30 July 2016

The Beans Do Blues Alley, or A Parenting Decision Done Right

“Did you get tix for Fri? With kids?”


We’d talked with friends about going to see Poncho Sanchez at Blues Alley.

Get online and get tickets tonight, I pushed at H. They’ll love it, I reminded him.

I was in bed, and he was downstairs doing some work. He texted me from the dining room. They weren’t cheap tickets. They weren’t astronomical, but because it’s a supper club, there’s a minimum spend on top of the tickets.

“I’m ok passing on it if you think it’s too much,” I texted back. I paused, then “They won’t have tons more chances to do these things with their grandmother tho. Part of the fun.”

His next text included the confirmation number. “These are the things we must sacrifice for. What will we sacrifice?”

“Lunch out tomorrow. Mine is packed already.” It had been Taco Tuesday, so that was a no-brainer to pack up. “Sprite the next 537 times No.2 asks for it.” Our little one has a Sprite obsession we’ve indulged a tad too much over this summer of summers.

“A waffle maker [winky emoji.]” I’ve been threatening - or rather promising - to look into getting a waffle iron to facilitate homemade Waffle Wednesdays. We can buy frozen.

The next ten texts were H checking out the rest of the Blues Alley’s schedule. Taj Mahal Trio at the end of September. Jody Watney mid-October.

“We need some samba for our boy,” I wrote. No.2 loves the beat. H kept going. Arturo Sandoval, the Cuban-American genius we saw at the Blue Note on our Manhattan honeymoon, then again, not 2 weeks later, when the tour swung through for a stop at Blues Alley. He’ll be there again in December.

H reported back: there’s a samba-bossa nova group playing on a Monday night in September. I got all responsible parent at that point. A Monday night is a school night, so no dice.

The next morning, we told our friend all five of us would see him Friday night at the club - with kids.

As the week progressed, we played You Tube videos for the Beans so they’d know the music a little. Hearing the rhythm, H and I got excited to see Poncho and his band play some true latin jazz - and jazz overall - standards. The Beans were excited about a night out. Because they hadn’t been to a supper club before, and had never heard jazz live, we tried to explain a little:

“It’s small, with tiny tables, and dark. They used to smoke in a club back in the day.”

“Eeew, that stinks!”

“Yeah, it did, but the clouds kind of added to the ambience - to the mystique.”

Even on the way there, driving the back roads through the suburbs and down into the city, I got all “mama’s teaching us again,” and played on their growing musical knowledge, asking them about improvisation, harmony, and - after a good 5 minutes of trying to remember the word - dissonance.

“I don’t know exactly what you’ll hear and see,” I tried to prepare them, “but I know you’ll like it. Pay attention to what you can observe.”

H and I have been going to Blues Alley shows together for close to 2 decades. We have an informal policy of not saying no to any “legendary” performer. H is still kicking himself for not going to a James Brown concert when he had the chance. He won’t even let us talk about it. So we go to concerts every chance we get: jazz, rock, classical, you name it. Our second date was to see the Roy Hargrove Sextet at Blues Alley. He took me as a surprise, telling me, when I asked what to wear, only that I needed to “look cool.” We’ve since seen the trumpeter again there, and countless others: Chucho Valdez, Maynard Ferguson, and the Ahmad Jamal Trio as they performed year after year on New Year’s Eve. We’d go just the two of us, or we’d take his mom with us. For those post-midnight NYE shows, we’d gather a group and go after a massive dinner.

When it got to the point that friends had expected years before, and 6 years into our relationship, he asked me to marry him, writing “Marry me?” on my back with his finger while we sat at one of those teeny Blues Alley tables right up against the brick wall. He pushed a little box across the table at me, and as the Caribbean Jazz Project played, he put a ring on my finger.

2 years later, we married, and another year after that, the Bean joined us. She grew into a dancing baby (Miss Joyce at the Amercian City Diner would play music just to get her to bop around in her high chair), and occasionally we’d leave her and later her brother to go for a show. All we could do as we enjoyed whichever concert it was - from jazz to KISS - was think, “We can’t wait to bring the Beans, they’d love this so much.” It was years, though, before we messed with our long-super-early bedtimes enough and venture taking them.

Finally, last night, the time was right. H held two tables against the back stairs for our two families as I parked and our friends made their way in. The Beans balked as I snapped them walking down the historic alley, and they rolled their eyes at their mama as I made them stand for a picture under the iconic marquee. Then they walked into the club with the confidence and maturity we’ve tried to give them. To the club’s and the other patron’s credit, they didn’t bat an eyelash at four kids under 10 (there was one other smart mama with her daughter).

The seven musicians came down the rickety stairs and waited right next to us to pile onto the also teeny stage. The little people turned, wide-eyed, and gaped as they realized Pancho was RIGHT THERE!, and jumped gleefully when they got a couple of high fives as the band passed.

If you don’t know “One Mint Julep,” you’re missing out. You’re missing out on a composition that, when you hear it, you have no choice but to sing along, despite its only lyric being a long “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey!” Little eyes went big, and shoulders and toes started to move. The music caught and held them, completely absorbed, until the raucous applause after the opening number.

Eventually, they found a place on the stairs above our heads, hands on the rails and faces peeking through the banister. Staff and other patrons went up and down next to them, and not a one said a word about kids not being safe or being in the way. That other mom found a spot on the landing with her younger-than-ours daughter on her lap. We heard solo after solo, and standards like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” later made famous by Mongo Santamaria. There was an as-yet-unrecorded new piece, and the saxophone player (a local DC guy) turned out to be a wind player, pulling out a flute for “Guaripumpe,” a salsa that, if you can sit still during it, you’re probably dead. Our budding flutist finally believed my year of telling her that jazz flute is some of the best flute.

It was late. It was loud. It was tight. It was chilly, then hot. Everyone had to pee at least twice, and no one really ate their dinner. No.2 curled up in my lap during that new piece, a gorgeous slow cha-cha. “I’m tired, Mama,” he said, and I put his blazer over his head, rocking him to the jazz lullaby. And then I turned to H, across that tiny table in the dark, tapped his shoulder, and gave him a huge smile.

“We did it,” I said. Knowing exactly what I meant, he raised his hand to mine. High five. The band finished that salsa number and walked back past us up the stairs. Our newly minted latin jazz fans got a bunch of high fives from the musicians. Then, as we filed out through the bar on our way to get ice cream, the bearded man in the black baseball cap gave stopped us. “High five,” he said, raising his hand to the three little palms. “You did great,” he said. “I’m so proud of you.” They grinned as if they’d been going to jazz shows their entire little lives.

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