Satin Dolls

Growing up during the last days of the West Coast jazz scene

Last July, I attended a tribute to the Gerry Mulligan Quartet at the Lighthouse nightclub in Hermosa Beach. Since my stepdad, Bob, had been Gerry Mulligan's original bassist, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute invited him and his family to hear a couple of concerts featuring works by Mulligan and some Stan Kenton. Bob was honored and said a few words about what it was like back then.

People talked about the Balboa Pavilion and Rendezvous Ballroom, the Newport Beach dance halls that featured Kenton's band as well as those led by Artie Shaw, Ozzie Nelson, Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo and Tommy Dorsey. They talked about the birth of Pacific Jazz Records, a catalyst that spread the West Coast jazz movement. William Claxton, the famous jazz photographer for the record label whose distinct images surged the movement, was there as was a fan from the old days who approached my stepdad holding an album cover with a picture of four very hip guys with pencil mustaches and big attitudes. He told Bob that when he saw that picture and heard the music, it changed his life. It was wonderful, doubly so when they played Kenton's music since my own father, Jack Lynde, a drummer who played the Southern California club scene, had toured with the legendary bandleader.

Everything was lovely until I went to the bar for a drink and a man in his late 30s asked me what I was doing there and if I really even liked this kind of music. I wouldn't have minded if it weren't for his highbrow attitude and look that assumed I was some bimbo off the beach who happened to wander into the wrong members-only function. I arched my eyebrow and told him about my dad and stepdad. That's how I fit in.

I could have told him more, that long before we were 10 years old, my sisters and I were the princesses of the Orange County nightclub scene, dolled-up in our fanciest dresses, our hair brushed into spun gold.

Our dad chauffeured us to various smoky clubs, where our reserved booth always waited. The bartenders knew us by name—Leslie and Laura and Leta—and they knew our drinks without asking: Shirley Temples, straight up. They also knew we were lousy tippers, but they didn't mind because we always had a good excuse: our allowance money was in our dad's pocket, and he couldn't be bothered to give it up. He was busy playing the drums for the paying customers.

Long before anybody ever dreamed up Take Your Daughter to Work Day, our jazz-drummer dad picked out special weekend nights—mostly the nights the babysitter flaked—and took us to work with him. The occasions were rare, probably less than 20 times total, but these strange and special evenings were among the best of my childhood, beginning with the fact we got to stay up past midnight.

Of course, band rehearsals and late-night jam sessions in our Los Feliz living room were common. Everyone—players, wives, friends—smoked, and I recall being amazed at how long an ash could get before falling into a guitarist's lap. All that mattered during those rehearsals was getting the sound right. My parents were the first in their crowd to have kids, and all the musicians played with us endlessly. Guitarist Bobby Redfield, one of their best friends, would tickle us and give us guitar picks to play with. I don't think there was a time growing up when there wasn't a great horn or piano player hanging around the house.

My parents' marriage didn't last. By 1970, they'd split up. But even as they went their separate ways, the music never stopped. Each found love with other musicians—my dad with a singer and my mom with a bass player. We went to live in Hollywood with mom and our new stepfather, Bob Whitlock, who in the 1950s had played bass alongside the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Sarah Vaughan. Again, we lived our lives to the highs and lows of a live jazz soundtrack. Also to its chord changes. One of those swept us into Orange County a couple of years later, when my dad remarried. He and his singer wife, Susan, bought a house in Huntington Beach with room for my sisters.

By then, we knew all about gold lamť, where to find the best Shirley Temple and which cocktail waitresses were generous with the Maraschino cherries. We inhaled second-hand smoke and tossed around the names of Dizzy, Sarah, Ella, Chet, Charlie, Miles, Stan, Billie and Louis. Among our Barbies were drum sticks, horns and microphones. And we knew good jazz when we heard it. We heard it all the time.

The Stuft Shirt was a bayfront restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. In its heyday, the Stuft Shirt was a busy restaurant, a spot where the valets parked the fanciest cars—the Eldorados, Rolls Royces and Excaliburs—up front and where distinguished-looking men would flip the maitre d' some cash to be seated quickly.

It was one of the places my dad took us when he said, "Daddy is taking you to work," and it was one of our favorites. There was also Boon Docks, located in Newport Beach a little north on Pacific Coast Highway, that, despite being located in a bank building, had a much more casual feel. With its bamboo barstools and palm trees, it attracted a younger and hipper crowd than the Stuft Shirt. And then there was the Crown House in Dana Point where we ordered crÍpes Suzette and bananas Foster.

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