A Tribute to The Press Room and Those Who Love It, by Jeff Volk
For Les Harris, Jr., Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood and Jeff Stout, with a nod to Ryan Parker
It’s a Seacoast Sunday evening
and it’s finally stopped raining.
The Old North Church is intoning
its own welcoming reprise
of Lenny Breau’s Five O’clock Bells.
And even though it’s dark already,
Market Square still glistens
through the lingering mist.
I make my way down Daniel Street
headlong into the last gasp
of a nearly departed Nor’easter,
its salty breath swirling
the fog of familiar memories —r ecalling
a thousand Sunday nights like this,
while stirring up anticipation
of what is yet to fill the air.
Even though it’s awfully early
for this kind of music,
we’ve all been waiting
quite some time for this event.
It’s a bit like… a resurrection --
Jazzarus has risen,
and the Phantom of the Keyboard
has finally got his old roost back.
Well, not exactly his old roost --
this hall has been transfigured!
Though you might hardly recognize the place,
history drapes the newly exposed, century-old beams
as cobwebs used to, for all those dusty decades.
Even with shiny new acoustic panels
layering their velvet touch
over this old brick-walled pub,
this place remains a world apart
from the highbrow Top of the Hub!
Feels more like Dave McKenna’s Copley Plaza,
or Scullers’ mellow mahogany chamber,
echoing that classic cigar-burnished timbre --
of a well-loved, bygone era.
From my post up in the balcony
(The Top of the Pub?),
a good-natured heckler hollers
“The more Les the better!”
quips Sargent from the stand,
scarcely missing a beat,
while fearlessly leading his band
onward, into the fray.
Suddenly doubling the cadence,
Les is more.
So much more than just a metronome.
Firing on all eights
he drives the band forward --
right off the bandstand
and into the grandstand,
where I, that happy heckler,
happen to be seated,
though sitting right in plain sight,
up there in my front row seat
hidden behind the glare of stage light.
Les is always more than you’d expect
and subtlety’s his greatest strength,
earning him our deep respect.
Trading his sticks for a pair of brushes
he paints a symphony of understatement,
showing us just how much Les
Next time ‘round, it’s the bass
who takes the upper hand,
Marshalling the forces,
he slaps out the commands.
Meanwhile, Les is trading all his fours for sixes,
while Rudy van Parker’s running ‘bout the house
pursuing his most consummate mixes,
and that Stout guy, standing front & center
never hesitates to entertain a phrase
from some forgotten standard, so obscure,
but we all recognize it anyways,
and grin from ear to ear
at the medley he plays.
But grinning even wider,
is that rhythm-driven man,
sittin’ back there rockin’
in the corner of the stand.
He’ll pound out complex counterpoint
to what his mates just played,
then flip it on its head
and play the melody, arrayed
as though his skins were 88 keys,
all laid out upon the stage.
There’s surely no contesting; Les is more!
But so is everybody else
who’s offered up a number on this stand,
or bounced their head (or tail) from side to side
and cheered appreciation for the band.
And like a fine Swiss Time machine
each one plays his part in this device,
to place another brick in this iconic artifact
of tradition tempered with timeless innovation.
So come on all you die-hard fans,
you’d best heed my advice,
and climb up to The Press Room
on a steamy Sunday night.
There, you can rest yourself assured,
you‘ll never hear that same old tune
played the same way, twice!
©2019 Jeff Volk. Written November 25 - 29, 2018. Final edits 1/14/19.
Jeff Volk is a longtime jazz fan and denizen of The Press Room — and, as we’ve now learned, a poet. He lives in Eliot, Maine.