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Shades of Lady Day

Kim Nalley at Kuumbwa, Nov. 30, 2009

By Stephen Kessler

MY HAND is stamped, the sold-out show has adjourned for intermission and I am admitted to replace someone who needs to get up for work tomorrow and has freed a seat. Lady Day is in town, or her facsimile who channels or translates from the existing record of the original.

I have walked for an hour downtown, sent a fax at FedEx, passed by every bar and bistro I wasn't hungry or thirsty enough to sit in and listen and steal what might be eavesdropped from the clientele, browsed among my recurrent used music and books in Logos and returned with luck to await the second set.

It's getting warm, I remove my scarf and jacket, blue beret stuffed in the left pocket (berets are cool because they keep your head warm and can be easily stashed), look from this corner over the humming room where the capacity crowd now on their feet seem happy, imagine that, to stand and gab at ease with friends some Monday night in eternity and, when the lights blink, find their seats to escape deeper into the music.

I know I'm getting old when I'm happy to see cops cruising lower Pacific to keep the gang-bangers from killing each other and casual passersby, and the bums and buskers from bothering shoppers looking for holiday bargains, discounts begging customers to come in the door and spend some rent money while there's time.

In the dark club Billie's story is spelled out none too subtly between numbers by the singer, and her sound is close enough to give the seniors something to remember, or imagine anyway, trying to hear what is beyond recovery, a smoke-like echo in a smoke-free zone where no ghost is safe from those who would bring it back from oblivion for the price of a night out.

Who wouldn't be nostalgic for that sublimely suffering, unreachable, irreplaceable sound, a wispy trace of some lost notes immortally sad in their absence, where silence is unacceptable because it sends us back to ourselves.

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