An Old Black Man Someday (A Call For Peace)

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There is so much to say.  And I have been largely silent on the subject, in this social media playground.  Because others are more articulate.  The world is full of articulate polemics on the subject.  An entire movement – Black Lives Matter – has been necessitated.  This strange epidemic.   It is.  An epidemic.  And for much of the world, it is somewhat of an abstract.  But think of someone’s son.  Someone’s father.  Someone’s brother.  Think of them as children growing up.   Think of where (and why) we have turned a very wrong corner, after ALL of the vital work of the civil rights movement, of history! and the enlightenment of men that has continually tried to be fostered and fought for.

I added the following stanza to a song I wrote 15 years ago, because there is a new dynamic now:

In matters global to familial, my solemn heart doth daily pray;
Let not endangered be the old black man someday.

Endangered.  Think of that word.   That threat.   That awesome haunt of prophecy.

In the wake of this epidemic that seems to be our nation’s startling reality, my 15-year-old song rings now with a sobering irony.  It was originally written about my brother Mike, spun from, and into, a pastoral, nostalgic, childhood idyllic.

Today it chills.

I feel so strange about this offering, because as artists we always want to reflect the times, but what this reflects hurts me to my core.  I have three brothers in total, all young men still.  I just want them to live to be old men someday.  That they happen to be black . . .

 
 

An Old Black Man Someday

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

The Slow Club (The Song Series)

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The anecdote that begins this piece is one I’ve told before, time and time again actually, but for the sake of this song series I can’t possibly not include it.

It’s my mystical moment in this life.   If we only get one, then this is it.

The very first song I ever wrote, The Slow Club, which ultimately became the title cut of my debut jazz CD, is about a nightclub in Paris.  At the time I wrote it, a young thing, I’d never been to the city of lights.  A few years after writing it and performing it around town, I was singing it at an L.A. supper club one evening, and a woman came up to me afterwards. This was the exchange:

 

“I enjoyed your song very much.  It made me think back with the fondest of memories of my days at the Slow Club.”

“I’m sorry, I think you’re thinking of a different club … this song is fiction.  But thank you for the compliment.”

“Oh, no.  The Slow Club in Paris, France, oui?”

“I … really don’t mean to press, but I swear to you I made it up.  I’m a storyteller.  And I just sort of have this fixation for Paris.  

“And I am telling you, mademoiselle, that I’ve been to this place you sing about.   On the Rue du Rivoli, right down the way from the Louvre.  I would say that is some pretty powerful  fixation.”

 

My jaw was officially dropped, as I continued singing this song around town, told this story, and relished in my, and my song’s, spooky allure, even though I wasn’t completely convinced that this total stranger wasn’t merely having her fun with me.  Until I finally did make it to the city of my dreams for the first time ever, and looked up the Slow Club in my tourist guide book (this was before the internet was at everyone’s fingertips for instant information).  And there it was, with a Rue du Rivoli address, as promised.

The first chance I got, I went to this place that I thought had been conjured in my head.   But the mind-freak did not stop there.  As I walked in, every single detail I describe in the lyric of the song was personified before my very eyes, from the winding staircase that takes one down into it below street level, to the smoking, blue ambiance that invited secret rendezvous on those stairs.

I promptly ordered a sloe gin (not a great-tasting cocktail, but mentioned in my lyric so I had to participate), grinned from ear to ecstatic ear at the marvels of  life, the marvels of my life, and concluded that I must’ve been that Slow Club chanteuse in another lifetime, simply recalling pockets of memory from a long-dormant nether-plane.

Now, as to whether an actual spiritual reincarnation is the explanation, or merely a mischievous flight of fancy, it was that singular experience that began my journey as a musician and a writer, carrying with me at all times the mysterious wonders that art simply begets.

I’ve had people suggest to me, upon hearing the story, that perhaps I had heard of the Slow Club, forgotten that I’d heard of it, and that it had lodged itself in my subconscious, and came up when I was ready for it.  Of course that’s possible, and I also do know how difficult it can be for people to suspend belief, to take leaps of fanciful fate.  Except that I know it did not come to me in that way.  Because the way it DID come to me is very clear in my memory.   The movie Blue Velvet, a film whose story takes place somewhere in the Midwest, features a dive called the Slow Club at which the character Dorothy Valens sings.   First off, I was 26 years old when I first saw this movie, and had just been initiated into my very first cinematic experience of heavy symbolism, metaphor, and creepy yet compelling depiction of life.  Not your garden-variety crime story – at least up that point in 1986.   I was blown away by the movie and its uneasy humor, but that’s an article for another day.  I was mesmerized by this nightclub in the movie, and fancied myself as the femme fatale Dorothy Valens.  Except that in my micro-managing fantasy, this alter-reality HAD to take place in Paris not the Midwest, for god’s sake.  There was romance and allure to Paris.  Not so much Lumberton USA.  My head lived in the Parisian clouds for just about that whole decade, praying that someday I would get there.  But yes, Blue Velvet is where I got the idea for my own Slow Club.  Not anything subconscious bubbling up, but a markedly conscious agenda to realize a noir reverie through song.

