I am laid-back, six foot tall, New Mexico born, fairly well spoken, decidedly spiritual, a dark-skinned black man living blocks from the beach in the overpriced seaside town of Santa Monica, California. I’m married to a tall, blonde, energetic, and hard-driving, New York-born Actress/Writer /Singer.
I’ve included these facts in my introduction so that you’d get a better picture of the view from where I sit.
When you grow up as part of socially aware, urbanely conscious family, you have no choice but to spend a fair amount of your time snoop watching the world as you move through it.
The particular event I’d like to share with you began at 6 pm, according to the information given to me by wife, who excitedly reported to me the news that we would be going to a Christmas Party thrown by a well-connected musician, teacher, and singer she had recently befriended.
My wife… a Professional judge of Character was impressed by the woman throwing the party after meeting her and listening to her sing sometime before.
“She’s practically a Los Angeles Institution, we have to go!” said insisted, knowing full well that I was rarely excited about gallivanting to places where I was not only a stranger but quite likely the only black person in the room.
“That would be strange, considering our host was not only a singer, but a teacher, and student of Jazz,” she assured me. “We’re going… It’s really no big deal… be ready to go by 7 o’clock sharp!”
My wife came home from work just after 6:00 pm.
I was ready to go… I was comfortably dressed in a slightly wrinkled dressed shirt, and black pants, and black sneakers.
She approved and quickly vanished into the bedroom closing the door behind her.
After what feels to be hours, my wife re-emerged… She looked perfect! Her hair, her makeup, her smile, her essence… perfection! She was decked in a fitted black Donna Karan dress, well-matched jewelry, and a matching wrap, (that I didn’t even know she owned).
We arrived at the party shortly before 9 pm.
The festivities were in full swing. A few people spilled out of the house onto the steps and front lawn of this small, but a well-kept postcard of a house.
We greeted… We smiled… We entered.
Huddled immediately inside was a collection of very interesting writers, actors, singers, musicians, and a smattering of old fogies.
While I stood dutifully in place, my wife smiled and greeted everyone, floating skillfully through the room with the confidence of Grace Kelly. Without conscious intent, I caught myself taking a count of the number of “African American,” party goers… Three, I counted. Three exactly.
Seated closest to the door was a group of older, generously proportioned men; who quite obviously have known each other for quite some time. Crumpled, Rumpled, and comfortable these men sit surrounded by framed images, of pets, grand, and great-grandchildren, and black and white reminders of the life that existed somewhere, and sometime before they’d been captured by the obvious comforts of life.
A colorful, and nostalgic collection of expensive overstuffed chairs, well-chosen wallpaper, rare autographed photos, music programs, classic portraits, stuffed animals, and a wealth of smartbooks, magazines, and albums.
Not wanting to fit in I make a sad attempt to hand-press my shirt.
We’re spotted and warmly greeted by the owner, hostess of the party.
She is a petite dream. A missionary of music. She’s LA’s sovereign saint of the scat… a flowing mane of salt-n-pepper shoulder length hair, falling quickly on the shoulders of a well-preserved woman in her 60’s, dressed in a formal white pantsuit, with a matching cardigan sweater and high heels as she floats effortlessly across the living room.
While still taking in the room, my wife & her hostess exchanged mutual flatterings, and then I’m introduced.
“This is my husband. He’s a Writer and Artist… “
“Really, that’s great! Make yourself at home,” replied this lovely, well-kept woman, who shook my hand, smiled politely, and as if given an offstage cue, quickly whisked my wife away.
I am apparently, was on my own.
I move cautiously around the living room when a rather large, stodgy man sitting in a worn, ass-brown colored, lazy-boy chair, suggested I find a place to sit because “like parking downtown… available space was hard to find. Make them bring the food, and entertainment to you.”
This man had apparently been sitting in the same place since the war and wasn’t about to move unless, and until nature made a demand.
I stop, locate an unobtrusive seat in the corner of the room, and shuffled my way across to it. Upon reaching my destination, and before I could sit… she (my wife), grabs me by the arm, and pushes me toward the heart of the party… The Kitchen.
The crabby comfort of the front room opens into a food-filled hive of untamed energy. 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, still leaving just enough room for soups, sauces, and sundries.
Keeping pace with all of it is our hostess. She holds court, answers questions, and tops off topics with the ease of Ellington, and the class of Cole.
There were, of course, more introductions to be made… “This is Mr. so-and-so, he’s a Bassist… This is Carolyn whats-her-face, she’s toured with Missy Struggs.”
