I was telling my out-of-state accountant the other day how easy it is to go at a moment’s notice and hear incredible live music - for the cost of a drink – just a few minutes away with free, on-street parking.
She is envious, landlocked by traffic and teenagers. Before children, she used to frequent the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge jazz club in Chicago at a time when she felt young and free.
Tonight, after billing and writing lame copy for a radio commercial, I drove four blocks to Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar where local musician Tom Hook was in the midst of interpreting Ray Charles on an upright piano. The Cigar Bar is decorated with memorabilia from the famous 1960s ad campaign picturing movie stars smoking cigars. The place was filled at 11 p.m. with college students not studying and older men enjoying their cigars – possibly newly single or banished from their homes.
Hook hammered out classics written by Ray Charles, Dr. John, Tom Waits and Randy Newman, as well as a few of his original compositions.
While many stood at the bar, one couple played a video game and another danced as Hook tore through Charles’ “Mess Around,” belted out “Walking in Memphis,” and swung through “Sixty-Minute Man.” He’s a one-man band.
He gyrated from Boogie-woogie piano to New Orleans R&B, able to imitate a half-dozen vocalists from Billy Joel to Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. A special request for a sad, Irish tune came from a young man with a big tip for the jar. Hook could hit those Irish tenor notes too.
At the break, I returned home, knowing he’ll be back at Dos Jefes every Tuesday night should I decide to go earlier next time. I’m ever grateful for these regular opportunities to hear passionate, authentic New Orleans music – especially considering how close I almost came to staying in Champaign-Urbana.