Joe Lovano (Jazz Standard 12.16.17)
I’ve never worked in a restaurant. Like at all. Never waited tables in college or hosted or bussed for extra money. My sister started as a server at a restaurant in Harrisonburg when she was studying and worked only briefly in a job that required her communications degree after graduation before going back to restaurants for good. She waited and managed in a famous all-day breakfast place in Phoenix before moving to New York to manage at Blue Smoke on 27th Street in Manhattan. Downstairs of Blue Smoke is one of best jazz clubs in the world; which is how I found myself standing, clad in all black, in a corner of the wait-staff station watching Joe Lovano on a Saturday night.
Earlier in the night I stood before a long rectangular table of servers and kitchen staff and answered questions. What is your guilty pleasure music? Taylor Swift, but I don’t feel all that guilty about it. What is your Game of Thrones house? Never seen it. Not once. Okay … what about your Hogwarts house? Slytherin, though I’ve been assigned to Ravenclaw too. That seemed to register approval.
I spent two hours downstairs in a new black button-down, black braided belt, black slacks, and gleaming black shoes sheepishly following hosts around as they seated hungry guests at tables. After the first thirty minutes or so I realized that perhaps that wasn’t quite what I was supposed to be doing, so I followed more sparsely and mostly stood behind the desk and squinted at the computer trying to figure out which table was eighteen and sixty two and twelve on the pixilated color by numbers floor plan.
A maitre d’ escorted me across the cavernous restaurant to the kitchen and left me at the corner of a table by the door; but not to close to the door, which swung open violently every eight or ten seconds stopping a couple inches short of my shoulder. The chefs shouted pick up into the buzzing servers. Picking up they’d shout and rush to stack plates and trays onto every flat surface they could make from their bodies and rushed to the dining room shoving the soles of their feet through the door with such force I was surprised it didn’t splinter. I stood, slackjawed and too nervous to move an inch in either direction, watching the (controlled?) chaos. Twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour. Finally I was tapped on the shoulder and escorted to the dining room.
The maitre d’ stuck me in the rear of dining room two, against a massive black column. In the shadow of the column, with the crew flying about, my black getup constituted a sort of camoflage. All the better. For nearly two hours I stood stock still and tried not to yawn. Finally I was dragged like a confused child down a narrow back staircase and into the dark silence of the Jazz Standard.
Joe Lovano is a sort of archetypal jazz musician. A sort of jazz charicature that leans as hard as possible into as many stereotypes about jazz musicians as he can possibly summon. He stood on stage about to begin the last tune in his first set wearing circular pinkish yellow tinted glasses with a beret on backwards and a tan and blue striped button down untucked. His bass player wore jeans, a t-shirt and blazer, and a fedora with a red feather and his pianist wore glasses, an oversized knit beanie, and a sort of two piece linin tunic. Then he put the mouthpiece against his bushee gray goatee and began to blow.
Lovano is a monstrous player and the squawks and honks and powerful streams of dissonance emmanating from his horn rattled the entire room under a sort of ordered chaos like that of dining room and kitchen unheard but immediately above. I had been standing still for almost six hours but for the first time since some point early in my stint in the kitchen, my knees didn’t feel rickety and stiff. I had been awkwardly out of place for six hours, but for the first time since I’d stepped out of the searing winter air I felt like I was standing in the right corner. My uniform melted into the shear black wall against which I stood as the light bounced off of Lovano’s pinkish yellow glasses reflecting like little suns and the bursts of wind against reed against brass splashed and cascaded through the silent audience.