A week ago I wrote a blog about my memories of jazz. I included a story that the great Detroit jazz pianist Charles Boles passed on to me that has made me chuckle every time I think of it.
You never know where inspiration will come from.
One of the advantages of getting a chance to hang out with jazz musicians is to hear them tell stories of how they first heard the music. As a child Charles Boles was introduced to jazz by a pianist in an apartment above his room. Charles would lie on his bed and listen to “Nubs” play to the crowd gathered for his “rent parties”. Nubs played great piano despite missing some fingers. Charles was moved by the music he was alone with. Now when you see him play every Tuesday at the Dirty Dog you can watch him go back to that state – lost in the music.
It isn’t the story itself that pleases me so much as it is the manner of the man who tells the story. Charles is a sensitive jazz pianist, arranger and composer, he has a long history of being taken seriously by a lot of other serious jazz artists,
but I still can’t help but smile while in his presence. It isn’t because he has a large grin. I think that it is his eyes and his attitude that sets off my life is a piece of cake button.
Charles plays with his quartet every Tuesday night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café from 6PM until 9 PM. Every week he gets to the club a little early and looks at his music. He seldom looks at his music when he is playing, he doesn’t have to. He has a lot of music in his head. Sure as one gets older stuff isn’t as easy to access, but that is the time when you get to make it up. I think I see Charles’ eyes express joy when he gets to do this.
CHARLES WITH HIS MUSIC
CHARLES WITH HIS BAND
Charles comes early to the Dirty Dog to organize his music for that evening, before his band mates arrive. Like Charles, they all have a healthy accumulation of experiences and stories from life and from being musicians. They all have the perspectives of jazz where one learns from all experiences and enjoy sharing their stories. These are jazz brothers, pals, amigos, cronies and certainly friends. Guitarist Ron English is usually the first to join Charles in the green room at the Dirty dog. Many of the new tunes the group plays will be Ron’s compositions. Bassist John Dana and drummer Renell Gansalves wander in and the first thing they do is to set up their equipment., but not without a smile or wisecrack with Charles. They all gather and chat as if they hadn’t seen each other in years. I sense that they really like each other. It shows in their music.
I have to confess that I am a bit intimidated by Charles Boles. He towers over me when I am in his presence. Maybe not physically, but he has an aura of knowing a lot of stuff. His natural composure is that of a relaxed and confident prankster.
The confidence comes from experience and hard work. He is a product of Detroit’s black bottom neighborhood, which was a cauldron of creative jazz artists. Charles is 81 years old now and has benefited from a lifetime of playing with great musicians. It shows in his piano playing. He has earned the respect of other musicians and those lucky enough to hear him live in a small club.
To better understand Charles I would recommend getting his Detroit Music Factory CD release Blue Continuum and listen to the cut Liz. Charles’ piano expresses a quiet reverence for his late mother Elizabeth. His fingers are placed on the keys with the single purpose and that is to show his respect and love he has for his mother. We can also hear in the song the playfulness and freedom that he was allowed as a child. As a child he was encouraged to play. And play he does.
The set was over and the band started to pack up their gear. The lights came up and the crowd began chattering. Barely heard over the rising sounds of conversations was the sound of the Steinway. I looked and I didn’t see anyone. Crouched over and hidden from view was the diminutive figure of Charles Bolles. I hung around close to the piano and was treated to some music from one of Detroit’s most sensitive musicians. His subdued playing didn’t disguise the skill and touch of a master. Charles is a gift that keeps on giving.
Later I asked Charles what the heck he was doing at the piano after playing a whole evening of jazz. He explained that he was playing for himself on an exceptional instrument, A private pleasure. The Dirty Dog Steinway is special, as is Charles. Charles has a light touch and a purity of expression that comes from his years of experience. Time has taught him to skip extraneous flourishes. Every note and chord is important, making the piano more important. They are well matched.
We sometimes take for granted those unique gifts that are in our lives, especially the quiet moments like the lake on a still night or Charles on the Steinway, They are welcome departures from the loud and annoying intrusions that more often get our attention.
Charles plays on Tuesday nights at the Dirty Dog with no cover charge.
Charles is a treat to talk to. His music is derived from his life experiences, and he is willing to share. Beware- his smile and the twinkle in his eye are infectious.
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