FIRE-UP FRIDAY – Coaches and teachers everywhere know what this day feels like. You just wrapped a long season and you have some breathing room to get your balance back. If you can’t get to your vacation spot fast enough or you decide to just do nothing, the first step is to identify the activities in your life that set you free.
Today I did a full day of tedious office work to stay on pace, but hit the gym for a lightweight workout. I visited my favorite tea shop. And in the evening, I found my new spot. Pure, live jazz and blues where artists do what they do. It started sort of like a good hoops run. Players and musicians drag their gear in, get it set up, and warm up the bones. If they’re really good, within a few trips up and down the court, the entire gym is alive and off in another world.
Pink feathers and hot words about love and passion decorated the walls in the women’s bathroom. A plastic fish bowl of NYC subway condoms sat on top of the toilet. A photo of President Obama and the first lady was on the wall. My friend and I bet that Obama frequented this 48-year-old joint during his tenure up the hill at Columbia University.
The animated cats were out and the travelers from other parts of NYC found their seats. The bartender wasn’t happy that I wasn’t drinking, so I asked for the menu. She said, “Food is free.” I looked over my shoulder and saw a pot of chicken and beans. Free music. Free food. The lounge’s owner, the youthful and gregarious Samuel Hargress, smiled the same smile that was in the photo of him behind the bar. He wore almost the same white hat, too. His love of Paris led him to open Paris Blues in Harlem over 40 years ago.
The guest singer, an Asian woman who sang better English than she spoke, said it was her first gig with the group from New Jersey. Dressed in an all-purple dress and hat, and with her blonde braids, she started off a little rusty then did all right. The band did what all great bands do – they make everyone look better than they would if they were all doing solos. The drummer was frizzy-haired, native New Yorker. He ran his hands through his frizzy gray-black hair and hammed it up with the groovy bass player, who hunkered down low, back row, center, almost as if he was sitting on a footstool. The piano player was a young guy from Italy. He crushed his set and as he was doing it, I thought of my grandmother, and how she played by ear. I wondered how long it took for them to be that good. I wished that I stuck with piano as a kid, and made a promise—like all those dads who watch their kids hoop—that my nephew would not make the same mistake. He’s only two-and-half, but little does Luke know that at four years old, we are taking piano lessons together. He will thank me when he’s in his 40s when he ‘s able to go to the bar and have the talent everyone else wants. (Then I thought, no, it’s not Luke. It’s his little sister, Reesie. She’s the one with the stronger hands. And their dad played piano for a good portion of his childhood, and again, my grandmother was brilliant. Plus the Holohans have great eye-hand. This is so great. Wait until I tell my sister the plan.)
I started to watch all of their skill and how they felt what the other player was doing, and the joy of being on the same page brought out the best in all of them. I asked my friend which instrument he thought was the hardest to play out of the four we saw. We both said trumpet. The trumpet player held a big tin coffee can and made a lap to collect tips. I supported the cause as did others.
The NCAA tournament games were on the one small TV in the joint, but no eyes were on it. We all had found a different escape. The next set started and the woman next to me was playing her own set of drums on the bar. I was tapping to an eight-count, wondering if anyone ever gets up and ballroom dances here. My friend was tapping and swaying and clapping it up for the band during timeouts. Just like the guys sweating and balling on the screen, they were the talent. Yet when talent is that good, they have a way of making everyone feel like they are part of the show.