Mystic Jazz

St. Louis is one of the most musical of cities in our country – especially for aficionados of Blues and Jazz. And I missed the Big Muddy Blues Festival on this past Labor Day – unwilling to drive into the city’s LaClede Center to fight for parking – or to use the metrolink – or to brave the heat. No jiving for me.

Not long ago Terry and I had the best of all worlds in Mystic, Connecticut. Every Thursday night from seven o’clock to nine was live Dixieland Jazz at Ashby’s, a bar and restaurant at the end of Connecticut Route 127 in Old Mystic. Weekly gatherings were an eclectic bunch – Theresa, Jack and staff from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Gloria and Delores from Rhode Island’s Watch Hill coast, Paul and Richie, World War II airplane pilots, Angie, my Portuguese accountant friend, and the “boys” in the band—Dom, Charlie, Lou, John and Pete.

Donna, our waitress, knew our favorite foods and drinks… and what wasn’t on the menu, she’d get the cook to make it for us—like my favorite, pan-fried sole.

These glorious Thursdays lasted six years. And then the owner sold the place after his wife ran away with cook. A Mr. Donut shop now occupies the spot where glorious jazz once filled the air. I soon retired to St. Louis. Here’s a poem about that wondrous time:

Ashby’s

Thursday night is finally here—
It’s live jazz time at Ashby’s
so we head down to Mystic
along Route 27 way.

Inside it’s nothing fancy — sea stuff hanging
on the walls—buoys, harpoons,
prints of clippers from by-gone eras,
old instruments arranged around the bar.

Mystic Jazz image 1

Dominic lifts his horn to us.
Charlie nods, shoulders hunched
over yellowed keys.
Ted blows a set of scales
up and down his clarinet.
John, traps all set,
waves from his chair.
Lou is busy tuning strings
on his burnished bass viol.

Eleanor, Don, Tom and Marge smile hellos.
Jack asks where we’ve been.
Angie grins, happy we’re at our place
under the menu board
where we wait for Donna
to bring our steaming plates
of scallops, fish and chips.

The boys in Charlie’s band
prefer Dixieland jazz
but tonight they play
“Willow Weep for Me.”
Jim leads Gloria
onto the floor for a dance.
It seems the haunting melody
moves her to another place.
Bob’s son slowly stands,
hands braced upon the table—
lets the plaintive melody
rock him side to side.

Cecille’s smoky voice starts
“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”
Her father smiles, eyes half shut,
imagines his dead wife’s spirit
keeping gentle rhythm
with their daughter’s wistful song.

Sometimes you never know
what musicians might appear.
Tonight we aren’t disappointed
as familiar notes soar through the air:

Pack up all my cares and woe—

Gradually eight men jam the floor.
Scott’s horn grabs the melody
embellished by saxophone’s
silky complexities:

Here I go, singing low.

Clarinet’s high notes soar to the fore,
drums, bass and piano
playing off and around each other,
complementing, harmonizing,
crescendo rising:

Where somebody waits for me,
Sugar’s sweet so is she.

Mystic Jazz image 1

No foot in the house is still.
Some of us stand at our tables,
jive in place the best we can,
our hoots, whoops and whistles
punctuating the air:

Oh what hard-luck stories they all hand me.
Bye-bye Blackbird.
Blackbird, bye-bye.

When the song is over,
Ashby’s owner Steve,
turns to the players,
shouts his thanks
over our applause—
reminding us why
we travel to Mystic
down Route 27 way.


Lines from “Bye-bye Blackbird” used with permission from Fred Ahlert Music Corporation.
“Ashby’s was first published in The Resident, January 25 – February 7, 2006, p. 30. Stonington, CT.