The Jazz.com Blog
July 29, 2009 · 0 comments
Below is the second (and final) installment of Walter Kolosky’s account of a memorable encounter with Big Joe Turner. For the first part of this article, click here. T.G.
The walk to the stage literally took five minutes. The applause died down long before he reached his goal. His final steps to the front of the stage were now accompanied only by an eerie silence.
The spotlight that shined on Joe showed what hard living had done to him. I became heartsick when several members of the band, no youngsters themselves, reached down to help lift Joe up onto the stage. There was some doubt whether they could successfully pull him up. After one of the most excruciating moments I can ever remember in public, Big Joe was finally seated on a stool that had been placed for his comfort.
At this point, I felt so bad I had to turn away. I no longer wanted to be part of this cruel charade. I did not wish to witness such a humiliating experience. I was looking at the wall and my friend Chris was doing the same thing as we heard Joe mumble into the microphone. His words were unintelligible. He would laugh after each comment and I could hear the crowd nervously respond with titters of its own. Finally, out of morbid curiosity, I turned toward the stage and tried to make out what Big Joe was saying. I thought maybe I could do so by combining the sounds I heard with some amateur lip reading. I had no luck. It was obvious he had no teeth. I could not make out a single word the man said. Joe seemed to mumble on aimlessly for about five minutes. Finally he turned around to the band and indicated he was ready to begin.
I was in for a big surprise.
The Kansas City Shouter lived up to his name that night. Big Joe knew how to yell, all right. His booming voice rocked the house and he seemed to have boundless energy. I remember calling out to my buddies, “This is great!” The force of his talent was overwhelming. We all had huge smiles of disbelief and joy on our faces.
Big Joe’s stamina was amazing. He had been transformed from a sorry looking hulk into a force to be reckoned with before our very eyes and ears. It seemed as if he didn’t take a single breath during his entire 40-minute set. His smile lit up the room and reached out into the alley. “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Flip, Flop and Fly,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “Chains of Love” were rocket-shot out of his mouth. It became quite apparent one didn’t need teeth to enunciate “Flip, Flop and Fly”!
We found ourselves singing with the old giant. We were stomping our feet and bouncing on our chairs. We were clapping our hands and pinching ourselves to make sure this was really happening.
To this day, I have never attended an event whose expectations were so low and whose exultations became so high. When Joe finished his set, the full house arose as one and rained thunderous applause upon this jazz/blues legend. The ovation continued as he was helped of the stage. Slowly it died back down as we went back to our overpriced drinks and bad food. The fans’ appreciation ended before Big Joe reached his lonely table again. No one helped him to his seat. I watched paralyzed as I saw this poor old feeble man gently sit down and put his huge hand around another shot glass. I watched for another five minutes. Not a single person went over to greet him or thank him. That included me.
Finally, we had to leave to make room for the next group of exploiters. I walked past Joe as he once again stared off into space. But just before I reached the exit, I turned around and went back to his table. People were filing past him uncomfortable to look him in the eyes. I stood right in front of him. I said, “Hi Joe. Thanks for a great show.” He didn’t even notice I was there.
I realize now that being a music listener is just as important as being a musician. You can’t really have one without the other. So the fact that my friend Chris and I never became famous musicians is no longer a regret. We are still both part of the equation that makes it all work. But more importantly, I learned that night at Tramps that the greatest artists can summon a force from a reservoir of passion that lives inside them to overcome whatever human frailties they me be suffering. That passion raises both them and us. That mutual ascension is the product of the shared experience of human creativity.
I’ll tell you one more thing. Ever since that brief meeting with Big Joe Turner, I have made it a point to let artists know I appreciate them in the here and now. That is why I write.
This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky