Blue Christmas

Come Christmas I especially miss Charlie O’s…many a chilly December night I spent time in there sipping whiskey and listening to saxophoned renditions of Blue Christmas. A reharmonized Blue Christmas, perhaps, alien and even utterly unrecognizable to those of us not be bop musicians, but the head would return soon enough and it would be a blue, blue Christmas all over again. Herman Riley would let the last notes fade in a sigh and the sound of pads closing, one by one, till there was nothing but utter silence in a stilled room. The patrons would wait till every last air molecule passed through the bell of his horn into the ether before applauding. I think about that often now. For some reason I’ve thought about it even more this Christmas. The vibe is some rooms seems timeless, but alas they are anything but, and once their time is over there’s only silence and memories.
Saxophonist Chuck Manning on some night at Charlie O's.

Saxophonist Chuck Manning on some night at Charlie O’s.

It fades, pads closing, in a long, drawn out sigh….

It is a travesty that so little L.A. jazz is visible on YouTube. It really is. It’s not that nobody was filming…there was always somebody filming. So where the hell is the footage?  Typical lazy jazz fans…..Being one, I should know. But it’s a shame…all that extraordinary music and poof….it’s no more. Gone.

But I managed to find a clip of Herman Riley at Giannelli Square out in the Valley. Riley was one of the most perfect tenor players I ever witnessed. Breathtaking. And dig that Giannelli Square…..yet another lost L.A. jazz joint. The recession was brutal to this town’s jazz scene. Watching that scene melt away as the economy tanked was so sad it hurt. I had an especially stark vantage point writing Brick’s Picks for the LA Weekly during those years. The clubs closed up and all those connections drop away. All that music passes into history. Hell, not even that. It passes into oblivion, unrecorded. No one recorded it, no one filmed it, scarcely anyone even wrote about it. All that creativity existing purely in the now…and now that now was …then, and is gone. When we who saw it finally pass, it will not be history anymore, it will be gone, nothing. This town’s history does that, disappears. Plowed under, forgotten, never existed. It’s all future in L.A., and no past. Don’t look back, there’s nothing there.

I still miss Herman Riley. I recall a show at Charlie O’s…Herman Riley, Nate Morgan at the piano, John Heard and Roy McCurdy bass and drums. Damn. The music felt like it would live forever, but it doesn’t. In fact if I hadn’t written about it I probably wouldn’t even remember that particular night at all. Or maybe I would.

Yeah, I would. It was that good.