When I was a kid, often after mass Sunday afternoons, dad would orchestrate a surprise ”Clean up party”! Basically it meant cleaning out the garage or some remote closet in the basement etc. If a friend came over to play, once they caught wind, they usually bolted, saying “mom is calling”. They knew they’d be sucked into dad’s relentless enthusiasm to “Get the job done!” ( I have to admit, I learned alot about tackling seemingly unpleasant tasks by both parents by turning it into a game.)
What’s notable about this (for the purpose of this story) is, “Clean up parties” were the only time I ever recall dad playing the stereo. He wanted to expose us to his love of Jazz. (Unbeknownst to him, the Verve label only served as a warning to get the hell out of dodge while you still can! The Verve record label became synonymous with ”deep cleaning”.) We could usually tell how long the job would take by the number of albums set aside to underscore the ritual.
I suspect Walt Disney endeared himself to parents everywhere by continually turning chores into a song and dance number!
Remember.. “Whistle While you work?
How about… “In very job there is to be done, there is an element of fun!? YOU Find the fun … and SNAP! The job’s a game.”
For my sister’s 12th birthday, it was her wish to go the Chicago Opera House to hear Duke Ellington and his orchestra. (This seemed a bit odd to me, particularly considering she had no desire to make music.) I could care less. I was just thrilled to go downtown and pass the giant Magikist Lips on the Eisenhower expressway. It was 1965. I was 8 years old.
The opera house was exciting. So many people letting loose with howls and applause in their evening clothes, when the Duke came onstage. (Back then people dressed to the nines for an evening like this.)
Afterwards we went to Mister Kelly’s to hear Ella Fitzgerald. (Not sure if this was part of the original plan or not. But back then there were so many venues with jazz every night, it was no big deal tot walk down Rush St. and see a number of headliners in the clubs.
The excitement in the air at both places was palpable to an 8 year old. However, it was getting late and I got tired and started whining about wanting to going home. I was told to listen to the music. But it frustrated me that, while the music was familiar, Ella’s words made no sense! (“Scatting” eluded me. Occasionally she sang songs from musicals, my first love. But she didn’t sound like Julie Andrews!).
I thought I was making headway with mom and dad, and we were finally going to leave when Duke Ellington showed up and sat in. The audience went nuts! We weren’t going anywhere! So what do you do to quiet a whining 8 year old?
Give her a Black Russian of course! Dad orders one and puts it in front of me, telling me to have a couple sips, be quiet and LISTEN TO THE MUSIC!
I thought it was coca cola. I took a sip and thought it was gross…at first. I must’ve have had a couple more. All I know is, I really started to dig the music and couldn’t care less about the about the lyrics! (I don’t ever recall seeing my dad drunk as a kid. This is a reflection of his love for Ella and Duke and his sense of history. My son recently admitted to snagging some Limoncello when we weren’t looking, at a restaurant in Positano when he was about 12. I thought it was odd that my dink seemed to vanish faster than I remember drinking it. In case you’re wondering, neither of us are big drinkers.)
Fast forward to high school.. Senior year..1975 (Damn… I’m really dating myself!)
When we could get a car, my girlfriends and I would get “dressed to the nines” and go down to Kelly’s . We rarely got carded. Besides, how many 18 year old girls are crashing jazz clubs?
I knew Count Basie’s music and looked forward to taking my GF’s. I had no idea what he looked like. Shortly before the show, I mistook him for the captain and asked for a table. He laughed. I was sooo embarrassed and apologetic when I learned he was “The Count”!
He couldn’t have been any sweeter and we visited briefly. I made him laugh. Probably because I was such a nerd! What a beautiful face he had…
Shortly after leaving, we ran into Telly Savalas on Rush street, wearing a long fur coat. He and his buds invited us back to his hotel for drinks. We declined. But not without me being a drunken fool and playing with his bald head.
I’m sure dad knew I wouldn’t like the drink. I didn’t. I still don’t. A white Russian would have been a whole other story! But it worked to get me to just chill and try to enjoy the moment.
He said, “Relax and enjoy the music. LISTEN and learn!”
I’ve been listening learning ever since…