It ain't no picnic for a jazz man east of the Wasatch mountains. Ever since the 18-whatevers, when that first early thrust of jazz men and women settled down in the barren desert plains of the Beehive State, seems like it's been nothing but averted eyes and not-welcome-heres and leers to be found everywhere else.
Sure, people are polite. After all, the jazz man isn't gonna play if he gets offended. But it's the same routine every time.
"Oh, you must be the performer in from out west. Sure, sure, make yourself at home. You want a drink? No?" You can tell that they're just waiting to ask it, but they need to make small talk first. It's coming, though.
"So, where exactly you from?" There it is, then that look exchanged across the table when they get their answer, followed always, always by that other inescapable question: "Salt Lake City, huh? So ... you a jazz man?"
Yeah, fine, so I am. Can you blame me? It's what I was raised in. To take just one breath of that clean mountain air, to bathe in the rays of a pure Salt Lake Valley sunrise, is to feel jazz in your bones. It's all we know, the soul of our people. They say the oldest man in Salt Lake City is a former jazz man, and the freshest little babe in Salt Lake City is a future jazz man. It's our place.
Sure, other cities claim to be the birthplace of jazz. Boise, Cheyenne, Montpelier, anywhere with a late bedtime and a reputation for being a little rowdy. That's all a crock, man. When you build an entire city to be a jazz refuge, when you cross hundreds of miles of unsettled territory to find a safe place to practice what you feel, then you can claim to be the home of jazz. Those cities love it. We live it.
But I'm a long way from Salt Lake City right now, and an even longer way from Montpelier. Right now, I'm staring through the cigarette fumes of a dozen south Texas townies, into the eyes of this five-foot-nothing lady bartender, and I'm wondering just what she's thinking. Is she afraid of me? Curious?
Hey, Mr. Jazz Man, I've heard some rumors about people like you.
I step up to the mic and let my fingers find their spots on the keys. The rumors are true, lady. One deep breath and a wink, and then I begin to howl my jazz man howl.