Monday, December 14, 2009

Kansas City Jazz Revisited

My niece, Janette, visiting from San Francisco, wanted to listen to Kansas City jazz so I found us tickets to Diverse, an up and coming jazz group playing a one night gig at the Record Bar on Westport Road.

Janette, herself, is an accomplished pianist and music lover while I am, at best, a very reluctant jazz lover. I am tone deaf. I can't carry a tune. I am a piano and guitar lesson flunkie. And I am a lover of Elvis Presley, doowop, The Platters and ABBA. My late husband, Felix, on the other hand, loved jazz and took it upon himself to lure me away from what he considered to be my pedestrian taste and educate me on the finer points of jazz music. "I know all about jazz." I used to say. "I wrote a paper on Tin Pan Alley and the History of Jazz in high school." "That's not learning it." He insisted. "You have to feel the music and let it speak to your soul." He would say. And so it was that I allowed him to drag me to jazz concerts, (the likes of Count Basie even) and to jazz festival pub crawls when we were healthy enough to withstand second hand smoke and to the French Quarter in New Orleans and jazz clubs in Chicago. He had me listen to musicians like Pete Fountain, Charlie Parker, Al Hirt and others. Felix thoroughly loved live jazz while I, on the other hand, struggled to listen to instrument improvisations that go on for several minutes at a time, hoping it would speak to my soul. Jazz lovers don't care that in a two hour concert, the band may have played only eight compositions. Elvis and The Platters can speak to my soul in three minutes. Needless to say, jazz and I were not on the same page, my taste being limited to Dixie and Dave Brubeck. Ask me about jazz and Watermelon Man comes to mind. Because my husband loved it, I tried to be friends with it, sometimes even allowing myself to enjoy musicians like Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

Back to Diverse. Diverse was the last jazz band I took Felix to. We were invited to listen to them in the home of one of the Friends of Jazz Club in January this year. Surprisingly I liked them, so I invited Janette and her parents who were not jazz fans themselves to this one night show.

Diverse has a sound that is young, eclectic and fun. Members of the band have won awards and played with well known bands. Young (early twenties, two of them still in college at the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music) but extremely talented, all the band members compose and create most of tunes they play. Ryan Lee plays drums; Ben Leifer is on bass; William Sanders plays tenor sax, John Brewer plays piano and rhodes and Hermon Mehari is on trumpet. Some Bobby Watson sound is noticeable in their compositions, not surprising since they have him for a mentor. I thought I heard some Charlie Parker influence as well but what do I know. Nonetheless, what I liked about them is that they made jazz enjoyable to people like me with their playful syncopations, the different styles that seem to come together just right and the sheer mastery of their instrument. And they seemed to be having fun doing it.

No, I am sorry to say, they still did not speak to my soul like Elvis or ABBA would have.

Find out more about Diverse at Diversejazz, listen to their sound, buy their CD and when they are rich and famous, remember, you heard it first from me. The Record Bar is at 1020 Westport Rd, Kansas City, MO.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Lesson in Grieving

Last night I had a very Freudian dream. It seems I had enrolled in pilot school. My husband, Felix, who passed away a few months ago and I drove to the airport for the lessons. He waited in the car while I went in. I went into the airplane which also had a store and bought what seemed to be a pilot bag. There was an announcement on the loud speaker that all students should now be on the plane which was leaving in five minutes. Suddenly I panicked and said I couldn't go. I had to get off the plane because Felix was waiting and needed a ride home. Then a voice which was both Felix' and an awake part of me said, "It is all right. I am dead. I do not need a ride. I am already home." Before I could decide, the plane took off with me in it. The plane was crowded. There was a big buffet with lots of food. A server saw my puzzled look and said it was all right. They always did this as thanksgiving and proceeded to serve me. Meanwhile, a fire had started in the back of the plane and the loud speaker once again blurted that it was now the job of the students to land the plane safely. And we did.

It has always amazed me how insights abound if we just pay attention. Felix loved airplanes and dreamed of flying one. He loved watching airplanes take off and land. He enjoyed seeing airplane fuselage frames on rail cars at the train yard. He believed that when planes are being built it meant that people had jobs.

Many a time, I still forget that Felix is no longer here and for a moment I think he is at work or somewhere or that I need to pick him up. Even as I pursue activities that are now truly my own, there is that momentary lapse of thinking that I am still part of a couple.

I have started the daunting task of redecorating the house which needed much repair. Felix resisted repainting our bedroom which was a manly hunter green because he was sure I would paint it a sissy pastel color. That is exactly what I did. The bedroom is now a very pastel sage green, very sissy and very happy.

I have also committed to a two year yoga study, something I have always wanted to do but did not have time for. One rigorous exercise is to study and learn from my dreams. That is how I remembered this dream and in remembering, found comfort in its meaning.

The process of grieving is a slow and sometimes tricky thing. I am still sad that he is not here. I also enjoy being alone and coming into my own, which, of course comes with great ambivalence precisely because I am not sad. I suppose it is why I had this permission dream. Looking back at the forty three years, I am sure we had hard times and fights and resentments but so generous is the heart that it filters the mind to only recall the good times. And so it is that I can remember and smile.


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