 14 and visiting jazz clubs when I was too young to drink, yet still wanted to look sophisticated. One of the things I’ve lost in my many moves that I regret to the ends of the earth is that in one of those visits, I brought my Arban book (the Holy Grail of trumpet educational exercises) and Dizzy Gillespie signed it. He said, “man… I haven’t seen one of these in years.” It was just one of the highlights of my short career as a jazz trumpet player, and by “career” I mean high school.

And on that “high note,” I think I’ll actually take a shower while I still have enough energy to get in. Hot water and soap sounds delicious because last night, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in my clothes (double yuck). Believe me, I think you all want me to take a shower, because I’m betting you can smell me from there.