Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Jazz Age

Mr. Peacock’s parents sometimes had their differences, but one thing they didn’t disagree on was their love of blues and jazz music. Most of my friends grew up with their parents listening to The Beatles (my older sisters played them though) or The Rolling Stones, not mine, they listened to the blues and jazz. I occasionally will hear a blues or jazz song and not know who the artist is, but I know the song because it’s buried in my brain somewhere from hearing it at a young age. Other kids' parents in my neighborhood would go square dancing or go to church potlucks when they went out socially, but not my mom and dad—they would frequently go to night clubs and private parties to hear the blues and jazz music.

I occasionally accompanied my parents, as a child, to hear live jazz, usually when my older sisters or a babysitter weren’t available—and always at a supper club type of venue. My mom would dress me up in a little suit, usually with a bow tie. She would instruct me before we got to the night club to be quite and sit still, and be polite if anyone spoke to me. My dad didn't like me chattering at the table, especially when the music was playing. My parents would order a fancy dinner and the dishes usually had some fancy monogram or logo on them. My mom would drink daiquiris, while my dad would drink dry martinis. I was allowed to order as many Batman or Shirley Temple cocktails as I wanted. The cocktail waitress would usually bring me an extra dish of maraschino cherries. I remember people (friends, golfing buddies or the band musicians) always coming over to our table to greet my parents and they usually would comment on how cute I looked in my outfit. It was very boring for me at the time to sit still and watch my parents talk and party with their jazz friends, while the bands and singers performed. I still have a problem sitting still and not talking for any extended amount of time—which drives my partner crazy, just as it did my father. I think it’s because I’m a Gemini.

My parents were a stylish couple. As a small child I remember thinking my mom looked like some glamorous movie star when she was dressed up. She’d usually wear a black cocktail dress with some very minimal diamond or pearl jewelry. She had (and still has) amazing porcelain skin and luxuriously thick dark hair and would only wear a little mascara and red lipstick for make-up. My dad would dress in his usual palette of black and gray.

One of my father's favorite blues/jazz performers was Dinah Washington, who tragically died at age 39, from an accidental overdose of diet pills. As a child I would sit on the floor next to my dad while he polished his alligator shoes—listening to Dinah Washington records. He had seen her perform live and owned many of her records.

My parents were friends with jazz clarinettist, Peanuts Hucko, and his wife, singer Louise Tobin (who had been a big band singer, previously married to big band legend, Harry James). My parents would frequently socialize and party with Peanuts and Louise at their jazz niteclub, The Navarre.

Here’s a clip of jazz legend Sarah Vaughn. I remember how excited my mother was when she met Miss Vaughn in the early 1970’s.

This clip is from the movie Lady Sings the Blues. My mother loved Billie Holiday and one of her favorite films was Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross—which was based on the life of Miss Holiday. My mom wore that record out, playing her favorite Billy song—Good Morning Heartache. She also had a huge crush on Billy Dee Williams.

Here’s the trailer form the recent documentary of one of my favorite jazz performers, Anita O’Day.

My parents had many fun stories about their night club and party experiences, but it didn’t interest me as a child or teenager hearing about old jazz musicians. I now wish I remembered (or had written down) some of those crazy jazz stories—the few I remember are to provocative to repeat here. I thank my parents for instilling in me at an early age a love of blues, jazz and live music.


D R E W said...

i can never sit still either. that's one reason why i knit!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Oh my goodness, what beautiful -- no, make that ABSOLUTELY STUNNING -- parents you have!

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