Alanah Davis: Jazz for Nature


August 6, 2021

Sam King is a Baltimore-born jazz musician on the trumpet. He is one of columnist Alanah Davis’ favorite magicians, who would like to prescribe “Jazz for the Wild” at least once a week Photo Courtesy of Breton9.

I think maybe it was the winter of 2016 that I really fell in love with jazz music, its unpredictable bars, its wild staccato, the way it blew in my ears like feathers on down pillows of goose in a guesthouse in the French Quarter in New Orleans… a place I’ve never been to but I’m sure I feel like I have some jazz sounds. In that freezing winter of 16 (and maybe the spring before it), this was the first time I had sat down to appreciate the unpredictability of how notes that were plucked, blown and repeated over an audience could have me and nearby listeners fly almost anywhere in the world … in any decade which is great because I hate to fly laughs and I don’t have a time machine but maybe this bozo Jeff Bezos does, anyway.

The years 2015 and 2016 were difficult for me. I was going through a divorce, forced out of my cookie-cutter two-bedroom home with lots of green space in Baltimore County with my family in a tiny room on Preston Street in East Baltimore surrounded only by concrete, drug store and a church down the street. Myself, my two children and my mother all slept on a mattress.

Jazz was sometimes the only thing that made it feel like everything made sense. Some days I would be the first to get up from our queen-size mattress on the floor and get on a city bus to head to the nearby art districts and surrounding streets with little cafes where I could chat with local people. friends and fellow performers for a while until sunset nears and events start where I could do spoken word for tips, participate in open mics, or visit jazz venues.

Lucky for me, during this very special time, there was a bar that served as a moonlit jazz hall every Monday near my guesthouse in east Baltimore on Belnord Avenue. I will never forget that night I wore a headband, brown Doc Marten boots, black stretch pants with a single button, pleat front and an orange and black Orioles baseball t-shirt with 3 sleeves / 4. I found myself sitting with a group of my artist friends in a corner booth at a bar with holes in the wall on Belnord Avenue when the group started. They played on my anxiety but also on what made me feel good at 24 – being unpredictable and what kept me alive… God.

The music sounded like church music, but the only spirits in this bar were liquid and in round crystal glasses darkened by a thin film of fried food.

I never ate the food there in this sticky bar, but always left feeling full with the music. I always had just enough to keep me in the routine of getting off that mattress in the morning during those Roaring Twenties. Something about these chord progressions held me back. The musicians in the venue have since moved on to better venues, thank goodness or thank you the blues… both?

I’m not a doctor, but if I was, I would start prescribing “Jazz for the Wild” at least once a week. Jazz went through a thicket of emotions that I fear would have engulfed me entirely, as some people on Twitter wish the space had swallowed Bezos. Or maybe the real sworn enemy is capitalism? Capitalism keeps many single black mothers in a vise where a jazz prescription may never be enough. Housing insecurity is not a new instrument and I was not the first to play it, it is a standard below the poverty line. I’m just happy to have jazz to accompany me in nature.

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