Mingus Big Band (Jazz Standard 01.08.18)
Three days into training at the Jazz Standard and I feel a little bit like a really terrible bodyguard. Wearing black shirt (with collar), black pants (or dark jeans) with black belt and black socks, and black shoes (that take a shine) and standing in corners. Following host staff with my hands folded over my belt buckle and watching from two or three feet away as they smile and nod at customers and direct them under warm orange lighting to the best seat they have available (there’s not a bad seat in the house, I promise).
A really terrible bodyguard. The sort that apologizes when an about-face puts him too close to a busy server and that slouches a little too much and whose eyes wander to the saxophones on the stage too often to be an effective deterrent.
My third day of training at the Jazz Standard falls on a Monday night. Monday night at the Jazz Standard is Mingus night. Mingus nights are usually pretty full. Lots of walk-ins. The bass player lugs his upright down the stairs early, bound in bungee cords and the padding and nylon of a comically large gig bag. The audience begins trickling in shortly thereafter. Men bundled in coats with trumpet or saxophone cases slung across their shoulders rush down the stairs closer to the downbeat. The pianist, apparently having snuck in during the bustle of seating, sits at the piano and warms her fingers on the keys.
The door swings closed at 7:40 as the bass player begins his familiar solo line and the pianist begins to jab chords over the gradual sizzling crescendo of the drummer’s ride cymbal. Within seconds, the saxophones and trombones climb into the mix and the band erupts into “Gunslinging Bird.”
A tall man with a blond ponytail sits outside the doors leaning against a table of Mingus buttons and CDs and T-shirts and tote bags and books. A girl walks up to him as staccato chords burst from the piano and frenetic angular melodies descend into a wash of brass, reeds, and percussion. Yeah, that’s her. Helen is fucking killing it tonight.