I was driving back from a buddy's of mine tonight when the DJ on the jazz station said, "The song you were just listening to was from Captain Jack McDuff."
I remember Jack McDuff. Saw him multiple times in person at the Artist's Quarter and The Dakota, jazz clubs in the Twin Cities. He died of old age about a decade ago.
Only reason I knew of him and the only real reason I ever ended up becoming a ballroom dancer was because a more- cultured friend of mind FORCED me to go see him, and thus my love for jazz was born.
But something else became of that fateful night.
My desire to take a girl to a jazz club for a date.
Hell, down right classy enough.
But oh, so complicated.
For while in the past I've harped upon the irony that I could not find a date when I was 19 to attend a Victor Borge concert with me, hearing Jack McDuff this evening reminded me of a problem or phenomenon that was more prevalent back in my collegiate youth:
You just couldn't get a girl to attend classy events with you in college.
Let me state this and let me state this clearly, so that it goes down in the history books and is recorded for posterity:
There were MANY young men in the age ranges of 18-22 that were more than willing to be gentlemen. And not only gentlemen, but classy men as well. We had ideas about taking young women out on dates that were not just "drinks at the bar" or "going to a house party," but genuine venues and events like jazz clubs, salsa clubs, Victor Borge, and opera. A significant step up from what went for common dates.
But there were no takers.
Understand we were not nerds or ugly men. We were not morons or socially awkward. We were thoughtful young, (albeit) naive men that frankly wanted to do something classy, something different, something better than the run of the mill date. But despite that, there were no takers. And the reason was sociological.
You ever try to get a girl to attend a jazz club with you at 20 years of age?
Damn well near impossible.
First there's the "pearls before swine" aspect of it. Back in the 90's you had to duke it out with tickets to the Back Street Boys or some local, crappy, hippie, grunge band sure to spread tetanus to all of its audience.
When you dared to suggest the girl dress up in a nice "dress" and you in a suit and you'd pick her up and take her to dinner before, you were laughed at and dismissed. Perhaps even ridiculed as being sexist for daring to suggest she wear a dress and not a nose piercing.
Second, you're over-shooting. What 20 year old girl has ever heard of Jack McDuff? You'd be lucky to get a 35 year old to even know who he was, let alone even know of the venues you were talking about.
And finally, face it, you were a square from day one even thinking along those lines. Forget how great the jazz club was. Forget how great the jazz music was. In you thinking about attending a jazz club immediately took you out of your environment/class/caste and put you at such a great disadvantage you literally might as well have been trying to sell ice to Eskimos. The average 20 year old girl had no interest, inkling or desire to have anything to do with a culture approaching something like jazz.
And so there you were.
You had worked up the extra $40 over the course of a month to pay for dinner and a cover. You had maybe eyed a handful of girls to ask out. You had strategically chatted up and charmed them to the point you'd be able to ask them out.
But when you finally popped the question:
"Oh, I'd like to see Jack McDuff, but I'm going with my girlfriends to see Lilly Lipstick and the Licking Lizards. They're like the new Kirk Cobain!"
Fast forward 20 years.
I don't think I've asked a girl to a jazz club, salsa dancing, a high end concert, or any other event that would call for formal attire in at least a decade. And this isn't because of me courting a lady. Even when I was single I gave it up. Matter of fact, I don't know any guy in my peer group that even bothers with setting up "special dates" where they get reservations, find unique locales of lounges to go to, etc. No, all of them, not the majority, ALL OF THEM, now only offer "drinks at the local bar," "wings at Applebee's," or a "movie."
The special dates, be it Victor Borge, salsa dancing, Cpt. Jack McDuff, or any date that required pre-planning on their part has now been relegated to "special nights" with their theoretical wife in the future that they may or may not ever marry. Those thoughtful, considerate, impressive dates are now taken off of the table as they were seen to be too bold, too "needy," too "nerdy," and frankly were never availed of when offered.
But in those 20 years, it's interesting how times have changed.
Now, pretty much every girl I know wants to go salsa dancing. Nearly every girl I know would kill to have a guy dress up in a suit and pick her up. Nearly every girl I know would die to go to a high end jazz club. And nearly every girl I know would love to have a gentleman take her to a nice dinner.
The irony of course is that:
Jack McDuff is dead.
Victor Borge is dead.
And that young man is dead.
Though there is still open night jazz at the Artist's Quarter in St. Paul, that would require modern day men to drive 40 miles round trip and pull suits out of storage which they haven't worn in years. That would take time and effort they just not longer care to spend.
In other words, that nice, innocent, well-intentioned boy with a little more class than the average guy and his offer to take you out to a dinner, a night of jazz and (here is something so stupid in hindsight, but what I'd actually do out of naivete) who would buy you a flower to pin on the lapel of your dress, got his fill of martini's and jazz on his own. He no longer exists.
The offer is off the table and now you can enjoy the bar scene, just at the age of 40-60. You can enjoy the aging, balding, recently divorced (or still married) investment banker or failing businessman. You can enjoy the man who leases his Mercedes, but you don't know the difference between "lease" and "own." You can enjoy the guy who has a lot of money, but can't run a mile without suffering a cardiac arrest.
Because it would have been nice.
A young, nervous, but determined 21 year old man, intent to impress you with a dinner he could barely afford. And hoping his selection in jazz or symphony would buy him enough time to accidentally show you his quality and caliber. And though not in a BMW, he'd pick you up just the same in his Ford Escort. And there you'd sit at a high end restaurant, all dressed up, being treated to a fine dinner and some great music, as people walked downtown and observed from the outside saying:
Yes, that would have been nice.
But alas, it was "girls night" as "Farting Pete's" where you could drink for free and have a score of men lavish you with attention and free drinks.
And we all know that is more important than having that young kid pin a flower on your lapel as you listened to Jack McDuff.
(Photo: William P. Gottlieb [cropped])