From Under the Table

BeFunky_RedAllen.jpgRather than bore you with a stream of infantile flashbacks that include crib specifications, wall decorations, and household smells, I will dive right into the fray, into what I consider the real meat of the memory meal: music, music, music, and more music. In Boston during the 1930s and early 1940s there was a popular after-hours club/restaurant that went by the name of Mothers Lunch – and in light of the fact that I was not breast-fed, Mothers Lunch turned out to be in many ways Mothers Milk to me.

For a period of time during the Depression my mother was employed as the hatcheck girl at this club, which was In Its day the place to come and partake of good food and jazz. In the descriptive words of my mother, “Jazz, like sex, Is either good or gooder.” Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway – you name it, it was all there. Good and gooder, all of it swinging all the way.

My mother (God rest her soul) had devised a clever scheme by which she supplemented” her regular paycheck. It involved the creation of her own unique “kitty,” into which she coerced the high spenders to toss silver dollars. She would take me to work with her, and after hours she would have me safely ensconced in a large dresser drawer that was padded with a big, soft, fluffy bed pillow. When a softhearted-looking customer would stop to check his hat or coat, she would kick the drawer and wake me up with a start. Of course I would start crying, and that usually elicited the expected compassionate response – the unwary customer would drop some cash in the “kitty.”

As we kids were growing up she liked to tell that story. These were her prime years and they were filled with legendary figures who were laying out the format for this great music called jazz. Yeah! She was proud to let the folks know that Art Tatum, Ben Webster, and Louis Armstrong would always flip a silver dollar into the dresser drawer for good luck before they went inside to dine or jam. It became a sort of ritual, a gallant gesture.

She often spoke of Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins as the most elegant men she had ever laid eyes on, “Smooth and sharp as a tack,” as the expression goes. She could go on for hours, giving every detail of their mannerisms and the effects that