It’s 5am at the Albuquerque airport. I’m washing down Advil with my coffee, my head still swimming in alcohol from the night before, but I regret nothing, because I hung out with the Hispanic Rat Pack last night, and it was awesome.
I don’t think they actually called themselves that, though it’s a fitting description and – barring any copyright infringement – I think they should start using it. Although “they” weren’t even a group, per se – the band was made up of a handful of musicians in their 60’s (and beyond) that had all come together to honor their musical mentor – apparently a local celebrity – a Mr. Frank Chiwiwie. The story I got from the gentleman next to me, who had retired from local government in Santa Fe after holding myriad interesting positions and was currently running a local mayoral campaign, was that Frank had been around the area forever and developed quite a following. During that time, he had mentored each of the musicians that were playing there that night, some to relative fame (I hadn’t heard of any of them, but then I don’t keep my finger on the pulse of Latin Jazz…), so while Frank typically plays alone, they had all come together for this one night to thank him for everything he’d done via lively jam session. There was even a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”. Mostly though, there was just music – not necessarily songs, per se, or at least not as they were originally written – just music that went on and on, fast paced and fluid, until the musicians collectively decided it was time for a break. The drummer, who probably remembers Eisenhower, was killing it. The trumpet and sax players would jump in as appropriate, wail for a while, and then lean back against the bar and trade their instruments for whiskey and tequila until they felt the urge to play again. The singer (though they all sang some) would pop up out of the crowd, do some vocals, and then drop back into his chair to enjoy the band with the rest of the crowd.
In the midst of listening – and running up my tab – I managed to have a nice conversation with the guy next to me who had known Frank for 30 years since college where, as a member of student government, he had been responsible for overseeing the campus concert hall where Frank would frequently play, and where his piano had been stolen off the stage. “We still haven’t found that piano!” he laughed. He told me about the trumpet player being famous (which I heard first hand from the trumpet player only moments later), and about the best ski resorts in the area. We talked so much that Frank came by after the show and asked if we were related, which was funny, because the guy was definitely Native American, which I am definitely not, but it was dark… Related or not, it was because of my proximity (and presumed association) with this gentleman that I got the chance to talk with several of the musicians. We shot the breeze with the aforementioned trumpet player who, having maybe had one too many tequila breaks, leaned in, his arms around both me and the guy next to me, and lamented the recent divisiveness in the nation, commenting about how the government wants him to shoot whitey, and whitey to shoot him, though he thought I seemed like a perfectly nice white guy, which was flattering. We talked about unrest and forest fires which – he seemed to believe – were also being set by the government, though it wasn’t clear to me why. It was so entertaining that I didn’t even care, and with his suit and his swagger, he was essentially the Hispanic Dean Martin. We toasted to something, and he went back to his buddies. The drummer came by and asked if I was also a drummer – presumably based on my sweet bar top/knee drumming skills. “Only on ‘Rock Band’!” , I replied. “Right on! I’ve played Rock Band” he said, air-drumming his way back to start another set. At one point the guitar player handed me a glass and I drank a tequila shot with the band, though they had to twist my arm:
“Guys, I don’t need this, I have to be up at 4am to get to the airport!” ^drinks^
“I remember what it was like to be young!”
“Guys, I’m not that young!” (though I certainly could’ve been any one of their children, and in some cases, grandchild)
“You can sleep on the plane, man!”
The show ended early, which was a blessing in disguise. The 4 O’clock alarm brought confusion and ire. I have two flights ahead of me, and a happy hour tonight – the thought of which makes me a little sick. I have drug myself to this point by sheer force of will – even the express elevator down from the 19th floor of the hotel was a little nauseating – but as I sit here, half asleep and picking apart a terrible, industrial grade airport breakfast croissant that would be better suited to discus competition than human consumption, I’m glad I decided to wander downstairs last night instead of sleeping, because Frank really was a jolly good fellow. Now if only he could find that piano…