Grayness wraps everything in mystery-- curbed cars and littered sidewalks and old brick buildings, occasional pedestrians, cloaked, everything cloaked in shadow or blackness like a homeless hobo hidden in a hodgepodge of blankets and rags. It's a scary place, and I'm excited.
I'm just another chick singer who finished a short gig with not enough songs. So I am still keyed-up. I want--need --to sing more. And to not care about an audience. I feel like a pent-up teenage boy. Something inside has to get out.
A flickering neon sign tempts with a wiggly runway blue "Jazz," shaped like a sax. It's a walk-up bar, where you step down a short flight of dirty stairs you do not want to revisit in the light of day.
A garbage can sits at the top of the stairs, like a sleeping club bouncer, near the open rusting steel stair gate, inviting nocturnal creatures into the basement. It's a late night downtown ritual that lures insomniacs and alcoholics and nostalgic artists into a graveyard time shift.
Inside the club, the long, old bar, just as you'd expect-- wooden and once elegant, an opulent glass back bar with the army of shapely bottles. A central casting drunk at the end with a few too many empty whiskey shot glasses. And two turned-on lovers, oblivious to the world beyond the reach of each others' responsive bodies.
This dark, dingy little dive bar hasn't been redecorated since the leatherette 60s. And it feels great. It may not have a public restroom you want to languish in, but this is a cozy place that has inspired a lot of great music over time. You can feel it.
You can't actually smell cigarettes, so much as feel their sticky memory, from decades of nicotine tar on wallpaper and wood and naugehide and linoleum and vintage upholstery. Just a whisper of tobacco from the vestibule where young hipsters have been taking quick hits during set breaks.
The old-timer male bartender has seen it all.
"Music's over. Blues tomorrow," he growls formally, setting the black paper napkin down, then the oaky chardonnay after I order.
There is no sports tv to spoil the wa. The bartender turns off the stereo, and there's a spastic eruption of "Rhapsody in Blue" from the other side of the room where a male silhouette sits behind an acoustic baby grand. Likely the house band's keyboardist chilling post-gig. Or a bar regular who appreciates good live music in an age of recorded electronic rhythm with sound effects.
He takes a bluesy pass through "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "My Man's Gone Now' from Porgy and Bess.
"Mmmm, Gershwin," I purr.
"Singer?" bartender asks. I nod apologetically, knowing I am never mistaken as a "real" musician.
"Another singer," he grunts toward the piano. The pianist ignores the interruption, plays on. Improvising. And increasingly more slowly. Even more slowly. And slower, until the tempo leaves huge, ripe chasms for imagination.
"I like a man who goes slow," I tease from the bar, wondering if he can even hear or appreciate the frisque double entendre.
"Dear," he pauses..."I am a man full of innuendos."
It's my dream, undeniably seeded and nourished over half a century of Hollywood films. Admittedly, so derivative of The Fabulous Baker Boys, that I often see Jeff Bridges behind my piano. One of the most popular films of the 80s, it remains in my personal Top 5. Time Magazine's critic said the film creates "a gently dislocating noirish mood - not quite menacing but not exactly comfortable either."
And I want to sit-in there.
I don't want to sing in Carnegie Hall. I don't want to sing at the Newport Jazz Festival. I want to sing where the ghosts come out.
Anyone who works in the legit theatre knows about these ghosts. You can smell and feel the juicy, creative things that artists of the past made --and leave behind--in these special work and play spaces. This stuff, this mood, this energy, this magic hangs around like that old smoke that's long past.
Contemporary musicians working in the Beatles' Abbey Road studio unanimously report "the feeling" there.
It lives in the white space, especially round midnight.