Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wave Nouveau and All That Jazz

Bernadette Adora

Jazz -- straight up and straight ahead, crisp – does a moment get any sweeter as fingers fly, hesitate, and continue to fly across the keyboard? Letters form into words that string into sentences to bring understanding, if only to my own mind while the melodic sounds of Charles Lloyd 1966 Monterey surrounds and lifts me away: Forest Flower – Sunset.

It was around 1960 when I fell in love with a genre of music known as jazz; a music that was cool, smooth yet undulating, my first triple entendre. As a child, my home was not unlike every other on the west side of Detroit -- filled with good smells, good flavors, and good sounds. Our music was most often heard coming from a large, wooden hi-fi that my parents bought and paid for “on-time” at Sears, Roebuck and Company. Whether gettin’ down or bemoanin’ life struggles with a broken heart thrown in for good measure, the music rippled through body and soul touching every nerve ending. But this “new” music awakened and touched my mind and imagination as well as my itty bitty soul; I was thirteen – a very young thirteen in today’s world. The family’s vinyl 78s and 45s said it all. And when the records were carefully placed back inside their paper wrapper, it was the AM radio that continued the Call along with the station’s griot, better known as the local deejay. Neat stacks of music by a variety of greats were kept close by: Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Duke Ellington, The Platters, Roy Hamilton, Earl Bostic, The Drifters, Clyde MacPhatter, Bill Doggett, Brook Benton, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and on and on.

A short walk onto 1962: it was a coffeehouse that Helen had heard about, we had to go! It was soon to be her sixteenth birthday, and she talked about it endlessly. I had read about such places being far away in the likes of New York City but yet there it was, in our town and full of promise in the guise of jazz! We were kids to the likes of those who hung out at such places, but we made up our minds and Helen gathered together a couple more of the girls – they agreed to join us if we could pull it off. Back when, there was the mom-factor, not quite like today. Permission had to be garnered and rides arranged. Miraculously, after phone calls galore, the moms agreed, and we were driven, collectively the night of the group’s gig, yeah, gig! And so we teenage girls spilled out of a huge family car with a mom behind the wheel that had pulled up to a building in a part of town unfamiliar to us all. Timidly, we walked together in a tight little group into a rather plain, unadorned building and stood quietly in a darkened room full of smoke and music. We four out-of-our-league young ladies were greeted and shown to a table by a smiling, if not patronizing waitress – patronizing worked for us that night; we were glad for it, believe me. And though the music was playing, I was lost; the place, so strange, so large, so dark, so full of grown folks unknown, I was completely overwhelmed. Focus Girl, focus – that much I knew to do. So, I focused on the drummer. I knew drums, drums were a good place to start and that’s where I started, and then as though on cue, the drummer looked up and gazed back, and then he smiled the smile of a big brother, a kind big brother, nodded and went back to the business at hand. It was then that a man holding a flute, bobbing his head up and down stepped up to the mike and began to blow a sound so completely familiar yet so absolutely new that my heart raced. He meant nothing to me; I didn’t know who he was at the time. For me right then, it was all about the flute and what came out and what the other musicians brought forth together and separately. We were listening to Herbie Mann and never since has a flute sounded so fine as it did at those precise minutes at the Minor Key in Detroit, Michigan that night.

The months that followed brought me back there again to witness musically what would enrich and influence me the whole of my life. And on uneventful schooldays, I went to the magical turntables at the public library on Woodward Avenue, a place where I would retreat by skipping classes just so I could listen to more of the same. There, I discovered the Modern Jazz Quartet, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and all varieties of cats and young lions that were on the scene. Summer came and went; college was only one year away, so I promised myself that I would have the personal freedoms that waited in the likes of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. There were enormous freedoms being marched and struggled for during that time, not only down south but up north; civil and human rights were continuously denied me and mine, this fact was not at all lost on me. Yet jazz, be it cool; Latin; Brazilian; or free – was for me like catching a wave through an escape hatch not unlike the one taken by Miss Alice where all things were possible – and the impossible were made real.

