Uptown and All That Jazz

Kander & Ebb. Roxie & Velma. CHICAGO, June 3rd, 1975.

“Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?
And all that jazz
I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down
And all that jazz
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot
Where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot
It’s just a noisy hall, where there’s a nightly brawl
And all that jazz”

I remember the stage. No, it wasn’t Broadway or 1975. In 2011, a piano and I wonderfully joined a talented cast and pit orchestra on June 22nd in front of a packed house for the first of four shows. The Mishler Theater stage in Altoona, Pa, was underfoot at precisely 7:30 … and magic began when the ages old red and gold curtain rose. We were together. An entire cast – with a supporting pit on stage right and an excited pianist behind a concert grand stage left – ready to paint the town.

All that jazz – witnessing the rehearsal stresses, music changes, conflicts between people who do show-things differently in their brains – didn’t matter to me once I looked over to my pit director. Downbeats of an Overture on opening night melted away misfit memories from two previous months of stops and starts.

Left-right-left-right/Bass-treble-tonic-dominant alternating action between two very experienced hands ushered in “All that Jazz” as the Overture danced marvelously into an opening act. I loved every note of every song and the hotness of the piano under sensational spots. Four nights. Hours of absolute treasureness behind the keys.

There’s never been a final curtain from that show for me. After the Sunday matinee, my mom approached the stage as I stepped off the front riser. She, surprisingly, bought a ticket to attend the show a second time after seeing it on opening night. Exhausively and four-show drained, I gave her a big hug to accept a congratulations realizing this was to be the last time a son’s show performance would be in front of a mom’s tired eyes. A final curtain came the following March. Cancer, at that point, had been her noisy hall and brawl. Her first and second acts were produced & directed the best they could. It was time to enjoy what time could offer … and enjoy she did – watching the Cell Block tango girls, Roxie, Velma, and the entire cast of “Chicago” jazz up the stage. I won’t forget. No final curtain on the memories a decade ago.

All that Jazz then, and “Uptown Jazz” last night. A connection, of sorts, to the past. Kinda.

Below is a musically talented friend and all-around good guy, Dave, at the keyboard, on a smaller stage in a cast of four. He’s sitting on a stage where there were no big production dances, stockings down, sexy outfits, murder, or plot twists. Just a pianist, vocalist, set player, and bassist/guitar player. Oh, a dinner buffet, alcohol, and a relaxed piano player in the audience not concerned about vocal cues or four-show happy stresses.

He’s 25% of “Uptown Jazz” and a very versitile keyboard player. To type his contribution as “one-quarter” is understating his talent. Singer, songwriter, “jazzer”, educater, recording engineer, sound technician, … our community is blessed to have a musician of his skill perform within many combinations of pluckers, strummers, paradiddlers, and vocaleers.

I sat in a dimly lit room, back from some semi-alcohol saturated beings, as one of three sitting close together at a round table normally set for ten. The people situation was more crowded up front. To be expected, since acoustically, “microphone speak” was less like Charlie Brown’s teacher closer to the stage than where we where. “Mmpf … Err , ddrph la ruch” is pretty close to all we could understand between set songs – which makes the notes Dave was stroking on the keys extra special.

Notes from his piano floated uninterrupted as he played a few instrumental pieces in a trio/combo. Jazz. Granted, “Uptown Jazz” performed most numbers as an impressive four, but I enjoyed the deep jazz trio work the best. New York, small, smokey, underground jazz club tug-and-pull, complex chord structure … All that Jazz work impressed my classical piano soul a lot.

It was a nice evening. Even though driving, from my direction, was kinda downtown to the UVA Club … heading “uptown” to hear Dave play again was worth the small cover charge and four-times that for the land-and-sea buffet. Now, to be honest, there was no Roxie to crawl across the table in sexy lingerie last night like she did on my piano ten years ago. Dave’s best playing wouldn’t erase that moment in my memory, but his musical dexterity and kindness certainly made the evening more enjoyable than most.

