Fifteen years ago, Sunday nights were synonymous with jazz. A group of us often descended the concrete steps, moving in time to the thump of the bass, the music that beckoned us underground to a swaying world of smoke and rhythm and sweat. It was an overdose of sensation: sound, smell, motion, taste. Glorious and fleeting, I can still hear the crooning voices, still see the plucking strings, the amalgamation of colors on skin. It was authentically unadorned jazz: Black Dog. The only consolation when it closed was that I wouldn’t get lung cancer from second hand smoke inhalation after all.
For my husband’s birthday this year, we went to Scat Jazz Lounge, now the only jazz club in Fort Worth. It was our second time to give it a try. Dark and underground, nothing else would resemble the Black Dog days. The environment felt sterile in comparison. A high cover charge combined with a touristy environment keeps it trendy and homogeneously white. No smoke, no swaying, no blaring trumpet or cheap drinks, no black people and sadly, no jazz. Instead, quiet bands play elevator music in the background, taking record long breaks between sets, while cell phone screens light the place as people take selfies with their fancy drinks. As we left, I thought to myself, there is no more jazz in Fort Worth.
Two weeks later, and to celebrate my own birthday, a friend invited me to try the Third Thursday Jazz series put on by the Fort Worth Public Library with her. The idea of jazz inside a library was a bit confusing to me, but we went, not knowing what to expect, but certainly telling ourselves it wouldn’t be much, and quite possibly, it would just be us and a smattering of others at best. But as we made our way through the foyer, we were met with a crowd surrounding the opening to the room. We were informed it was standing room only. Four hundred seats were already taken, and every open space against the walls were occupied. And there, with the sun pouring in from the glass domed ceiling, people fanning themselves in the stuffy heat of summer evening, the sounds of jazz permeated, filling up every empty space. The women swayed, snapping their fingers to the beat, the men shifting side to side in rhythm, feet tapping, couples dancing, heads nodding, voices joining in affirmation. A kaleidoscopic depiction of our city- old, young, poor, affluent, with every color on the spectrum present. These people were here for the music; my heart was singing!
Black Dog was a glorious anomaly. But this is beautiful in its own way, and it beats the hell out of Scat Jazz Lounge. It is lacking in ambiance: folding chairs, bright light, kids playing, no Long Island Iced Tea in your hand…but in between the monologues, it is real jazz. Free jazz. So if you are homesick for propulsive rhythm and improvisational melody, or just want to experience a multicultural event in a highly segregated city, come join on August 16th or September 20th: 6:30 at the Central Library. I hope to be at both.
[In trying to find some archives of Black Dog, I came across this blog post. For those of you who used to attend, it will make you smile.]