How to listen to jazz, or, the first time I did.

Not that I could touch them, but the thickness of these albums was palpable: Not as thick as the Victrola platters seen in antique stores in their ripped fabric covered cabinets, but heavier than the 33s that preceded cassettes. These were my very early exposures to music, along with my sisters’ trombone, banjo, guitar, clarinet, glockenspiel. My father trumpeted with the think system, and it made me think that’s how I would make music too. I understood that it was no small miracle that we had these sounds to entertain and enrich us, and I knew when I grew up that I would join the army band. Or play Sally Bowles in Cabaret. I certainly didn’t plan on teaching people to sell internet service. I digress.

Frank Sinatra didn’t play in the background (like Elvis did in some households we visited), he was reserved for special occasions – not holidays, but random days when my mother exuded a special lightness and let her (super short hair) metaphorically down. Her favorite was “Lady is a tramp” and I delighted in every syllable, looking for clues to the power this music held over my mother. It seemed the lyrics, more than the jazzy beat, where her joy came from: “She doesn’t bother with people she hates, that’s why the lady is a tramp.” Yep. That’s mom.

The string of safety-pins ever present on mom’s cotton house-dress (“so the baby doesn’t get them”) would be missing on those Sinatra days. The floors, meticulous and gleaming as the light of the approaching cocktail hour bounced off of them, the statuesque, deaf cat she rescued off a busy highway divider basking in the sunbeam like the sphinx.

My father’s office was Madmen meets Sanford and Son, and his heavily made-up secretary babysat me after school one day and played a new kind of music that we didn’t hear around our house: Jazz.  When  mom came to pick me up, she said “what in the hell is that you’re listening to?” and I somehow got it in my noggin that jazz was the devils music. I was eight.

We would wait around for dad with special eagerness on Sinatra days, with cheese and crackers and a Schlitz.  I’m not sure ‘ol blue eyes’ made it to the Chapel Hill house-we had the albums in their bound book of brown papery sleeves but no stereo that I can recall. Talk radio was ramping up with revitalized popularity, and Bernice loved it.


I’m delighted to be transported back to those days when I hear the jazzy stylings of Audra Mariel and friends, soloists in their own right, who combine to create an eclectic set of tunes to tap your toes to or even rekindle a rusty romance (this will be easier if you bring a friend). Check her schedule here. If you’re feeling that we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket, a night of Audra is the cure.15401368964_91a9d4b5f7_b-audra