• Jessika Brust

The Swinger MeetUp

Updated: Feb 13


He who shall be last shall be first, we joked -- Nolan was one of my jazz professors and ensemble leaders in college. But now the tables had turned, and I was the one hiring him for gigs. There was a new wine bar that opened no more than a mile from my house, and they were booking jazz duos and trios for a mellow supper-club feel. Immediately I called Nolan, as he traveled all over the state as a freelance guitarist. I knew he'd enjoy that kind of work, and he'd be supportive of my development as a young jazzer and green improviser on the fiddle.

Nolan would drive over to my house a few hours early, where we'd guzzle coffee, run through some charts, and slap together a set list, then change into gig clothes and head over. We joked that it looked like we were on our way to Senior Prom as we walked out the door dressed to the nines, packed our cars, and drove to work.

The venue was extremely small, and we performed seated on chairs in the corner since there was no stage. We modified his amp to function as the sound system, and waited for patrons to arrive.

The weather was awful that night -- lightning through a downpour -- and we were lucky to have missed it and kept our equipment dry. But that didn't bode well for a crowded bar later on. In fact, it stayed empty for quite a while. Eventually we got bored. After we ate dinner with our band discount, we decided to play through a few tunes, if for nothing else but practice.

Nolan was very patient with me. He knew that without some sort of rhythm changes underneath, it's difficult to practice improvising to obtain any fluency. I pretty much had jazz accompaniment only when he and I played together, since this was before the days of iRealPro and other such apps that function as practice tools nowadays. You could purchase the Jamey Aebersold practice tracks, but there was still nothing available to help you review your specific repertoire in your preferred keys. Nolan kept a straight face during my clams (musician speak for "notes that don't fit"), pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone, celebrated my victories, and told a joke to ease the tension if I played something that simply couldn't be redeemed. He had gone from acting like a professor to functioning more like my big brother, on this mental adventure called Jazz.

A table of two trickled in and dripped a puddle on the floor. They stared at us languidly, having no motivation for conversation with each other. Almost an hour later, a table for three walked in and sat glumly against the window. Finally, an audience.

After sundown, the storm mellowed to a steady blanket of rain. We'd already taken one generous break, but wanted to make sure we played for all the time we were getting paid for, and buckled down for another set.

A handful of soggy people walked in and rushed to the back corner, without even waiting for the hostess to seat them. They drew a long black curtain across from one wall to the next, separating themselves from the rest of the bar.

Guess they don't want to be listening to jazz, I thought. They doubled the size of our audience when they walked in and now they're gone.

We kept playing. Since no one much cared whether or not we were there, we decided to entertain ourselves. We loved ballads and Gypsy jazz, and we indulged ourselves lavishly. At least someone in this place would have fun. We called every mushy standard ballad we could think of, and experimented with pushing and pulling the tempi, and between tunes joked about misheard lyrics, or phrases that could be comedically "improved". It wasn't the way we'd hoped to spend the gig, but it was a good time nonetheless.

Suddenly Nolan and I became aware of looming shadows, and were jolted from our games back to reality. We looked up from our charts, and noticed the black curtain had been pulled back to the side again, and the people that had been sequestered behind it now surrounded our humble makeshift stage.

There were six of them, standing paired into three couples, fixated on us like cats on two unsuspecting mice. Their eyes betrayed a ravenous appetite for something, and they were all but licking their lips with salivation. They were less than an arm's reach from where we sat, and the two on the end were breathing down our necks.

I smiled and welcomed them, over the mic like a good front woman hosting a gig, and they showed no reaction. It was unnerving. Were they angry with us? Nolan and I exchanged bewildered glances.

If direct eye contact was made, they held it with aggressive intensity, almost begging us to reciprocate. What was their deal? Were they aware of how creepy they were acting?

I gulped, and instinctively inched closer to Nolan on the seat of my chair, who subconsciously scooted forward to have me guarded slightly behind him. We kept playing. It felt so awkward, sitting low on our chairs while being telepathically bullied by six human-shaped Dementors floating above us. Was anyone else watching this? Would anyone save us should something escalate? Where was the manager?