Imagine, then, my shock and awe to discover the very real place right there in the 1st Arrondissement.

Besides the Blue Velvet / Dorothy Valens fantasy as the engine for my song, there was also the fact at the time (around 1985-86) I had begun immersing myself in jazz.  An early hint of what would become a lifelong love had been given to me in teenhood, when my older sister (not even a musician!) made me listen to the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Lonnie Liston Smith, and I was hooked, even if I couldn’t make heads or tails of what exactly I was listening to.  And by the time I was in my mid-twenties, a string of boyfriends, all musicians, had been instrumental in introducing me to every facet of jazz, from the virtuoso bass playing of the Jaco’s and the Stanley Clarke’s, to the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian movements, to the progressive natures of Miles and Coltrane and Jarrett and McCoy Tyner, to the ridiculous vocalise prowess of singers like Eddie Jefferson and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, to all the new fusion guys, Metheny, Zawinul, McLaughlin, Corea, ad nauseum, as there’s no shortage of jazz movements and pioneers. I became as entranced by this challenging music as I had been by Parisian-chanteuse daydreams.  So when it came time to attempt my own songwriting, and all I was armed with were the years of piano lessons in childhood, I played around on the keyboard until I found luscious cluster chords that I recognized from the harmonic vocabulary I was being saturated with, but didn’t know how to name, or even how to use in the proper theoretic way.  I knew basic triads, and some bluesy 7ths.   But when it came to flat nines and sharp elevens and Lydian dominants, blah, blah, blah, I was so out of my league.  But I just kept playing around and discovering, and got the mentorship of the many musicians I was gigging with.  And it was a genuine renaissance in my life at that time as an artist, and finding my way, my legs, and eventually my own voice as a songwriter.  When I finally came up for air, The Slow Club  was composed.

The first years of singing the song around town, doing the cabaret and jazz circuits in L.A., it was a brushes-on-the-snare-variety jazz ballad.  And before the recording that is featured here came to fruition, the song saw several incarnations.  I stuck it in my one-woman show The Purple Sleep Café, where it was segued to, from a scene where a rather disastrous audition takes place, and the message of the piece being the importance of staying true as an artist.  And a singer friend who was on the same cabaret circuit as me, and loved the song and asked if he could include it in his repertoire, had a complete orchestral arrangement done of it (an arrangement I never got to hear, as he had taken his show with him to Vegas).

And then, as the years passed, and it was finally time to consider my own jazz album of originals (I’d amassed several by that point, which I’d sung around town for years), my own tastes had shifted somewhat, and I started to hear the song with a different feel.  The jazz fusion genre was enjoying yet another emergence after having been originally established in the 1960’s, and the half-time-shuffle (a rhythmic feel that was starting to be labeled hip hop, as it was used extensively in hip hop music) was a prevalent feel in a lot of what was being called jazz funk.  I liked the feel, thought it might work well with The Slow Club, which still kept the song a ballad, but now with a little hump to it; the kind that screams out for a muted trumpet.  So, by the time I was assembling the latest incarnation of players for my ongoing jazz project (circa 2003 by this point), in the form of pianist Ed Czach, bassist Jonathan Pintoff, and drummer Craig Pilo, this was the way we were playing the tune.  The only change that the composition saw, once I’d switched rhythmic gears, was that I’d added bookends of a minor chord riff into this major-chord piece.   With the addition of trumpeter Ron King, doing his muted thing, we recorded the song live in a church, and The Slow Club was from that moment forth and forever documented.

It not only became the title of the album, but eventually, by the time we had a second album as a trio, the ensemble was named The Slow Club Quartet.   Friends teased me about the band name.  Craig Pilo, the drummer in the group and our resident comedian, would often refer to us as The Very Slow Club Quartet.  But the ribbing was fine, perfectly take-able, because my own history with the song as my very first composition (my cherry-buster), and the mystical magical story that went with it, was all I needed to hold onto, to know that we couldn’t possibly have called ourselves anything else.  Not if I was helming the group.

Please enjoy The Slow Club.

 

Click here to listen on Bandcamp

 

 

 

There’s an old club in Paris on the bluer side of town
It hails on the back street underground
The lady there she sings a sad song – the jazzmen live to blow
They make a kind of music we all know – so
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Don’t move too fast, cuz I’m in no hurry
I’d rather take it at a Paris pace
The dark behind the neon which blinks a rhythmic tune
Rather hypnotizes every face – so
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Listen to those brushes fondle that old drum head
Feel mister bass man snatch your soul
Watch those piano fingers bleed into the keys
As the jazz men swing it low

o many moody face – secret meetings on the stair
“S’en allez avec moi – nous ferons la cour – mon coeur”
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Listen to those brushes fondle that old drum head
Feel mister bass man snatch your soul
Watch those piano fingers bleed into the keys
As the jazz men swing it low

It rather hypnotizes and it makes my old heart sting
When I listen to that slow club lady sing
With her slow dance and her sloe gin
You will see her make a friend of all the men
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
The neon reads forever “come on in”

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.