Hours earlier, I started the car to head into a spot – not a whoopee spot, though. I drove into an Altoona location where jazz would, once again – at least in part – be heard … a few blocks away from where my mom last sat listening to hear a son perform, “Nowadays”, the closing number from “Chicago”.

Nowadays, we can relive some memories. Some magical remembrances while sitting in large, dimly lit halls listening to good friends do what we do … in part, of course. I’m a classical guy, Dave’s a jazz player. A piano is a piano, I guess, and music in all its forms is a transporter back to mom and son special moments.

Thanks to Dave, “Uptown Jazz”, and all the local musicians who build the bridges back to kind, wholesome times. Mom can’t thank you enough.

She’s waiting at the edge of the stage to give all of you a great big hug.

A Rail, Rocks, and Rurality

I didn’t know it was a word. “Rurality”, (defined by Wikipedia/Chigbu 2013, p. 815), is “a condition of place-based homeliness shared by people with common ancestry or heritage and who inhabit traditional, culturally defined areas or places statutorily recognized to be rural”. There it is! An eight-letter, beautiful timely term describing a hometown circumstance I found myself surrounded by the other day.

A rail and rocks? Well, kinda self-explanatory.

This is the overlook at Chimney Rocks park near the southern edge of Hollidaysburg, Pa. These bison boulders seen aren’t the actual chimney rocks formed centuries ago. To gaze upon those huge stonal spectaculars, you will need to travel roughly one-hour and fourty-five minutes east from Pittsburgh. Rocks, in this place … during this time … are there as a replacement for rails once there. From the information I was able to obtain, rails were being vandalized, abused, and constantly replaced. Not knowing the exact extent of damage, I assumed it must have been steadily bad enough to warrant bull-lifting in four walloping wall crater-makers.

I sat comfortably on a bench a few feet back from the rail and rocks … also among cicada screams and an occasional, hopeful, few seconds respite from their male mating hollers. The quiet never came. Tinnitus – that ever faithful inner-ear companion of mine – took a deafening back seat. Oh, to have heard only that minor second interval ring true at any moment! Yet, there I sat – still convinced it was to be a perfect time for reflection about a rail, rocks, and rurality … a word I was convinced didn’t exist.

Rurality does exist, apparently. So do the rocks – and not just the four keeping young ones from unsafely toddlering their way past the rail. Chimney Rocks is part of “place-based homeliness” all of us around here know as Hollidaysburg.

I grew up only a block or so away from the base of the hill where the overlook and park are beautifully carved as a small plateau into the hill. We climbed the face many times, escaping perils of broken bones and snake bites. Foliage was thick and steep which didn’t seem to bother our brave, young levi-laden bodies. Finally reaching the “chief’s chair” was a two-hour effort provided we didn’t stop to argue over the best way up through thick brush and fallen, rotted timber.

Where the park is now was then a sanctuary for small critters we heard, but never saw. Many a teen trod over soil and stones since removed from the very area I sat the other day. Looking back – off to my right – large, deep drill marks could be seen against the hill face exposed by deep cuts in the earth. Cut away like a slice of the moon were centuries of hidden rocks, memories, and footprints of young teenagers brave enough to scale a Hollidaysburg hill.

The four rocks came from the hill. They were allowed to have their common ancestry remain in place. A place of familiarity – if only a few yards away and for a purpose. They can now oversee a hometown while protecting the most innocent among us.

I see these four rocks as just that: the new protectors of rurality that will oversee Hollidaysburg’s heritage for centuries.

We are passers-by, for sure. The original Chimney Rocks either pushed through the earth, or were benefactors of propitious pounding of eroding soil around them. In either case, they were here before humans and will, most assuredly, rock-on well beyond our breathable years. The four overlookers? The same. They’ll outlast the usefulness of that park, rusty rails, and young teens who, now, only have to take a casual walk up one of a few well-maintained paths from an overlook to the “chief’s chair”.