BA 04/09

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Splendid Journey

I wouldn’t trade one minute of my life’s twists and turns, shifts and sags, highs and lows – well, I wouldn’t trade one hour (I might trade a moment or two – or maybe tweak a few minutes here and there --- but not much more than that, mind you.) Sometimes early in the morning, just after the sun has come up, I’ll sit by my front window and stare out at the lake or simply settle back in my oversized chair with my feet propped up on my faded ottoman and look about the room in a place I call, “home” and think, “this is what I wanted as a little girl, she whose head was full of dreams forever spinning.” The little girl, who was told that rooms like mine, in a building like this, in a neighborhood like the one just outside my front door, was not meant for “us” – whoever “us” was, but of course, I always knew. Yet, there I'd sit, holding perfectly still, allowing my mind and eyes to work a light filled room that is my very own -- one little girl’s dream come true.

There are more times that I can count when I have joined with women, who I enjoy calling friends and sisters, to chat and laugh or maybe even cry over tea, over coffee, over glasses of red wine. Yet, I remember the bullying and running home from school from a group of wild headed girls so not to get my butt beat on some particular days after school when I inadvertently showed off. Of course, I didn’t know it was showing off at the time, but was reminded later in the day on my way home. I was a good runner, and it turns out, a pretty good fighter when I was in the thick of it, which always surprised me when pressed; I was a scrappy little thing.

Through the years, I’ve donned my share of evening gowns and designer jeans; today I gently pat the grey hairs into place with a knowing smile and sometimes a wink to “Her” looking back at me in the mirror. Fading photos have shown a less than secure, lovely young woman, who didn’t have a clue much of the time how much gold was in them there hills.

I balance a couple of accounts and pay bills every month while grumbling that there is not yet the amount I want for doing something daring and foolish (yet again), but there it is -- a tidy sum magically deposited and available each and every month for what I truly need, and yes, often, what I truly want. It was in the olden days, when as a young mother, I would sometime lay in bed with tears streaming down my cheeks, praying for just one -small- tidy sum while the tick of the clock beside me reminded me that is was late and morning was only an hour or two away, without knowing how in heaven’s name I was going to keep a roof over my baby’s head, which, of course, I did, just barely sometimes.

And now there are the overstuffed closets, shelves, drawers, and boxes that overflow so that "things" must be shared or discarded. As a small girl, I would leaf through old Vogue magazines at my grandmother’s while sitting cross-legged on her living room floor pouring through old issues thrown out by Mrs. Rosenthal; magazines and books that my grandmother brought home for us both to enjoy. Those old, worn pages were my first inkling that there was more out there to be gotten, riches even. I had thought so; the Saturday afternoon movies hinted as much, but those publications made it all so real and so possible, even for the imagination of my little me.

So now, I say, “thank you”, once again – but this time to the collective minds and talents of three marvelous and gifted women – writers all. We have a book, yes, a book to add to our journeys’ not yet worn-out-bustin-at-the-seams knapsack. You know! The one we were each given when first arrived through that narrow passageway into the here and now. It just keeps getting stronger and stronger for some of us. Heck! I’m living proof and testify as I step in between the spaces of the good, the best, and the better of my life’s journey. I am confident that there is only love left behind for much more of the same that is not too far up ahead, if only because I carry it in my heart and mind as I step in between and around the spaces of this splendid journey.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Space In Between

Bernadette Adora

It was always a difficult love relationship, the one between me and mother; we were just too much alike I suppose. Family, friends, and neighbors were patient with us, with me mostly. But my leaving town young to go to away to school; coming back only briefly; marrying the most unlikely of men; divorcing him soon afterwards when there seemed to be no cause; leaving again -- but for good, just broke everything into pieces. In time, I was seen by most as spoiled, an ingrate, and not worth discussing. PĂ©riode!

