I write these little essays every Monday morning. There are some mornings when I don’t feel like writing them. I stare at the blinking cursor and realize there’s nothing to do but lay the words end to end and see where they wind up, because there is a page on the dummy that has to be filled by deadline. I can go weeks without ever seeing a comment or hearing from anyone, but I always write like there are thousands of people parsing every phrase. There’s a mysterious relationship between freedom and structure, a simple fact of writing and music that somehow becomes paradoxical in the rest of life.
This week’s feature is about a group of musicians who play every week in the same place, at the same time, for whoever shows up. They pour out their art while people are eating dinner or drinking or yakking away with friends. While they share the dream of all musicians to play to a rapt audience in a room where every ear hangs on their next note, they understand the value of holding down a regular gig. Maybe they do it because they need a little extra money or because they want to keep sharp, but mostly they do it because they have to have an audience, the chance to move one person in a crowd.
We left out some major players in the landscape by necessity—people like Rick Olivarez, Robert Jospé, and many others—but I wanted to mention Dave Kannensohn, who died in August at 98, and who played regularly at Hamiltons’. At age 16, Kannensohn went on the road with a big band and eventually worked his way through the Great Depression as part of the Musicians’ Union. Half a century later, he held down a regular spot in a Dixieland outfit in a popular Florida resort town and up until last year he played his clarinet alongside younger musicians on the Downtown Mall. I wonder: Did the people who came rollicking into the Beach Club at Siesta Key looking for margaritas care who was playing? Do the people who hear Wilfred “88 Keys” Wilson play “Stardust” know what it means to him?