Jazz Greats and Giants

To appreciate jazz, you have to give yourself over to it. Let it absorb into you.

Parker was the yardbird, an intellectual who could chirp high and glide close to the ground. Thelonius Monk was abrupt, dramatic, poetic and deliberate. Monk's Dream is my favourite bedtime story. Later, Miles Davis flirted with improvisation and guided it with instinctual harmony. He reminds me of a downhill skier in the alps. Bill Evans played the piano as if dipping a toe in a still, blue lake in spring. Coltrane could morph from manic cat to prowling jaguar. If you listen carefully, you can hear his thoughts. Dizzy Gillespie was a saucy punk and legend of succinct complexity. Chambers was like a blue whale; strong and gently creating his own current. 

These greats speak to us through their instruments. They are eloquent in their chosen language of jazz. The instruments are characters and the sounds are actions, plot points, exclamations. Imagery comes easily. If it's good jazz, it tells a story. It is a pleasure to listen to and to decipher. The story appears when you pay attention.

When I am 9 minutes into Kind of Blue, I sink into the story. 

The notes evoke a sequin dress, tight against the curves of a woman, who sparkles in the dark. It is nighttime in New York. Light on her feet, the piano dances with the crowd on tippy toes. The spotlight shines towards the bar. The mood slows and the sax signals tribulation. As she dances, she rips apart the heart of the scotch drinker, watching from the bar, from under the brim of his hat. We imagine him watching her, grimacing from heartache. Is this Freddy Freeloader?

The rhythm change announces a change of scene and now she's walking home and it's nearly daylight. She's tired. The horn comes in again. He's following her, begging her to stay longer. He pleads long and loud. She lists the ways he has disappointed her. The sax is her voice. She slurs some of her words. She is frustrated. A person interjects and tries to calm her from making a scene. It's too early in the morning for this fighting in the street. She tells them to shove off and continues berating Freddy. After a long explanation, she walks away, leaving him behind. She walks slowly, her dress catching the first ray of daylight. The piano is the sun peaking through the stout buildings. He laments his loss, and watches her disappear. 

Mex I Can

I feel like for my entire childhood, my mother was in the kitchen.

When we got home at four, we dropped our knapsacks at the door and plopped down on the couch, brain dead from a long day at school.  This was before remote controls, so one of us would squat with our face two inches from the screen and turn the dial while the other would whine, " No, go back! That one". Mom didn't interfere or take sides. She let us sort it out, but we both knew she was she was there, in the kitchen, listening.

Most days, Mom would bring us an after school snack. It was usually 'soldiers' (a peanut butter and jam sandwich cut into four long rectangles) or cheese and crackers. She probably put cucumber and carrot sticks on the plate too...but I don't remember. 

When we spread out our books and paper on the dining room table, Mom was cooking dinner in the next room. We would holler our questions and she would holler back answers. If we called her ("mmmaaaaaaaam"), she would leave her cooking and come help. 

Dinner was difficult for Mom. My sister liked cheese and hot dogs and was pretty fussy. I was a self-declared vegetarian from the age of seven, and my dad was the pickiest. I don't remember watching him eat. I remember my mom having small portions. I remember sitting across from my sister and making faces. The big square table where we sat down to dinner was too big to kick my sister under the table (though I'm sure we tried). 

If we had food left on our pates, Mom would divide the plate and tell us to choose a side and eat it. If we still couldn't, Dad would tell us we were not allowed any cereal or snacks later and that if we were hungry, we would have to finish our plate. 

When we had finished, it was custom (and required of us) to say, " Thank you for the lovely meal. May I please be excused?". We said it every night for my entire childhood and into my teens. 

In high school, Mom worked, so we got home before her. We'd drop our knapsacks with a thud and plop in front of the TV. She would get home, take off her coat and march on ahead to the kitchen. I remember being upset that she didn't take off her shoes when she got home. It never occurred to me she was in a hurry because she was racing against the clock of hungry growing hormonal teens.  It never occurred to me to get dinner started. I would look in the fridge and there would be "nothing to eat" and she'd open it up, spend an hour cooking/pulling rabbits out of hats and would always offer us a (healthy and satisfying) feast. 

Towards the end of high school, I would sit on the barstool at the end of the kitchen counter and watch her cook. 

When we had eaten everything on our plates and were ready to leave the table, we would thank our mom for dinner - often in unison. 

Now, in my 30s, I live alone. I work during the day and when I get home I'm exhausted. But what do I do? I march on ahead to the kitchen with my shoes still on and dive into making dinner.  

Cooking for one is hard. It's hard to tell yourself you are special enough to fuss over. But you are. I am.

I have been craving Mexican. I can't eat onions, garlic, wheat tortillas, beans or dairy, so you can imagine making Mexican seem authentic and satisfying is a challenge. But I did it. 

Because of Mama.

She taught me that it is possible to whip something up from nothing if you're got the right momentum, vision and chutzpah. 




I did go to cooking school. Cooking school taught me the rules and techniques. Mama taught me how to love to cook, how to show others you care by cooking for them, how feeding people creates a deep bond, and that sharing food can be the greatest gift given or received.