Astute Observations

Feelin’ fine on the East Side

Over the last few months, my observations have been more political than personal. It occurs to me that I did not write a New Year’s column. No reflections or resolutions for this young year.
     “Springtime, I feel fine.” Thank you, Joe Pisapia, for those words. …
As the blossoms bloom and the grass grows, as my eyes itch and my nose runs, the familiar refrain Gesundheit! fills the air, and I am feeling grateful. I am grateful to be a musician, alive and well in East Nashville, Tenn., in the spring of 2016.
     Why, you ask? By the time this issue hits the stands, these events will have already occurred, but right now, as I have missed my deadline, I am in the middle of a four-week April residency at The 5 Spot with the sometimes band Hags-A-Nova.
     You see, I love this music, bossa nova. Artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, Frank Sinatra, and Stan Getz formed the forefront of this movement in the late 1950s and early ’60s. These songs of Brazil and Portugal are the pop songs of jazz, if you will. Their melodies sail by on a bittersweet breeze, wistful, beautiful songs of love and longing, both happy and sad at once. Sounding simple, the changes are deceptively complex and challenging, filled with lovely string arrangements. Each instrument complements the other and leaves just the right room for each voice to be heard.
     This big band of friends, 12 in number, called Hags-ANova has remained largely unchanged since our first gig back in 2005, and we have been playing together in various projects for an average of 20 years. The first gig was a co-bill with The Ornaments at The Family Wash. At the time, I wanted to play more upright. What better way to motivate oneself than to book a gig you are not sure you can pull off? The possible agony of defeat is a powerful motivator. But it was a success. Folks loved it. This music is romantic. In the words of our pianist, Jen Gunderman, bossa nova makes you happy.
     I realized, as I was piloting Frank Sinatra Junior on a prerehearsal Miller Lite run, how lucky I am to live in a neighborhood surrounded by friends who are also brilliant, passionate musicians, always up for a challenge and excited to go for it. To be able to call on friends and say, “Hey, would you like to get up on stage and sing a song in Portuguese?” and to hear “Absolutely!” is literally music to my ears. It’s as if I turned up my stereo and opened the windows and doors as “Desafinado” played.
     The people who stopped by to groove are in this band. They are doing it because they love this music too. They are doing it because it’s an opportunity to create a beautiful live event, an opportunity to hang with friends and play and sing some songs that won’t be heard anywhere else for an audience that is excited to hear them. One cannot exist without the other. That is East Nashville’s musical essence, and I am proud to be a part of it.
     The spring and the sunshine and the music have me filled with optimism. Playing these songs for enthusiastic people and sharing a drink and a chat remind me of what I love about our neighborhood: openness. The folks at The 5 Spot called and asked, “Hey Hags, why don’t you do a residency gig?” “How about a bossa nova happy hour?” I asked. How many rock clubs in America would go for that? Not many. I love it.
     The thing that continually attracts me to the East Side is the creativity, the art for art’s sake, the “go for it and figure out the details later” mentality that makes great things happen. As I pop another Zyrtec and type, I remind myself that tall skinnies and entitled brats will come and go. Creativity, freedom, and the joy of community will remain and shine. Musicians will play, singers will sing, chefs will chef, shopkeepers will keep shop, crossing guards will gesture wild admonishments, and we are all in it together. Thank you, East Nashville. Nothing could be finer!