Monday, November 5, 2018

Variations on a Girls' Night Out

When Typhoid Mary sets out for help alone, it's trumpet time.

Because it had been two months since I'd last seen Lady G, I had no idea she'd been battling the Galloping Consumption for a while now. When she showed up to fetch me, she was coughing like a consumptive and looking a tad peaked, not exactly ideal conditions to share anecdotes from her recent trip to Ireland.

Much less throw back wine and laugh at everything.

But like the trooper she is, she insisted we were good to go and that she wasn't nearly as sick as she looked or sounded. As someone who suffered with pneumonia for weeks under the delusion that I'd snap out of it, her false bravado was uncomfortably familiar. Still, no one wants to nag a sick friend.

Well, except for someone who mishandled her own illness and isn't afraid to be pushy about the risks of not getting treatment. So I put on my big sister hat and told her not to be stupid.

So my bedside manner could use some tweaking.

At her insistence, we carried on with our plans, landing at Bar Solita a few blocks away to try to cover three countries, hundreds of photographs, dozens of personal anecdotes and make plans for a road trip. Drawing on the only medicine that seems to be working currently, G ordered what she called "tea," a hot mixture of rye, honey and lemon that she thinks helps her cough but really helps her not care about her cough.

Over a basil pesto pizza and pastry, she shared photos, all of which proved how green Ireland is, and tall tales gleaned from wizened guides on her trip to the Motherland, while the pink-haired bartender worried about the seriousness of her cough. Every time G got into a good story, she'd begin a coughing fit from too much talking and we were back in the tubercular ward.

Make no mistake, I tried to convince her that we should go directly from Bar Solita to MCV, but she remained unconvinced. The bartender put in her two cents' worth, suggesting Patient First instead. "You should have that cough looked at!" the woman said with all the solemnity someone with pink hair can manage.

It was some time during dessert that Lady G caved and agreed to go directly to Patient First, albeit the one in her far-flung neighborhood. The time elapsed since we'd started our evening together was 90 minutes, so I felt pretty good about my nagging.

But at least she'd agreed to go and report back on her diagnosis.

All of a sudden, my evening was over. But rather than going home, I asked G to drop me at the Singleton Center (sign in stall of Singelton bathroom: "Swipe left on the flu!") on the way to having her cough examined. She was surprised that I just happened to know there was a musical program there tonight and I was surprised that she'd think I don't know of at least one, if not several, things going on on any given night.

After all, we have known each other for 20 years at this point.

Rex Richardson's Trumpet Spectacular had begun moments before I took my seat in the auditorium, so the VCU Trumpet ensemble was already playing. I'm one of those people who actually enjoys seeing a student group play because sometimes it's a first glance at an up and comer in the local jazz scene.

Not to make generalizations (because somebody will call me on it if I do) but trumpet fans appear to skew heavily male, or at least, that was my conclusion when I looked around the room and saw ten guys for every girl. Or perhaps, like me, all those guys were just out to hear top notch trumpet and piano playing on a Monday night after finishing a plate of profiteroles.

More likely, they were just big trumpet nerds like Rex, a man who tosses around phrases like, "If you know trumpet music," which I don't, but I also enjoy being in a room where there are people who do. People like trumpeter Taylor Barnett whom I've seen play in No BS Brass band and any number of big bands, and who joined Rex and pianist Magda Adamek for "Variations on a Theme" by Haydn.

Lady G might have benefited from some Haydn almost as much as from the "tea."

Finding Taylor was a bit of a problem, so Rex called out to the crowd, saying, "Taylor Barnett, are you here?" only to have Taylor walk onstage behind him. "Oh, there he is!" Rex exclaimed, acknowledging, "That's what you get when you don't entirely print out everything on your program and that's all my fault."

Everyone's - okay my - favorite pianist Russell Wilson of the Richmond Symphony, joined Rex for the next piece. I may have been going to Rex's performances for years, but I took my first jazz appreciation course from Russell, so I always feel fortunate to hear him play. I swear, he always looks like he's having a good time.

Trumpeter Mike Davison was Rex's next partner for "Tournament," a piece in three movements - Jousting, Hawaiian Song and Revelry - that had originally been written for Davison in 1999. "But when I asked him if he had the music, he didn't," Rex said, laughing.

Eager to have the last word, Mike cracked, "Must not have liked that one!" Regardless, they made it sound like they'd been playing it together since 1999.

Rex dedicated the tragically beautiful "Elegy" to the recently-deceased musician Roy Hargrove (whom he referred to as "a direct contemporary of mine") and trumpeter Thomas Steven.

The meatiest piece was Andy Scott's "Freedom of Movement," performed as recently as September by the VCU Wind Ensemble, but tonight performed using a piano-reduction version instead of the full ensemble for something completely different. Of the piece's three sections, the middle one with its jazz-like piano parts was the most intriguing to me, never more so than when pianist Magda began bopping her head, throwing her arms around and grooving like crazy.

Isn't there a saying about leading a classical pianist to jazz, but not being able to make her...something?

With G long gone (hopefully off being examined for whooping cough), it was a fine night for taking my time walking home given the relatively mild temperature and my post-trumpet buzz. Not the evening I expected, but sometimes a friend needs to be coerced to take care of herself.

And if you know stubborn friends better than you know trumpets, you know plying them with rye is the way to do it.

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