Ruth Bass: Music Inn's pure jazz was magical

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RICHMOND

When Derek Gentile wrote about the long ago wonders of Music Inn last week, his memories weren’t nearly as long ago as mine. He went to that marvelous spot when it was in its big time stage, the era introduced by the inimitable Don Soviero, including lawn seating, illicit substances and rock. My time there, first as Milton Bass’s jazz-ignorant date and then as his slightly more knowledgeable wife, was in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

It was a sweet era, with a mainly adult audience sitting inside the barn to hear music from the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonius Monk, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and, most importantly for us, the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

I remember the night we stopped to say hello to Music Inn owner Stephanie Barber and found her way outside of her usual confident self. "She’s not here," she said to us nervously. "She’s not here."

"She" was Sarah Vaughan, and a full house was waiting for "Stormy Weather," "Misty" and much, much more. What Stephanie did not want to do was walk out there, face the group and announce that the party was over before it could begin. We went out to take our seats, hoping for the best, but a few more minutes went by.

And then, there she was, beautiful and lyrical. Later, checking with our friend Stephanie, we found out that she had breezed in as if nothing were wrong and had both charmed and appalled Stephanie by going into the Barber toddler’s room and crooning a couple of songs to him. Then she went on stage and dazzled the rest of the place.

I remember the first time I heard the Brubeck Quartet and the magic of Paul Desmond’s alto sax and listened to Dave and Paul talk back and forth musically. Desmond became a friend, fanatic about corn that he could eat within minutes of the picking and thus a dinner guest at our house each summer that the quartet returned. In New York, he took us to his favorite restaurants, introduced us to Gloria Steinem when he was seeing her and to an exotic woman named Commander Tice, who put that name on her mailbox so everyone would think she was a man and not bother her.

Years later, we made a date to meet at a New York hotel bar, and he insisted on coming to our room first so he could tell us he had cancer. He’s dying, I thought, and when we parted ways later in the evening, I watched him ride away in a taxi and knew we would never see him again.

I remember the one night things were in disarray. The Kingston Trio had brought a worried man, three jolly coachmen and their questions about flowers to Music Inn. The house was sold out, and apparently an angry group outside the building was raising a fuss about either not getting in or being unable to hear. I don’t recall the reason for their rage. Inside, we were unaware of the rumpus, and they didn’t storm the barricades -- probably because it was still the 1950s.

And I remember the night I was under the weather, close to the toilet bowl when my Milton Bass date arrived at my apartment. I missed Miles Davis that night, but we’ve never forgotten the date that didn’t happen. He asked if he could bring me anything after the concert, and I said, "a grinder and a vanilla milkshake." He did it, wondering how that could fix a stomach problem. I couldn’t believe he came back. But it worked, and the intrigue went on.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of
The Eagle. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.


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