Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kicking It Old School

It could have been an evening from another era.

Beginning at Garnett's for dinner, our foursome wrapped itself around the end of the bar for dinner.

The low-key Garnett's vibe belies the pleasing little wine list and on a cool June night, it feels like a place my parents could have frequented.

All around us couples are having dinner while '50s music plays and people eat simple, affordable food.

I kept it basic with Gabriele Rausse Vin de Gris and the farmer's salad of romaine, apple, cheddar, bacon and creamy sesame dressing.

No doubt it would have seemed like a very exotic salad back when that lunch counter was first built into that space.

Tonight it just seemed like a classic trifecta of flavors.

The four of us ate and chatted about the oddest assortment of things: a former dance club in the Bottom, the importance of an audience and revisiting old haunts.

As two of the group prepared to leave, two more friends came in for wine and dessert, conveniently the course we were about to enjoy ourselves.

Yellow cake with strawberry filling and strawberry frosting did the trick while listening to their travel plans.

Sure, in 1957 you could do Europe on $5 a day (and there was a guidebook to prove it) but these days the cost is a tad higher, as my friends are discovering.

Their company was an unexpected treat and when we all said goodnight, two of us made our way to Balliceaux.

The RVA Big Band was in full swing but we managed to score a booth in between songs.

It was the best seat I've ever had for the big band, ideal for hearing the huge sound ("a sea of sound," a companion noted) of seventeen instruments.

Most songs aren't introduced, but one melody was immediately recognizable. I just couldn't place it.

From what I was sure was a standard, the bandleader went on to say, "I'm going to introduce this one," as they segued into "The Jazz Police," the bass player switching to an electric.

The variety is always part of the appeal.

From the vantage point of the booth, we had a sweeping view of the room and the crowd seems to grow steadily larger every time I'm there.

There was a definite look to tonight's crowd; the women especially were looking very stylish, some almost retro in backless and strapless dresses.

Dare I say "Mad Men"-like?

Despite the enhanced wardrobe, the prevailing beverage of choice in the room for both musicians and patrons was cans of PBR.

I have to appreciate a room that caters to a big band-loving, can-swilling crowd.

A couple came over and asked f they could sit in the other side of our booth and we invited them in.

He could tell she wasn't enjoying herself and when he finally said, "We'll listen to just one more," she rolled her eyes and responded, "Whatever you want."

But then a funny thing happened. She started getting into it and when he picked up his phone to leave, she shook her head no.

A convert had been made to Team RVA Big Band.

During the break, I set off to find out what the name of the song I'd recognized was.

I asked a sax player who had no idea what he'd just played.

I moved on to a second sax player. He, too, was clueless, even after shuffling through the music on his stand.

Alright, boys, if you can't help me, step out of the way and let me ask someone who can.

A woman.

Approaching the slender woman who plays alto sax, I inquired of her what I'd heard and not been able to name.

"My One and Only Love," she informed me.

Of course!

I knew it from a favorite jazz record, "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman," just the kind of song men would have once used to woo women back in the days of lunch counters like Garnett's and big bands playing local clubs.

And as many times as I've played the record, I'd never heard it live until my favorite seventeen-piece neatly took care of that tonight.

Simple pleasures, mid-century-style. With a PBR chaser.

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