Jimmy Scott at Yoshi's and a night that becomes a debacle

The night held such promise. I seriously don't know what they hell was going on in the universe that caused what should have been a delightful evening to be one that had nothing but arguments and strife going on all around. It started with an agreement that Chad Newsome, Mr. Chang and I would meet at Morton's after work to partake in their delicious $6 sliders and some drinks. I got there first, followed by Chad, with Mr. C bringing up the rear, leaving enough time for Chad and I to order Anchors and blue cheese fries. Now I generally like the bar at Morton's except for two facts: they have televisions in it, which I loathe, and the San Francisco Morton's is the only one in the country which doesn't have drink specials to match the food and I think that pretty much sucks. But the sliders are tasty and at the price they make a great meal. Besides that, it's just blocks from my apartment on my way home from work.

Mr. Chang is one of two close friends I have whom I would label a "conservative," though I try to not hold this against him, because other than that he's a perfectly great guy and at times is downright hilarious. We are seated near one of the TVs which is tuned to Keith Obermann, or whatever his name is, whom Mr. C has a problem with, and proceeds to tell Chad and I about it. Having just read two lengthy articles in the NY Times and the New Yorker about these ridiculous Tea Party people who seem to represent the latest twist in the long, sad, American tradition of "great awakenings," my patience for such discussions is pretty much non-existent and I refuse to allow Mr. C to spout this Fox/Beck/Rush/Newt drivel unanswered, which leads us inevitably to Sarah Palin. The problem here is that Mr. C is trying to link Obama's use of a teleprompter as somehow being equal to Palin's crib marks in her palm. I categorically think this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard which takes us down the rabbit hole for an hour and a half of heated discussion which just bores the shit out of Chad, a fellow liberal Berkeley grad like myself, who has just endured a day that included 6.5 hours of sitting in useless meetings while in the employ of the West Coast's largest bank. While I have empathy for his situation, Mr. C has really raised my ire with this, so let me be perfectly clear: if you think Sarah Palin is qualified to be President of the United States you are an ignoramus. Period. In fact, you are an extreme ignoramus- ignorant- a chump! I won't say you're stupid, but you obviously need an education. This has nothing to do with Obama, congress, or anything else currently going on in American politics. The fact that people take Sarah Palin seriously is frightening, and frankly, it's embarrassing. Okay, enough of that.

So we finished our argument and food and left, with Chad beating a hasty retreat as we had just exhausted him further and provided zero fun for him after a long, crappy day. I can't say I had a good time either, because what fun is it to argue over common-sense basic facts? It's not. Even Mr. C didn't enjoy this, because he's not used to me calling him out in a heated fashion, which I have to admit I did. But I figure the best way to make your point with a right-wing military veteran is to essentially call their position that of one only one a "pussy" would take and if he doesn't like certain things about the country that's just tough shit. Deal with it, or put yourself in a position of power where you can exploit the rules that favor the elite. Life is short, there probably is no god, so get on with your life and have a good time.

And on that note, I headed over to Yoshi's to see Jimmy Scott. The last time Scott, who is now 84, had a gig scheduled in town it was cancelled because he had to go to the hospital. The fact that he's still performing (and recording) at this age is something of a miracle, but he has probably never been more popular than he is now because over the past twenty years or so his genius has finally gathered some attention due to some great late-career recordings. The show was sold out.

Scott's a natural contralto. The first time I heard him I was dumbfounded to learn I was listening to man. If you can compare him to any singer, which may be a mug's game, it would have to be Billie Holliday, who was a huge fan of his and saw all of his shows whenever they were in the same city. Since Scott's been singing since the 40's, I'll leave it to you to decide who influenced whom. He has some affliction and has never stood more than 4'11", so he's often referred to as "Little Jimmy Scott," a moniker conferred on him back in the days when he used to sing with Lionel Hampton. Yeah, the dude is old. And he looks terribly frail- like he's going to die any minute. Since he's wheelchair-bound it's hard to tell how much he's shrunk in his old age, but seriously, when his wife wheeled him out onstage my initial thought was "Gollum Sings the Blues."

But there simply is no other voice like his. No one sounds like him. It's a voice as immediately identifiable as Billie's, Louis Armstrong, Lisa Gerrard, Joni Mitchell, Bon Scott or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It's just that unique of an instrument. Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Scott- all in the same league.

He's touring with a four-piece band called the Jazz Expressions, who open the show with an Ellington number done at a level that doesn't embarrass but doesn't impress me, either. It's just a ho-hum opener. But what can one expect with such a generically named outfit [nb- the line-up on the website is different than the line-up which performed at the show]? Seriously- that's the best name you guys could come up with? What is noteworthy is that the show starts about half an hour late (more on this to come). Scott's wheeled onto the stage sometime after 8:30 to a standing ovation.

