Father’s Day and 2 Years at The Velvet Note
I realize that I am a card-carrying member of the lucky DNA club.
As we all know, we don’t get to choose our parents. When the parenting cards were dealt, I was definitely dealt two aces. Both of my parents are alive and well, and extraordinary humans by any standard. My father was the first in his family to go to college, where he earned his degree in physics. He is also one of the organizers of the historical Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter sit-in. However, you’ve probably never heard of him and he doesn’t appear in our history books. On the morning of the sit in, after staying up late the night before, planning with his courageous friends, my father headed out to report for the first day of his commission as a new Air Force aviator. I don’t know how different my life would have been if he had made the choice to turn his back on his job assignment to sit at the counter, but frankly, I am glad he had the courage to both make change while still following-through on his commitment. A few years ago, a memorial was constructed in honor of those four men and I am proud that my father was finally acknowledged for his little-known role in making US Civil Rights history. He asked, “Why can’t we….?” And even better, he took the heroic actions necessary to answer his own question.
My first memories of my father were as I waited for him to disembark from his jet each week after his flight assignment. He was so slender and tall, and he wore this really cool one-piece flight suit and he walked with just a hint of a swagger. I would stand with my mother at the end of the tarmac strip and when he finally made it over to us, he would flash his humble smile, and I would rise up and fly into my father’s arms. On each flight, the government always gave their crews cracker and cheese packet snacks. The cheese was smooth and orange and processed and came with a little paddle that you used to scoop it out onto the stack of crackers in the adjacent compartment. My dad would save a packet for me, pulling it out of one of the many zip pockets of his flight suit. It was the best cheese tasting in the world because it meant that my dad was finally home.
Throughout my childhood, my parents gave us the best life experiences that they could imagine and afford. Today, I realize how rare and precious that was in a household of six, financed on the modest salaries of a military officer and an elementary school teacher. Every time we moved to a new assignment, they sought out a house in the best neighborhood with the best public schools they could afford. They drove us across the country every summer–like sweaty little band of explorers–so that by the time I was sixteen, I had visited 48 out the 50 states. They paid for the best music instructors, the best teachers and athletic coaches, we had full volume libraries and encyclopedias in our home so that we could read as much as we wanted and answer our queries. They instilled in me a love for reading and learning and exploration that opened any door I could imagine. We went to choral performances and ballets and recitals. We had high quality meals (whole wheat bread, honey, fresh vegetables and fruits, low fat proteins) that were home cooked, supplemented by a morning regimen of organic vitamin and mineral supplements. At a relatively young age, they had four children, and honestly, I don’t know how they did it–I can barely keep a house plant alive! As kids, we were alert, and smart and healthy and active. After church on Sundays, we went to dinner at the best restaurants, and we practiced impeccable manners, such that people would always come over and remark about how well-behaved we were. Mom and Dad taught us how to be hospitable to others, and to be gracious guests when we were visiting others. Our parents were living, non-preachy examples of strong, time-tested, success-sustaining values. Of course, there were the usual battles of will and the normal bumps of teen angst, but by the time I graduated and left for college, I felt that the whole world was open to me, without limits. As I entered through the front door of adulthood asking the question, “Why cant we….?” I was just cocky and confident enough to try to answer my own question.
Today, The Velvet Note is two years old. It’s not just a jazz club—it’s a solution to a creeping cultural dilemma, the result of our asking, “Why does it have to be this way? Why cant we….put authentic jazz in the suburbs?” After two years, people seem to have taken to the idea, and we are grateful that each of you have continued with your patronage, support and accolades. As we speak, we are rated as the top tourist attraction in Alpharetta and the #1 jazz club in the Atlanta-metro area.
Some folks still sneer at the oxymoronic idea of “suburban jazz”. Look, I lived in Manhattan for many years, and I realize that when you leave the city, you leave some of the gritty, steamy, desperate, real feeling of our culture behind. I both understand that city element and I appreciate it. I have no delusions of grandiosity that our safe, sanitized, comfortable, air conditioned, suburban club will ever measure up exactly to the funky authenticity of the hole-in-the-wall urban speakeasy with the rogue sax player out front. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we have to settle for a watered-down version of “jazzertainment”, shoved in the corner of a big box restaurant, ignored by patrons as we make our third trip down the Sunday buffet. It doesn’t have to be that way. Suburbanites need (and deserve) real culture too.
I believe that each one of us has a special gift. Perhaps my gift is designing the kinds of solutions that bring together ideas that would appear to be contrary or even mutually exclusive, and have them work in harmony in order to make things better. I’m not sure—I’m still a work in progress, but whatever courage I might have that prompts me to ask and answer that question, I owe a huge heap of gratitude to my dad.
Let’s be honest—most of us aren’t cruising around the downtown streets at midnight, quenching our thirst for culture amongst the urban speakeasies. After all, we have a baby sitter at $20/hr who is still on the clock and clacking down six blocks in high heels to get to a parking garage is not cute. So, we need an answer to the question, “Why can’t we….get real, live music close to home?” Why can’t safe, comfortable, and convenient coexist with authentic, excellent and exciting? The Velvet Note is the answer to that question.
Almost every morning for the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of getting out of bed to go to the best job in the world. I rise, I pull back the curtains, look up at the sky and stretch my arms and ask some variation on the question: “Why can’t we……” And in my head…in my dreams…in my internal dialogue, my dad always flashes his signature humble smile, and answers, “You can.”
To my dad and yours, and to all of the dads in our lives,
Happy Father’s Day!