What’s all the jazz about? | TheUnion.com

What’s all the jazz about?

It was a very nice Sunday last week, but I found myself inside my tuna can, that's my "Tin Sider" mobile home in Nevada City.

I was calling my friend, Karl Chelette, band leader and drummer of the jazz band The Jazzmatics, to ask him for the phone number of a mutual friend of ours, Josh Ford, band leader of The Earls of Newtown. Karl gave me his phone number and said: "By the way, Albert, I'll be at The Stonehouse today with Bill Douglass."

That's the Bill Douglass, Nevada County's iconic stand-up bass player jazz master.

I immediately told myself that it would be a nice way to round off my day relaxing at The Stonehouse, hearing some jazz before heading home and calling it a day. I told Karl that I would be there. Later that afternoon, I headed toward The Stonehouse in Nevada City, and as I came around the corner on Sacramento Street, I pulled into the parking lot of Lefty's Bistro restaurant — across from The Stonehouse — only to find myself feeling guilty for wanting to park there.

Being the real troopers and professionals that these guys are, they started spewing out the most incredible relaxed jazz standards, and I pinched myself over and over … thinking to myself I was in a dream.

Besides, I soon, too, discovered that Lefty's had a gazillion signs all over the parking lot asking patrons for $5 and $10 for these much-coveted, scarce parking spaces. I didn't see any gatekeeper-money-taker of any kind, but I still drove out and proceeded into The Stonehouse's parking lot. I thought it was funny that this parking lot was almost totally empty. I suddenly got this queasy stomach funny feeling … like, did I hear Karl correctly? I parked in a choice spot and proceeded to enter through the front door and into the bar area … only to discover a virtual ghost town. Nobody was there, not even the bartender. I figured I'd next find Karl setting up in the big room … on the stage and as I walked in, I could hear that little familiar tune in my head: "TA NI NA NA … TA NI NA NA."

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I figured I had just walked into the Twilight Zone. You guessed it, NADA!

By now, I figured, boy, I must have really heard Karl incorrectly, and I felt a tiny bit like a naked wet streaker in a church. I slowly decided to sneak out the back, resigning to heading home, when I discovered Karl and Bill outside the back patio of the Stonehouse. They were tuning up. Guess what folks … again nobody was there except for me, the door guy, and a dog tethered-tied to a post like a horse of yesteryear. I don't think the dog knew he was about to hear the most incredible jazz in and out of Nevada County, and he didn't even have to pay. I felt so guilty as it was about five minutes until show time that I told Karl I insisted on at least paying some money toward their take … enough to buy them each about five packs of gum or one gallon of gas for them to make it home only if they lived close enough.

The day was beautiful weather-wise, and the patio felt delicious. The band was set up against the one-story high 1850s stone wall covered in ivy, right next to that famous cave dug into the hill used for storing beer in the old days. I couldn't help but realize how lucky I am to live in Nevada City and Nevada County. Well, the band did its proverbial holdout, starting about 10 minutes late, hoping the hordes of jazz fans would suddenly show up.

Being the real troopers and professionals that these guys are, they started spewing out the most incredible relaxed jazz standards, and I pinched myself over and over … thinking to myself I was in a dream. Boy, all this just for me? And, well, the door guy and, of course, the dog.

I forgot to mention there were two other members of this installment, a couple of horn players. Sorry, I don't know their names except that I do see them with The Jazzmatics once in a while. I told Karl before he started I could only stay for about five numbers, but I decided to stick around for moral support and to take notes for this story. These guys proceeded to pour out their hearts and souls. I know Karl is passionate about his jazz, even converting a Beatles freak like me into a jazz-listening novice, at the very least. I met Karl a long time ago when he worked at a smog shop garage, not his own at the time. He was quiet and impish, and I thought he looked like Bob Denver of "Gilligan's Island" back then.

I have since realized how lucky I am to be his friend. He's responsible for turning me on to jazz and for having something else I can get excited about in this stage of my life, American jazz at its best.

Albert Martinez lives in Nevada City.

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