I’m sitting at the bar in a dive of a jazz joint somewhere just south of nowhere when a band that I know all too well finally decides to take the stage. A trumpeter, two trombonists, a drummer, bass player, and singer all manage to cram themselves onto the tiny space that has been set aside for the stage without having to maneuver or readjust too much. All in all it takes them maybe ten minutes to set up their gear which is pretty quick considering the fact that it’s well after midnight and they look like they might have had a drink or two too many. The entire band is dressed in 1930s garb—spats and dark suits for the guys, slinky dresses and old style starlet hairdos for the girls, which works perfectly for a be-bop jazz band no matter what year it might happen to be. After a quick sound check the dark haired lead singer, her dress clinging to her body like a second skin, throws me a wave and a wink before announcing that The Blue Notes are ready to play.
The house lights dim and a slow steady beat begins droning out from the bass in an adagio sort of tempo. The drummer kicks in on the bass drum with a steady marcato beat, her arms jumping up and down in an exaggerated emphasis of her playing. The lead singer begins to sway from side to side with the beat, smiling seductively out at her audience, drawing all of us into the pull of the music before the horn section suddenly explodes in a wall of sound and slams us all back into our seats.
The Blue Notes are up and jumping, setting the pace for the rest of the night. The band members slide and slink around the stage as they flow from song to song without even a brief break in between. The music is fast paced be-bop and swing and the audience is showing their appreciation by flying around the dance floor, laughing and enjoying an afterhours party that looks like it belongs several decades in the past. We all know each other, the local jazz scene is pretty small, and we’re all happy to be there, supporting our friends on stage and putting our real lives on hold for a night.
The band pauses for the first time of the night while they drag a guy from the audience on stage to sing a number. This gets everyone’s attention and we all lean forward expectantly. The horns dive into a sloppy and hollow sounding rendition of “Minnie the Moocher” while the new singer begins a Cab Calloway walk toward the mic. I cringe as I listen to a slowed down and poorly rehearsed version of one of my all time favorite songs. The beat keeps switching up without warning; the singer could make a deaf dog howl in pain with his off key warbling and poor timing. It is easily the lowest point of the evening, but the band plays on.
The band’s set jumps along with ups and downs in the music; a well played (if a bit odd sounding) cover of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” here, a poorly played but lively version of Louis Prima’s “Oh, Marie” there. Overall it’s a good set of tunes. The band might not have hit the mark on every one, but what they may have lacked in presentation was made up for in enthusiasm and enjoyment. Every song makes you want to get up and dance, every instrumental is a showcase of talent.
At the end of the night the lead singer sits on a stool and sings a slow soulful crooning of “Somewhere Beyond the Sea”. The melody is accompanied by a quiet bass and a softly drummed beat and as the tune floats through the air we all say our goodbyes. The lead singer belts out the ending with passion and wishes us all a goodnight before shuffling off the stage. As I wander out the door the last notes continue to echo in my mind.
It’s almost 4am by the time I pull out of the parking lot. The breaks on my bike squeak a little too loud and I swear a half hearted curse into the night. I remind myself that I have got to make time to get into the shop before I end up as a messy stain on the asphalt. It’s just another reminder that I shouldn’t have even been here tonight. I should have been at home using what little time I have in between a full load of classes and a full time job to study for tests that seem to pop up every time I turn around, but what good are deadlines if they can’t be ignored?
I glance around a few times before I notice the lead singer sitting on a bench, staring at me with an amused look on her face. The sequins on her dress seem to shimmer and dance in the bright glare of my bike’s headlight. I turn off the ignition and lean forward, appreciating the sight. Her eyes sparkle as she looks up at me and smiles. Without a word she stands and slinks toward me, a smile on her lips the whole time. When she gets to me she stares into my eyes as she slides her dress up her long legs and then slips onto the seat behind me before kissing the side of my neck.
“Well big boy, it’s about time, I was beginning to think that I was going to have to walk.”
“Babysnakes, I would never abandon you.”
She looks at me sideways before shaking her head and sliding her arms around my waist. I feel her head rest against my shoulder and a smile crosses my face. I kick the bike back to life and we race down the long road home.