One summer, when I was in college, my boyfriend gave me one of those homemade cassette tapes we used to make with Dave Brubeck on one side and Thelonious Monk on the other. I listened to that tape over and over and over and over again as I illustrated and painted costume designs. I also listened to Herbie Mann, Live at the Village Gate that summer.
Shortly after college, we took a rainy drive to Florida in a humongous Lincoln continental. We drove it from Atlanta to for a company called Auto Drive Away. We wanted to a big car to haul our bicycles in because we planned to cycle back to Americus, Georgia. On that drive, we listened to an interview with Joe Pass. In that Pensacola restaurant, we sat and watched the rain on the window and talked and thought about Joe Pass. When we got back home, we bought our first of many Joe Pass records.
In those years, our house didn't have air conditioning, so in the summer, we'd sit out on the cool cement front stoop at night and listen to jazz on the radio coming through the window screens in of the living room. We'd listen to H. Johnson on 90.1 on Saturday night, a show called "Jazz Classics." We'd listen late into the night--all the way up until 2 A.M. sometimes. He'd always play some version or two of "Around Midnight" around midnight.
Back then, we'd mostly drive around on Saturday night. We'd pass the Majestic Diner all lit up, "Food That Pleases, Food to Take Home," and the flashing sign for "Hot Donuts Now" further down on Ponce at the Krispy Kreme. We'd drive over to go hang out at Oxford Books on Peachtree and browse art and photo books and everything in between, listening to classical music with the smell of coffee we could not afford. We'd drive downtown to art openings in the mattress factory, or go to some party in Cabbage Town or Inman Park, the lit up Marta train clattering above us on Dekalb Avenue. H. Johnson accompanied us during all this driving. H. and John Coltrane, and Oscar Peterson, and Stephane Grappelli, and so many others--that guy always singing about "Yaprak! Harissi!" and Coleman Hawkins and that long, long blow on the sax.
I got to thinking about all of this because I heard H. Johnson last night, grooving and singing and sharing his enthusiasm for all things classic jazz. I was driving along in the dark about eleven o'clock, not in the city this time, but it didn't matter. The music, the show, his voice, brought it all back. H. Johnson on Saturday night IS the ATL for me.