WHAT 'THE DUKE' & MY DAD TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE, AND ALL THAT JAZZ...


My Dad was a talented jazz saxophonist who played with dance, swing and jazz bands up and down the country. If he was playing close to home, occasionally I would go along with him. I know, I know, “them there places are no place for a child” I hear you say. Well, this was the 1970’s, my Dad was a single parent of an only child and we had no extended family, so there were times when he had no choice. And, if it’s any consolation, it happened mostly when I was on school holidays. And anyway, I loved being there with him. It was such an exciting and creative environment.

I would usually be placed in the care of the barmaid (that’s what they called them then) and given a lemonade, a packet of Smiths salt ‘n shake and a quiet seat at a table in the shadows. From there, I would watch my Dad and his band mates tune up and my little heart would burst with pride. “That’s MY Daddy up there.”

I met so many interesting people on those visits. But, I was an introverted child who hardly spoke at all because of the stammer I’d developed after years and years of bullying and abuse at the hands of my violent schizophrenic mother and school bullies. I was really very happy to sit in the shadows with my lemonade and salt ‘n shake. But, lovely people would come up to chat to me. I think they were checking on me. They would do their best to engage me in conversation but I just couldn’t.

One particular night at the famous Band On The Wall in Manchester, (I must have been about 10 years old), I was sitting there sipping on my lemonade, watching my Dad and his friends tune up when a crowd of other men carrying various fascinating looking instrument cases came in. I had no idea who they were but the whole place seemed to light up and take on a new vibrant energy the minute they entered the building. “Wow”, I thought, “How can people…just people, do that?” Who were these guys?

Before long, one of the men came over to me on his way to the bar. “Want anything kid?” he asked in an accent I’d only ever heard in the movies. He was American. I only answered him with a shake of the head. He winked at me and headed to the bar. I watched him return to the stage and talk to one of the other men who was leaning on the piano. They both turned and looked straight at me. My blood ran cold and I could feel my face flush. I hated to be noticed. Being noticed, to me, meant trouble. What had I done wrong? Was Dad in trouble for bringing me? I didn’t want to leave. I wished I could shrink down, like Alice In Wonderland, and hide under the table.

The other man, who had wavy slick and shiny hair and a slim moustache, made his way over to me. Oh no!!! I was in trouble. But, he smiled and winked at me, walked straight past me to the bar. He came back to my table with a Coke and another bag of crisps. I’d never had Coke. “Here you go kid” he said. What’s your name? Oh my Lordy. That was the one question I dreaded because you couldn’t answer with a nod or a shake. You had to use actual words or you’d appear rude. And you could never appear rude! It just wasn’t allowed. “Michelle” I said, so quietly that he had to strain to hear. “Your Dad one of those guys?” he asked, po