A Jazz Club in Brno

Charlie Cockey

[April 2005.]

Last night I was invited to a jazz club by an acquaintance, a Canadian lady with an ailing Czech husband. They’d moved to his native Brno to spend time with an old school friend. And now that friend was dying of a brain tumor, and her husband is likewise failing. Fun and games.

We were to meet at a “private” jazz club. Private means that you can visit once, but after that you have to buy a membership. This being the Czech Republic, membership costs a whopping 30 koruna (crowns), about $1.50. When I arrived here about four and a half years ago, the exchange rate would have put it at around 75 cents. Situated in a basement, the place has an overwhelmingly moldy smell that all but sent me scampering. Arriving at the bottom, I was greeted with an elegant cavern lifted out of some movie set in an alternate universe. The place is a mix of highly polished, dark-reddish wood with bronze trim from some designer’s limbo midway between Deco and an upscale Chinese restaurant. Midway back in the cave, on your right as you enter, a small stage. Altogether, the place reminded me of The Shining’s Hotel Overlook. The bar has a large saxophone on a stand at one end that seems to have more to do with beer than music — I didn’t quite understand what. Perhaps the beer taps are there.

The clientele, suspended in some sort of dream state, poised between sentences in conspiratorially whispered conversations, ranged from well-dressed to nondescript. If one fellow wasn’t a Ukrainian Mafioso, it was a damned fine impersonation: about a meter wide under a black sport jacket, open, dark blue shirt, and thin black tie, no neck, a wide head, and seemingly without leg or hip joints. The man didn’t so much walk as tilt and swivel, much as one would walk a large shipping crate across the floor, but absolutely silently and very, very present.

Since I was driving and the Czech Republic has a zero-percent blood-alcohol limit, I ordered “American limonade,” a rainbow concoction with every fruit you can think of, excepting lemon, served with a clear plastic spoonlet and a bent straw bedecked with a gold garter that looked like nothing so much as a hula skirt, non-removable of course.

Last night, there was a quartet backing a singer — drums, bass, piano, tenor sax. The bass did pretty straightforward walking patterns all night. The drummer kept time cleanly and by and large unobtrusively, and the piano was likewise undisturbing. The singer had a most delectably round ass, although in its compact symmetry I think it is fairer to say two delectable round little asses, and a face as round as her ever-rotating derrière. Short blonde hair, small, widely set eyes, wide mouth with large lips, and the most execrable English imaginable. Her voice was okay, but her interpretation was so self-conscious, surface and calculated — in a word, dishonest — that I had to tune her out, except for the occasional glance at that inordinately inviting canning factory. The tenor sax player, thank God, was fine, though unfortunately relegated to just hanging around and occasionally stepping in for a couple choruses of some pretty sweet stuff.

My friend introduced me to a lady perhaps as old as I, perhaps not, I find I am no longer a judge of age. She wore a black cowboy hat, a matching black outfit, and a sculpted bone-snake necklace curling across her chest. She’s a radio reporter and very funny lady with sparkling eyes and a quick wit. I spent the better part of the evening talking with her in Czech and English.

At the end of the evening a 75-year-old gentleman arrived. They’d been hoping he’d come in and wanted me to meet him. He was white-haired, the skin of his face rather gelid and loosely hanging in the way it does when it seems that the skin just hasn’t the energy to grip the bone. His eyes were somewhere between sharp and rheumy, the bags beneath them large and sagging, pulling the lower lid a little away from the eyeball, adding to the rheumy aspect. He was wearing a long, elegant coat over an equally elegant suit with a brilliant silk tie. He emitted that slight perfume of alcohol heavy drinkers often acquire. He spoke English with a mellifluous Tennessee accent. I learned that he comes from Memphis, where he had apparently been an enormously successful cattle rancher (I never thought of cattle ranches in Memphis, but there you go). Some seven or eight years ago he sold everything — ranch, cattle, home, belongings — and moved to Prague. Six years ago he moved to Brno. Every Tuesday night he comes to the jazz club and holds court. His entrance was greeted by waves and handshakes from the musicians and a kiss from the singer, with half the people in the room stopping him for a moment as he crossed the room to our table. We really didn’t get a chance to talk much. By the time he arrived we were about to leave. He was departing for the US in the morning. We promised to get together to talk more when he returns. It will indeed be interesting to find out just who this old gent is. Like the club, he could easily have stepped from an Eric Ambler novel.

All in all, a curious and rather enjoyable evening. Sorry, no pictures.