I grew up in the 60’ and 70’s. With a brother, sisters, a dog and 2 parents, the house was always busy. In the evening, mostly, we quieted down to watch TV. 1. Because we had color TV and that was a newish thing to have and 2. So my dad would have a peaceful evening after a long day at work. TV then was as mind numbing as it is now. In fact, after Games of Thrones tanked in the last episode I cancelled my cable subscription. Of the shows I watched back then I do remember the Brady Bunch, the Partridge Family, Streets of San Francisco (mainly for Carol Doda’s light bulbs), and a few other shows. But like today, nothing really grabbed me. Except the old shows. I really liked the black and white shows and the musicals. Danny Kaye: Walter Mitty = fav.
My mother had an upright piano, a Steinway, which I think came to the house in the early 70’s. Along with it were three or four songbooks packed with sheet music and lyrics for a select number of classic songs. Many, of which, we would sing together as a family around the campfire while on vacation. Many were the ones that I would hear on TV. I remember her playing the piano when I came home from school. She would finish a song or two then stop to make me a toasty slice of bread with peanut butter on it. I would change my clothes and we would go grocery shopping together. I would ask her to wait until I got home from school so that I could go with her because I like grocery stores so much. By the time we got back home she would put dinner on the stove and sometimes I would help with that too.
But there were some nights when, she had not had a chance to play during the day, she would sit at the piano and tickle the old ivories. I still remember getting up to close the bi-fold doors that separated the
TV room from the rest of the house. They did not block much of the sound but because I was younger I was badgered into having to get up to close them. It was probably rerun season because one evening I distinctly remember going through the doors, closing them behind me, and walking into the living room to see what she was doing. I was as tall as she was when she sat on the bench. I remember feeling this great sense of equality because of this. The kind where you do not need to ask permission to participate, you just do. So I did. I started singing along.
We would go on for about half an hour, maybe forty five minutes until it was my bedtime. She would play, I would sing. My dad would come out and join us for a bit most times. It was nice because none of my siblings seemed interested so, along with grocery shopping, it was something else that only I had with my mom. I remember when I would visit my grandmother in SF and we would ride the trolley cars out to Golden Gate Park, walk around the Japanese Tea Gardens, and visit the alligators, or crocodiles (??), at the Steinhart Aquarium. To this day I am still fascinated by the pendulum. I have heard the explanation a thousand times as to why it works but still cannot seem to fully grasp the concept. (It seems to me that it should only ever work the way it does on either of the earth’s axes.) But my really favorite part, besides just spending time with her, was sitting at the band shell listening to the orchestra playing. Music has always fascinated me. Can’t play it. Can’t sing it. All I really can do is tune a radio channel or bring up Spotify, Pandora or You Tube. Of course we do have the lovely Don Bassey, the charming Erin Bakke, and the remainder of the rough and ready Townhouse Ramblers that play every Monday night at Mark Reed’s Townhouse. If you ever feel the need to be soothed by both sangria and song, the Townhouse on Monday is the place to be. (I do not think that they actually serve sangria. I am just a slut for alliteration.)
My mother and grandmother are no longer with me. My brother, I believe, still has the Steinway. So at night I try to remember the songs she would play and bring them up on You Tube. Back in the 90’s, while I was attending culinary school, a dear friend took me to hear Dave Brubeck at a little club in SF. To be honest, I had no appreciation for jazz at the time. We sat up close and the quartet played. About 45 minutes into the set, something sounded familiar. Take 5. I did not know the name of the song at the time but I was thrilled to hear it live AND by Dave himself. There are days when I catch myself whistling the melody. The other day I decided to pull it up on You Tube and found an original recording from the 50’s. Jazz seemed so precise and unpredictable all at the same time back then. Next in line was Al Jarreau’s version of the same song. His rendition floored me. Complex yet simple and all with that Al Jarreau flair. Following up was Wynton Marsalis playing with Eric Clapton. My, what a good morning I was having. The blues. So much more . . . more. Anyway. I have attached the links to these three songs at the bottom so that you might finish your coffee and share a bit of what my mother, and grandmother, and I shared. Here we go, you and me, listening to the greats.
Until next time,
p.s. There is a great message for all of us Vallejoans at the end of Wynton’s video. Never mediocre
Dave Brubeck https://youtu.be/PHdU5sHigYQ
Al Jarreau https://youtu.be/hhq7fSrXn0c
Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton https://youtu.be/yhP6mPvd1lc