At age 79, mother had a massive stroke. She was in Detroit; I was in Chicago. Once I suspected something had gone terribly wrong, confirmed by neighbors, who had rushed in after my frantic calls, I arrived quickly and stayed with her in the hospital until the diagnosis made it painfully clear a couple weeks later. Doctors explained that neither time nor medicine was on mother’s side, could not be on her side. It was then that I turned with an aching heart, climbed into an ancient boat, and lovingly, yet fearfully, took hold of a rough, heavy oar and began to paddle mother safely to a destination I knew not. When I could, which was often enough, I permitted our little vessel to drift along on waves sometimes high and choppy, sometimes flat and calm, but always vast and troublesome. No one has written, at least not to my knowledge, that driftin’ on a sea of doubt and uncertainty becomes a most certain thing if only in the imagination where time stands still when hope is absent, particularly when it comes to the one you love; the one who gave you life; the one whose own life ebbs slowly away. Limbo, I grew to think, was a mean and unkind bitch!

Without a formal reference to that word, limbo, which I used often back then, I turned recently to Wikipedia, that eOmniscient place available to all seekers of the informational quick-fix. Far down in the text that defined, limbo, I located the following: “…any status where a person or project is held up, and nothing can be done until another action happens.” So with mother by my side, I drifted and paddled, paddled and drifted many a day, and when conditions forced me to take my hands off the oar, I reluctantly let go and tried to let God. I’m not good at giving up control -- not even to God, but I learned and God only knows, I have been the whole of my life, one slow learner.

Twenty-two months later, there we were, or there I was, on the floor in the emergency room where I had flung myself after screaming, “NO!” immediately following the abrupt silence of mother’s monitors as doctors frantically worked nearby – once again. I vaguely remember that a kindhearted nurse picked me up off that floor while gently dispensing words of support as the sharp tick of those same monitors started up again; I looked up and saw that mother was back. I like to think that I had called her back, and she had answered; she had returned. Our journey was not yet complete – nearly, but not quite. A mythical island was on the horizon, I could almost see it outlined through the mists that clouded my eyes as I was helped back to my feet and steadied - or were those tears that clouded my eyes as I regained my composure? One thing was plain at that precise moment; we were not yet to shore.

I acquired two friends at the university hospital that afternoon; each took turns looking after me. How they came to grace my life is not important at this telling. That they showed up on time and helped keep me safe as I tended to mother during her final weeks is what matters. One led me gently yet firmly out of the emergency room – if just to get me out of the doctors’ way, “You and your mother will be here for sometime, so you should get to know us” I was told with a kindness that never ceased to flow. Goodness flowed everyday, every night in our direction. It is amazing the angels that show themselves, when and where.

At the end of our tour, we stood at a place between buildings where the hospital and a medical center were joined by a huge overhang of decorative glass – an atrium type structure. It was explained at that moment: “This is what we here at the hospital refer to as, limbo.” “It is quiet and often empty. You should come here when you can to collect your thoughts.” And so it was that I was introduced to the place where I had dwelled emotionally for many, many months: Limbo. I looked around the elongated space, beautifully set with comfortable, plush furniture and nary a person in sight. This small space was positioned between two gigantic communities of health and welfare, added to which, was my growing faith. I had been escorted to a physical place that would allow respite during the last moments of my journey with mother. We had docked safely where, in hindsight, I was to disembark, slowly – day by day, so that mother could continue her journey alone; I was not to follow. So I sat in limbo, I sat at mother’s bedside, and I sat in limbo many times more – and I grew to understand, to accept, to finally let go, and incredibly, to let God.

Peace of mind during the most difficult stages of my grownup-being came forth during the quiet, in between moments of non-being. In the final day, I watched with grief as our ancient boat, its oar completely still, broke away from its mooring place and drifted slowly out of sight. I, who had become a mighty oarsman, was without a vessel and my dearest companion. Yet in its place, I had been given the gifts of love, wisdom, “angel” sighting, innate vision, and the ability to begin journeys of my own making - anew.
BA 02/09

Photo: Courtesy of Gretchen Gharrett