With all the recreational options available, I doubt many will know the joys of climbing that hill, however. What a shame.

I had a small urge to jump the rail and experience a little nostalgic rurality once again. That hill on the other side was tempting this 50’s body of mine. Unfortunately, I knew inevitable screams for help would go unheard as cicada mania still pierced the air. I would’ve been stuck in misery for a bit. Good news? The view north into my hometown would have been fantazmical on my back dangling from a fragile branch off the side of a bluff.

The view those rocks have all day, every day, is spectacular. Rurality is kinda breathtaking, too, when considered as an actual word … and condition of being for people who love their hometown.

I loved my sit-time there – cicadas aside, of course. I promised you a show-and-tell IF you drove a bit eastward, but have since decided to post up a few links if you’re interested in reading more about the park. Maybe if we’re ever there together, the cicadas will be gone, we can talk about your remarkable rurality memoir, and if I happen to go over the rail, please rescue me.

http://www.hollidaysburgpa.org/depts/Parks/Pages/ChimneyRocksPark.aspx

A Small Lake’s Water Wonderment

Didn’t take much effort climbing on top of the table to take this picture. However, with extended hands above my head and eyes not able to see through a shakey phone, it took a few attempts before success was in my grasp. There is no easy access to the lake at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pa at this time. Correction. Two peepers looking through a high chain fence? Yes. A nice, clear-view picture without a fly-over drone? Uhm, no.

This is a “had-to” picture. Thus, my risking a well-lived life so far. Stepping off the wonky table for you, my dear readers, was worth each thud and creak emanating from knee joints barely supporting a once athletic, racquetball winning frame. Alas, life reminds us table standing – even for a noble cause – may not be for the bold among us because eventually one must come down. Even with the risk, I faced the challenge. Up I went – descend I did … safely so in both directions, this time.

Why this time? Why the lake?

Simple answer? It’s back. The lake, a few minutes drive from my house, is back to being a wet expanse instead of a muddy pit-iful playground for large, yellow drudgers. Big scoopers and plenty-full dumpers dirtied the roadways around this beautiful area for months as dirt shufflers removed layers upon layers of silt. Up the accompanying “Lakemont hill”, many of us travelled this past winter and spring looking out our windows … down into the mucky cavity carved into the earth.

Experts claimed this was necessary. Fish and wildlife activists were outraged at the apparent lack of concern for the aquatic life left to die on the banks. Notably, carp and turtle families were unable to be relocated due to possible disease transfer and logistic problems, as is my understanding. Excavating decades of silt build-up, evidently, trumped any apprehension about what swam in a few feet of water. My experience in the matter is limited to a couple teenage years of paddle-boating and feeding the ugly fish off a small bridge inside the park, so contemplate carp connundrums accordingly.

This day is reserved for a joyous return to normalcy. Well, a small lake’s water wonderment, anyway.. No more dirty views or mud-tracked highways for our displeasure. The metal monsters of the heavy machinery society exited after overstaying their uninvited, neighborhood welcome. Loud noises are no more. All of our emotional sediments are now soot-ably deposited elsewhere … dumped into a future we will not have to contend with any time soon.

Have the fish been restocked? This I don’t know. Tappers of the air who swoop down onto the lake have. Bugs happily feast on the drops of dew popping up from the small crests and ducks swim for afternoon respites. People persons I have not seen yet, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t renting paddle boats from the amusement park of the same name. There’s a small island water park as well within the lake which I don’t believe is operational yet, either.

Regardless, standing on top of a semi-sturdy table was heartwarming and fulfilling. This simple act of wobbly bravery gave me a sense of purpose – a “speak for the lake” declaration as if to say, “I’ve been renewed, refreshed, cleansed, and beautified!”.

