- Our Town
Jazz for your Valentine
If there was ever a bar band that played all the hits, it’s the jazz trio at Docs on Friday nights. As I sat amongst a circle of girlfriends celebrating the upcoming nuptials of our bride-to-be, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the poignant melody of “The Days of Wine and Roses”. The song hails back to an era when jazz tunes were the Top 40.
Henry Mancini wrote the tune and Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics. Mercer borrowed the song’s title from this line, “They are not long, the days of wine and roses: out of a misty dream. Our path emerges for a while, then closes within a dream.” The English poet Ernest Dowson wrote this line first in his poem ‘They Are Not Long,’ which kicks-off with a Latin line which translates to “the brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long”.
Consequently, the film that makes use of the song and borrows its name (released in 1962 and featuring Jack Lemmon) is the story of a young couple, at first happily married, who soon get caught in a downward spiral of drinking and debauchery ending in alcoholism and defeat. It’s a tragedy so well-wrought that the film has now become suggested viewing as part of many 12-step AA programs.
It makes me think of the heyday of jazz. What used to be a hoppin’ and swingin’ style, filled with emotion and groove, is now overshadowed by finger-flailing and snobbery. What was an ecstatic form of music has become a technical and scholarly language only accessible to those with the endurance to study and understand it. Many well-known players have lamented this fact, most prominently jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis in his latest article “The Problem with Jazz”. Just as an endless stream of gifts won’t make true-love, jazz devoid of its soulful melodic roots becomes nothing more than a mental excursion and an assault on the senses. The result is an alienated and disinterested audience that soon moves on to the next danceable, sing-able style. For those of us that love to play jazz publicly, it’s a constant reminder that music needs to communicate before educate.
Yet as the night swung on, to my surprise and delight, the bride-to-be spontaneously burst into the lyrics of “All of Me”. “How do you know such an obscure tune?” I asked. Her father had been an avid jazz fan and had schooled her in the repertoire. I inwardly sighed with relief, thankful that the legacy deftly endures. “Hip pocket!” she exclaimed, before asking me if that was the correct technical term. “Yes!” I nodded emphatically. It was a toe-tapping number, passionately performed, giving me hope that jazz’s future is still bright. As the tune wound up, we sang at the top of our lungs,
“you took the part that once was my heart, so why not take all of me!”
And then we danced, the days of wine and roses lingering like sparkling champagne. Two jolly mamas with babes at home asleep, soft-shoeing around the pub. The essence of jazz surrounded us - a groove that moves you, a melody that stirs, a lyric that lives on for generations. We soaked up that happy night before it could “laugh and run away, like a child at play.” Little did our bride know that she would soon find “a door marked "Nevermore", that wasn't there before”. But what lay behind that door would be the subject of another tune. For the moment, a path had emerged within the dream, and we sashayed down it blissfully, feeling the drummer’s groove beat straight into our hearts. The enduring hope was never higher as we sent off our bride-to-be out under the bright Valentine’s moon.
Mary Kastle is a musician, writer, and fashion designer who loves jazz with a passion. You can find her sitting in on keys at Docs some Friday nights and sharing her many creative endeavours online at www.marykastle.com.