I started singing the last chorus to end the tune. After greeting them graciously was met with such subvert hostility, I had to ignore the bystanders to get through the song. I slouched further in my seat, hiding behind Nolan as much as possible, trying to breathe fresh oxygen instead of their panting exhales, and closed my eyes.

The tune ended , and when I opened my eyes again, they were nowhere in sight. Nolan and I exchanged another glance, wondering if that was something we'd just imagined.

"That was weird..." he said under his breath. "At first I was like, finally, someone's enjoying the music! But that...what was that?"

"I have no idea..." I shuddered, and checked my phone for the time. Thankfully we were about done for the night.

The manager appeared behind the bar and gestured us over.

"Hey Derek, how's it going?" I asked.

"Not good," he answered. "Business has been slow, real slow."

"Yeah," Nolan chipped in. "Tonight was pretty rough. But I'm sure it was the weather."

"Yeah, the weather hasn't helped all week," he shook his head and glanced wistfully at the door. "But so many people were supposed to come tonight -- they'd even RSVP-ed. I guess the storm kept them away."

"Did you have an event planned?" I asked, as we watched him pour complimentary glasses of wine for us.

"Well...not really..." his eyes scanned the room as he handed us our goblets, making sure we were completely alone. "You have to promise not to tell anyone, but--"

"OK..." we said in unison.

"--I have a MeetUp group of swingers that congregate here every Friday night."

"Oh," I said flatly.

"Tonight they were very upset because no one showed up -- just a few people."

"Oh........" Nolan and I said in unison again. We looked at each other, wide eyed.

So perhaps that explained the strange hordes of hungry energy vampires, predatorily staring us down in the corner. They wanted fresh meat! All joking of "dressing up for Prom" when gigging together aside, Nolan and I actually looked like we could be a couple. He was extremely tall, lean, well-dressed, and very handsome; with thick, glamorous, wavy blond hair and a masculine bass-pitched voice. He had an easy-going, confident demeanor, and was supportive of my flashier, more outgoing role as vocalist, frontwoman, and booking agent. He complemented my stage image and persona perfectly, while providing musical structure all gig long, and serving as an encyclopedia of jazz knowledge when I needed to reference something. It hadn't really occurred to us before, but we had to admit that on the surface, we did look like a good match.

Being only about a decade older than me, he actually was a nice age for me to be dating. But we had met when I was his student in college, and getting together would create a huge black smudge on his professional reputation, even though it had been a few years since my graduation. He had also been married back then, so it would make him look especially suspicious. On top of that, the elephant in the room was the memory of Nolan's guest lecturer in his class who had hit on me (read that whole story here). That incident had mortified everyone in the jazz department faculty as well as myself -- so never would he ever even entertain the thought of crossing that line with me -- nor I with him. In fact, it's probably the reason why he was protective of me, and actively supportive of my career.

The look we exchanged, with the sudden comprehension of why we were being sized up like an hors d'oeuvre, held more layers of understanding and mutual respect than Derek knew.

But Derek noticed it, and said, "Yeah, I saw what they did on their way out. They loved you two."

Nolan and I exploded into laugher, which evaporated the tension. How absurd, to have wound up at a swinger party with your professor and have them assume he was your date? Only I could've walked myself into that situation.

"Well anyway...I didn't organize the MeetUp, but I did approve of it since I had a private space for them to go. And they sure have been good for business!" Derek chuckled. "I just hope they don't move their MeetUp elsewhere after tonight."

His tone sounded so wistful...what else could be going on behind those drapes?

"So that's why the curtain got pulled shut..." I said.

"Oh yes," Derek continued. "When that curtain's closed, stay away! You don't even wanna know what happens back in there!"

We shared another laugh, this one more nervous, from our own insecurities provoked by the delicate business and personal relationships present.

When our wine glasses were empty and our spirits lifted from the low morale that comes with a slow night, we shook hands goodbye and I drove home in the drizzle.

Maybe next month I should try to book us on a Saturday, I thought.

#jazzprofessor #college #jazzgig #jazzduo #guitar #fiddle #vocalist #winebar #SeniorProm #clams #storm #blackcurtain #joke #Dementors #swingers #MeetUp

jess@jessikabrust.com

www.reverbnation.com/jessikabrust

 

 

 

 

© 2015 by Jessika Brust

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