The set features a number of tunes showcasing Scott and the band to increasingly effective effect. By the end of the show the Jazz Expressions have proved themselves to have some serious chops, with the exception of the piano player, who always seemed to pitch his solos in a key or two higher than really fit the music. But I liked these guys, and at one point I wished they would just ditch the whole thing and launch into "C-Jam Blues"- a tune they seem born to play- but didn't.

Scott is a prime example of how looks can deceive. I seriously thought he could die at any moment- that's how frail he looked. But there he was, in total command, on top of every tune, wringing the nuance out of every lyric and most impressively, his timing was impeccable. I don't believe I've ever seen a singer with such a natural understanding of where and how to turn a phrase, lift a note, stretch one out and convey emotion with nothing more than a slight shift in key. Does that mean he sounded great? Unfortunately no, but he sounded pretty good. There were definitely some rough spots, and he held the mike too close, which, encumbered by a bad microphone mix, made him sound less than pristine. Still he impressed, and then some. Still he was Jimmy Scott, up there on the stage, making jokes about his wife, his age, and in total command of everything going on around him. Yes, it was impressive. The Jazz Expressions seemed to gather strength and steam with every song, each one actually jamming better and with more force than the last, and by the time they drew it all to a close over an hour later, this quartet had seriously rocked the house.

So what the hell was wrong? Oh lord, plenty. I'm about to delve into an area which fascinates me but is bound to be a bit of a contretemps. Yes, let's talk about racial and social interactions in contemporary America. So, when I get to Yoshi's the place is pretty much already full. I take a seat near the back, centered toward the stage, prime for what's available. Yoshi's has a weird "reservation" policy about certain tables which I've never quite understood, and it's in full-effect tonight. There are three black women (just for clarification I never assume a person is African-American- how would I know where they are from based on the color of their skin?) seated at a table to my left, who were there before I arrived. Later on, two white women, approximately in their 40's, a redhead and a blonde, take one of the reserved tables in front of me and the black women. The redhead is overweight by anyone's definition.

As I mentioned, the show starts late. What is interesting to me at this point is how many people keep trickling into the club. Hello? Where have they been that they are entering a show with a published start time of 8PM a half-hour, an hour, or an hour and a half late? Mid-way through the show, another black woman joins the aforementioned group and they start to chat. Not loud enough so one can hear what they are saying, but loud enough to notice without trying to do so. The overweight white woman seated in front of them tries to "shh" them. Mistake number one, girlfriend. First of all, you are in what has historically, and now politically, been deemed a neighborhood that is central to the Black history of this City. Two, have you so little life experience that you don't know that a white, fat woman shhishng a group of black women out on the town is going to get you nowhere at best? The women ignore her and continue to chat amongst themselves until the redhead turns around and hisses "Shut up!"

Oh lord, mistake number two, and it's on. And here I was, just wanting a nice evening of good food, some booze, the company of friends and some great music. Now I'm I'm hearing one of the black women say "You shut up, you fat bitch!" and really, the evening is pretty much ruined at this point. Floor managers are summoned by the white women, who are now put in a position of having to chastise the equivalent to their mothers, which they are not going to do to the white women's satisfaction, and it just goes on and on and on in an ever-escalating bit of white cat/black cat hissy fit. No one wins, the tension is rife for everyone seated nearby, and it sucks. In the meantime, a terribly obese, 60-ish white guy with white hair and a two-inch long pony-tail sits next to the black women and since in reality he doesn't have a chance in hell of scoring with red nor blondie, no matter how fat or old they are, he takes the side of the black women and eggs them on, which makes the whole thing that much worse. Really, I just wanted to hear the music. which Little Jimmy Scott is obliviously delivering with gospel force and ancient grace from the stage.

When I leave, I notice a great exhibit of posters in the lobby from 70 years of "race films" on display to commemorate Black History Month. The posters are fantastic, though my stupid Google phone's camera app can't do them justice. Some of my favorites are below.

Finally, I've seen a half-dozen shows at Yoshi's in the past year and whether or not the shows sucked or they were great , the venue has always impressed me because it was so well-run. Not tonight. Disorganized, bad service and generally shitty all-around, Yoshi's (and San Francisco) had a bad night tonight.

Oh well- there's always tomorrow to look forward to.

Jessica Goldstein- can you explain/translate the above poster for me?

This one was truly gorgeous.
Goodnight everyone.