The long, hard, ugly, muddy winter we saw day-after-day was temporary. Change was necessary … and the process was difficult to watch. Professional folks who identified the problem came forward with a solution not everyone saw as positive. Strife, conflict, and stress was expected … and achieved.

In the end, however, beauty and wonder came back into our world. A small lake’s water wonderment was re-born.

Locally, we have a lot of road construction happening. Boy, it is frustrating. Detours, delays, and dumptrucks are bumping into folk’s schedules – including mine – at the most inappropriate times. At some point, these roads will be a pleasant ride. At least Lakemont hill isn’t among the annoyances anymore. It’s a joyous view now – north or south.

I won’t risk life and limb too much to capture pictures. Bodily appendages are more important than a blog most times. However, when a thought or declaration needs proclaiming, I will click away. If you drove past a mud hole for months then saw a lake’s grace return, I’m confident you’d step up on any table as well.

Just be careful coming down. That last step can be a creaky one.

Ghee What a Ghal!

Ghosts and ghouls are past us by about two months during which gharries possibly arrived carrying ghastful gharials.

Admittedly, I knew three words starting with “gh” used in the above paragraph. The other two? Yep. Google. By the third grade – or sooner, if the chalk dust and marvelous marker smell has cleared my mind – I also knew these are the consecutive 7th and 8th letters of our 26 developed from the Etruscan alphabet sometime before 600 BCE (also Google 😄). It takes a bit of brain power to engineer opening paragraphs around the letters G and H and I’m not sure this little engine in my skull is puffing up hill effectively. Most likely won’t know until I’m looking down over my connected paragraph cars to the conclusion caboose. If everything is intact and there’s been no derailment, the G&H Line has been a success!

All I’m sure of is those two letters meant something to me today – and that’s all that really counts. So, hop aboard and let me tell you about my nice conversation today.

There’s a station in life where we stand. These weirdly words slapped on us are defined by society and there’s not much that can be done about it. We’re either married, or not. A pastor, or not. Have 12 children, one, or none. Maybe you’re one who employees hundreds, an employee, or not an employee at all. Ok, so we can do something about them, right? Get married, employed, or pregnant if so desired … but all these do is change the station. You’re still assigned a station in life, regardless. The life train comes and goes – in and out of your station … day after blessed day. We have to find a way to enjoy that station upon which we stand. Somehow enjoy the freakin’ show we see as people walk up and down, across and between our paths every. Single. Day.

I had that experience today. The happy human I conversed with is enjoying her station in life. Circumstances being what they are, I’m sure she would hope for better days ahead. Being careful on details for obvious reasons, I will bind this together like a coal car and engine gracefully tying their couplers for a wonderful journey ahead.

We met for less than an hour this morning. She, a purveyor of a service I needed to tie up a loose end for a holiday present, and I talked over health, religion, family relations, politics, music, and oddly enough, a little witchcraft. There is a small, friendly, historical connection between us as our pasts intertwine ever so gently. I do believe our chit-chat session could have extended beyond the time we spent before I had to leave for other engagements. This was, simply, a nice conversation with a nice, sincere person. Someone who is face-to-face with some real things as she stands on, and in, her station.

I drove away thinking about that. Moments later wrapping some presents … thinking about … that. Boy, what a waste of time arguing with a “friend” on Facebook when that time could be better spent talking to someone about their life’s struggles in person. Laughing (six feet away) from a relative stranger who needs a good joke rather than sharing a goofy meme seems to be far greater. In-person vs. Out-impersonal?

I know it’s tough, probably. My business affords me the chance to interact daily with folks. Without it, especially during this pandemic when we’re forced into distancing and lock-down situations, I’d be lost. Today’s wonderful conversation may have been a one-off’er because of the holiday need. Regardless, she certainly stepped up and lifted my spirits this morning while giving me a little hope in the midst of this rather bleak 2020.

