Once when I was on a writing assignment, I went to a Jazz Festival in New Orleans. In those days, before Hurricane Katrina, N'awlins was a
tobasco'n mix of colonial French, Creole, and southern American cultures with a little Catholic-Voodoo sauced in.
It had a luscious underground life-style... of course... but then the city is precariously planted below sea level.
Katrina loved that.
One night, I sashayed into a festival venue to listen and nod to Mongo Santamaria. We had smoked-up an acquaintance at the
long-gone but memory-sizzling El Mirador in Chicago. It was good to hear again his personalized brand of Afro-Cuban Jazz, live. And it was good to see that smile.
Late in the evening (early morning in suburban time), I was fingered into a party of Mongo fans who were throbbing with the
music and downing a colorful kaleidoscope of drinks. Sitting across from me at the table was a pair of very attractive twins.
Not just twins... the most remarkably identical twins I had ever seen!
I was so stunned by what I saw that I stared at them, stared at them, until I had to move over next to them and say hello. They
were both dressed in a la boheme darkest purple tuxedos, with lighter purple shirts sans neckties, and each had a violet silken
scarf draped over the shoulders and around the neck. I stared in at them so close, I almost licked one of them. I was a stunned
fool! They were exact carbon copies of each other, exact, except for one small detail:
one had neck-long hair, one had longer shoulder-length hair.
They were pleasant and friendly. They smiled a lot but didn't
When my embarassing behavior caught up to me, I quickly moved back to my chair on the other side of the table. I
suborned the woman next to me and asked who they were. "Oh them," she said, "that's Jamie and Jenna. Pretty aren't they!"
And then she shattered what was left of my breath and brain with: "They're brother and sister."
I droned: "I don't believe it, I don't believe it!
How do you tell them apart?"
As I was about to crumble out my chair, someone jumped up and suggested we move to another more secluded night spot. Mongo
had finished for the night and I managed to collect enough of my self to exchange a few words and get his hotel number. Then I
followed my party-gang out into the dawning light to the other side of the perfumed French Quarter.
It was a cellar-like place (not many cellars in N'awlins you might guess) filled with paintings on dark walls, clouds of smoke most
of it sweet-smelling, and of course, Jazz, languid, tactile Jazz. It was also packed with people. All kinds, shapes, and status quos.
It was too crowded to pull tables together, so we split up. The twins were at one table, I was at the other... doing, what else? Staring at them.
The one with the longer hair, Jenna, was corraled by a good-looking slick to dance with him. She did. They moved together
freely and seductively which is what you have to do when you dance to the free and seductive provoking evocations of Jazz.
The other twin, Jamie, watched them with disturbed care. When the slick began running his hands all over Jenna's body, her
brother lunged up and in between his sister and her feel-up partner. The slick was having none of this. They tusseled and
stumbled until Jamie felt the closing hands around his throat. He broke free, pounded the slick in the belly, cracked him on the
back of his neck, and delivered a collapsing knee to his point-of-no-return. No longer slick, M. Slick was now M. Jelly on the
floor. Jamie then dragged Jenna to a corner of the room, pressed her up against the wall and in the shadows they whispered what
was apparently a heated, strident argument. Only that’s not what was happening.
My suborned friend turned close to my ear and said: "Aren't
they wonderful? They're like a married couple." I shut my eyes. Then she offered a rocket with red glare and a bomb bursting in air:
"Oh, you asked who's who?
Jamie is the one with the longer hair!"
I caught my breath, turning blue until I poured down a Courvoisier and flashed as bright red as blush could be. It was
Jamie who did the dancing and Jenna who did the beating. And it was me who did the duh-ing, the genderizing. It was my Spring
Awakening, a metaphor of the freedom of jazz music, how it poured into people's blood like cognac and lived with them in their lives.
From its early predominantly repressive male days, Jazz has evolved into a de-genderized music expression. Because... it's
only the music, the lyricism of the music, the song of it all that matters. Something that most rock, most country, all rap and Bob Dylan never understood.