1950s Jazz Scene

Greetings, Gate!

I always laughed when my father said that to me. He was a jazz drummer, and often talked in bop slang—the inventive language of jazz that was sometimes unintentionally offensive, but always colorful and witty. Women were “skirts” or “chicks” or “frails” and fellow musicians were “cats.” The greatest compliment I ever heard him pay to a trumpet player was “Cat can blow.”

When a band of these cats arrived with axes in hand and frails at their sides, they would slip each other some skin, cop a squat, and begin trading fours until a full-blown jam session jumped off. They called each other “baby” or “daddy” and wore “killer-diller drapes” (Zoot-suits), colorful “skies” with wide brims, knob-toed Florsheim “kicks,” and shirts with “Mr. B” collars. The basic uniform of a skirt/chick/frail was a tight sweater, wide belt, and a “cigarette skirt.” It was the birth of the cool and everything was copacetic. Basie could swing like nobody else and Art Tatum had the best left hand in the hemisphere. Bud Powell and Horace Silver were making you “realize it” with frantic grooves, and hard bop was going to change the world. Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk was played in 9/8 time, laid back to 4/4 swing, jumped back again, and grooved to high heaven.These essential facts were common knowledge to me at the age of nine. I didn’t know it then, but it was my destiny to write a novel called Bluestone Rondo from all these memories, and populate it with cats and skirts and frantic grooves. Who knew that a novel could be written in 9/8 time, lay back to 4/4 swing, jump back again, and groove to high heaven?

By the way . . . if a bop cat ever calls you “Gate” as in “Greetings, Gate”—take it as a compliment and slip him some skin.

After all, what does a gate do? It swings, baby, it swings.

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