When I was younger, for a few years there, I damn-near made a career out of being a doorman. I worked strip joints, blues bars, nightclubs, bar/restaurants and neighborhood saloons. I never got to work at a jazz club, which would have been great. In my teens, I had a friend named Steve Best who really knew his jazz. He introduced me to Bird, Trane, Miles Davis, and the great singer, Johnny Hartmann. Until then, I was only a rock and roll and soul music fan. Jazz was a whole new discordant and rebellious language to me. I wanted to know more. I was forever pestering Joe Segal at Jazz Showcase to let me work the door and, trusting his better judgment, he never hired me which was probably for the best.
I never did lose my hankering for jazz. In New Orleans, I got to hear a lot of it; the King Oliver stuff and some pretty fair renditions of Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, but I never really acheived anything like a conniseur’s knowledge of it. I’m still now always hearing things I’ve never heard before that have been around forever. It’s something that, as I grow older, I like more and more; not to the point of snobbishness or dismissing everything else in favor of, though. I love hip-hop, rap, techno; the music my kids listen to, and I still spend lots of time listening to the slow-jam soul music I grew up with. I love real country and salsa and all other manner of musical idioms as well. It has always made my wheels turn visually.
I loved being a doorman at music venues years ago. I got to see shows for free and watch people enjoy music. Some years ago, I took my son to an all-ages ska show at Metro and got a great deal of joy watching him and his friends enjoy four different ska bands. The show was headlined by Mustard Plug, a ska outfit that’d been around forever who played with a vengence music about being young, stupid and rebellious and it was fun.
When I was a doorman, I always took great care to go easy on kids who’d had too much to drink or were out of their element or got into shoving matches. It is a more complex job than people might think. A careful diplomacy is the best M.O. for this job and being able to read a crowd and spot trouble before it happens. the restaurant-bars were actually, in my experience, the most dangerous. The middle-aged guys in bomber jackets trying to bang cheerleaders were the guys who were least predictable and for some reason, the ones with the most to prove.
A townie bar in Urbana, Illinois was the scariest place I ever worked. A mutant mouth breather named Daskell once tried to brain me with a half cinder block while my back was turned. It was a rough joint full of bikers and guys who’d been laid off from International Harvester and I was scared every night of my life when I worked there. I learned a lot there; when to take a guy’s keys, the gentle art of cutting people off, and how to protect drunk girls from the scummy types.
In every place I worked there were juke boxes with a few jazz records to play at the end of the night. There was a Maceo Parker song I loved hearing at the end of each night; a beautiful piece called, ‘Children’s World‘ where Maceo works his slow, low, saxaphone magic so sublimely, it lulls one into sleep. This piece is about how that record makes me feel.