She flies through an assortment of names, places, and careers that she knows I’m never going to remember, and knows that I know she’s never going to remember.
“Are you hungry? Go get something to eat… go grab yourself plate.”
She is in her element. This is the kind of thing she was born to do.
While dodging plates, feet, tortilla chips, and the occasional over sauced drinker, I find the best spot in the entire house… The Music Room.
Suddenly I feel overcome with a familiar sense of warmth and acceptance. I sashay my way towards the entrance of the room, where “My People”, these music-infused, tune-soaked, Jazz-loving artisans improvised smatterings of jazz standards no one but those in the know would recognize. Yes, these are, My People! This party is going to be alright.
I settle in to enjoy the moment when in my ear, a deep, baritone voice rumbles in…
“Hey Brotha’, 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 some?”
“Sure, why not.”
We find two stools near the music room, and just shy of the kitchen madness. He quickly explains to me that he only write poetry when inspired by a woman and that every word of it is true. I sit nonplussed, waiting to be engaged. He begins…
Switching between his smack enhanced and constantly rotating bites of petite crackers, and cake; he runs through a litany of what turns out to be pretty well-written prose.
When he finishes, he stares at me as if waiting for applause, when I realize… hey, he looks familiar…
“Aren’t you… ?”
“Yep, are you a fan?”
Before I could think of an answer, he blurts out…
“Man, you sure are dark… what country are you from?”
As if stricken dumb by the force of the question, I find myself at a complete loss for words when I’m rescued by the Fogey I’d met an hour earlier, as he pushes past on his way to the bathroom.
I spot my wife tooling through the room at a breakneck pace, locked arm-in-arm with a new best friend; ( giggling, and whispering like two school girls who’ve just spotted the cute new guy at a dance,) and make the sad attempt to catch her eye, when I’m bumped into by…
“Hi, I’m Black Guy #3, and you are?”
He’s a very smart-looking older gentleman, wearing a velvet two-piece suit, penny loafers, and a dusty grey Fedora. He leans over me reaching for his hand-carved walking cane, propped up on the wall just behind me.
“How did you get in here?”
All three of us laugh out loud at his joke in a shared moment. He collects his cane, wishes us well, and moves toward the open front door, finally disappearing into the night like a well-dressed, Buttermilk cake induced vision of a stylish past, and a somewhat frightening future.
Again I spot my wife heading – plate and purse in hand – into the music room. She finds a spot on the couch, arranges herself, and begin to bop along with the music.
As if on cue, #2 begins speaking again.
He shares with me his thoughts on acting, artistry, teaching, women, fashion, music, reading, and a what feels like an entire menagerie library of random thoughts, and musings.
Finally, there comes a stress relieving break in the action.
Our host entices my tormentor over to try a bottle of wine that she feels he’d enjoy… I immediately fall in love with her.
I take that moment to make a break for it. I look for my wife, but once again she has disappeared. So I sidle back to the music room door and poke my head in. There she is, sitting on a tattered black sofa near the front of the room, staring in awe of the pianist’s fingerwork. I join her. She is oblivious to me. Most of the musicians have gone by now, but there are a few very talented souls left connecting and spreading joy through their mutual love of Jazz.
I take a moment to gather myself and absorb my surroundings.
Seated on a large trunk/coffee table in the front corner of this small room, is an attractive, dark-haired, fashionably dressed young woman singing slightly off-key, and behind the beat.
She is surrounded by random stacks 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 odd reason Johnny Carson lining the walls.
Alphabetized, and organized the shelves behind in front of us, and just behind the drummer is an awesome collection of what I assume to be rare and classic Jazz albums.
Finally. I am in my element.
The trio rip through an unrestrained, fully improvised journey of mixed melodies, scats, and arrangements invoking a sense this home’s creative history.
We Are Family.
The pianist hands to solo to the drummer, and the spell is broken.
My wife finally notices and smiles at me, and asks if I’m having a good time? I rummage through the events of the evening… the conversations, the personalities, the food, and of course the music.
I look at this perfect, well dressed, smiling, blonde-haired person, and answer… “yes, I’m having a very good time.” She looks knowingly at me. “Anytime, you’re ready,” she whispers.
I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and feel as though all is right with the universe.
“Look at all those jazz albums. She has one the best collections I’ve ever seen,” I say boldly.
“Jazz… no, those belong to her husband. He hates Jazz.”
“Yep, Time to go.”