1950s Archive

Roughing It with Gramp

Part XV

continued (page 4 of 4)

There were still Broussard's. Kolb's (barbecued crab, pig's knee and sauer-kraut, and those old-fashioned fans in the ceiling that slaves used to turn. and the only real barrel beer in America served in white china mugs), and many others now dust and gone.

Mama gave out on the third night. And Gramp and 1 went to a jass session ( “jazz” as a spelling came later) and we sat in a ditty room and heard a “coon shouter” knock out the old blues, and knock them our fine and mellow and deep and low and solid and easy. They've spoiled jazz today, by making it smooth and sweet, but in New Orleans in those days it was still the real thing. A good boy on the horn, a set of ten fingers on the eighty-eight keys of an upright piano (when will they learn you can't play jazz on a Steinway grand), and some real tony lad on the bass dog-house.

There was this singer. She was solid and very black and her hair was Cut short. First she stood up in the smoke-tilled room and she tried out a song I have never forgotten. I found the words again the other day.

I'm Baptist bred and Baptist born

And when I die there's a Baptist gone.

Methodist preacher you arc dead

You poured water on the baby's head.

Baptist preacher you arc right

Cause you take the candidates out of sight!

I went to the river to be baptized

Stepped on a root and got capsized

Water deep, preacher weak,

I went to Heaven from the bottom of the creek!

Then she did a blues that is kind of a classic among jazz men. They've changed the words since I heard it … but it's still a real early jazz sting. She-sang it low and husky, got bucket and gully low. Sad and yet strong, with all the meaning it was meant to have.

One of these days, it Won't be long.

You call my name. I'll be gone.

Member one night a drizzlin' rain,

Round my heart I felt a pain.

I got a man, he's long and tall,

Moves his body like a cannon ball.

When I wore my apron low

Couldn't keep you from my door.

Now I wears my apron high

Sc'cely ever seeing you passin' by;

Now my aprons up to my chin,

You pass my door, you don't conn in. . . .

We got back to the hotel and Gramp said we mustn't wake Mama. In our suite he said he felt like having a night-cap. “I think I'll have a little swig of Josephine's brew to settle the night mist.”

He leached for the Untie in the suit case where he had hidden it, put it to his lips and then said. “It's empty!”

“You sure, Gramp?”

“Yes, damn sure!”

There was a light coming through from Mama's room so Cramp went in there, carrying the empty bottle. Mams was silling up in bed, a book held ill front of her. She had a smile on her face I had never seen before—sort of like the Mona Lisa.

Gramp silently held up the bottle. Mama shook her head. Da Vinci smile and all. and said in a high voice, “Not tonight. Napoleon.”

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