She’s definitely on the right track for what she believes in and who she trusts. Her station in life is on pretty solid ground from the little I know, anyway. She believes in herself and trusts in herself to make the best decisions for herself. I’d say that’s a pretty good place to be. From where I stood, “Ghee What A Ghal” is pretty darn accurate…

…and her initials – engineered to be identical to the company name emblazoned on the side of her engine that CAN – is all the information you’re going to get as you watch her get up that hill. The “G & H” Line proudly steaming ahead as an example to all of us of what humanity, grace, and honesty looks like in the midst of life not being particularly kind.

Yes, two letters and not much of a start to any words, really. Didn’t expect them to be. Then again, I didn’t expect to be talking about broomsticks and Wiccans this morning, either.

Speaks Volumes

Our common core, long before the insanity of diagrammatic digital black holes, is “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence. Freedom from British rule and, back in 1776, an alliance with the French government to assist in the war against Great Britain. Pretty simple, right? A lot easier than the “new” way kiddos are asked to, well, do math these days. Imagine powdered wig dust flying in frustration – attached to additive inverses, box plots, and dilations – as the original 13 colonies found their way on to recycled rags, instead of what actually happened …

Our founding fathers using common sense. Common. Every day. Sense.

I liked math in school. Actually, loved is a better verb. English, history, Geography? Eh, not so much. Math and Music were the sweetness in my nine-period jelly donut. I ate both up. Notes looked like numbers when I practiced , er… played, diligently behind the keys and digits sat as quadratic equations, transforming into beautiful music in front of my very eyes. Solving for X could not have been any more exciting. Oh, and then there’s: V=1/3Bh ! Do you remember this formula?

Finding the Volume of a Square Pyramid, it is! Are you getting excited? Capital B is the area of the base (LxW) times the height, then divide the product by 3. Simple. Common sense.

I could do some advance detective work – with the assistance of the great Pythagoras and his mathematical theorum – to determine the actual volume of this particular stone structure, however, the monument above speaks volumes on its own.

Passing by every evening on the way home, my mind isn’t usually focused on it. Today, being a day off, was worth the stop. Seventy-seven years ago, the Woodrow Wilson Civic Association erected this monument to honor “Our Boys and Girls” who served. Yes, “boys and girls” spectacularly engraved on either side of the words, “Honor Roll”. I did some public google-digging and found only one source for the W.W.C.A. in America:

WOODROW WILSON CIVIC ASSOCIATION NONPROFIT

Company Number 392011

Status Active Company Type Non-Profit

So, it’s a “thing”, apparently. The address (I chose not to post) is listed and coordinates nicely with the very street, a few blocks down, where I turn to head back out to the main route. The roundabout where the monument sits is back from a very busy intersection which coordinates nicely with the 28th, two-term, Presidential log. He helped craft the Treaty of Versailles, did what he could do to see us through World War One, and was instrumental in the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations. He died in 1924 – only three years after leaving the White House – and is generally considered one of the better, busy, men to sit in the Oval Office.

Why 1943 to build this monument? Why “Boys and Girls”, not “Men and Women”?, I don’t know. It speaks volumes … What’s inside the outside stone cover is up to the observers to appreciate on their own …

THAT is the “Life and Liberty” we are guaranteed. THIS is why monuments such as these exist. Not to define what we should believe, but to show the ultimate sacrifice of a few or many, and let it up to us, as individuals, to acknowledge and confirm an inner belief to ourselves. To, then, leave behind a possible tear to honor those who served and make every effort to right the wrongs they fought to change … in pursuit of Happiness they didn’t get a chance to live out.

Most members, if not all, of the W.W.C.A. are not with us. Maybe. A 21-year old back then would be ninety-eight now. IF I could find someone to talk to who was around when the monument was erected, it’d be worth exploring … AND if I could find some old, dusty paperwork in a trunk along with maps, all this may start to add up.

OH, wouldn’t that be awesome for a math geek like me!