Satin Dolls

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

If we went to work with Susan, it was usually at the Crown House, where Susan sang alongside a pianist named Buzz Watson, a portly guy with a red face and short, spiky hair that almost looked military. There could be no two people more physically opposite, but they worked well together onstage.

When the crowd at the Crown House found out we were the singer's daughters, they'd tell us how pretty we were and how much we looked like our "mom." We'd glance at one another's blue and green eyes and blond hair then look at our stepmom's dark hair and eyes, politely nod our heads, then whisper among ourselves that these women were insane.

Susan was the main event for my sisters and I, but the Crown House featured a sideshow for us, too: Stevie, the tall, thin cocktail waitress with a gigantic platinum afro. We used to call her the human Q-Tip. She had a raspy voice, two-inch nails and never wore more than a half-yard of fabric on her body. Stevie always had a cigarette burning in an ashtray at the bar, and she would take long drags while waiting for the bartender to fill the drink orders. We supposed she didn't have kids because she always looked at us like we were aliens, which was probably the way we looked at her, too.

 

By the time I became a teenager, Orange County's club scene changed. Disco and disc jockeys replaced many of the live music clubs, thanks to such movies as Saturday Night Fever. This mutation of the nightclub scene changed the lives of musicians. That meant life changed for my parents—both of them got day jobs—and that meant life began to change for me.

But my dad continued to play at night. When I was 14 and 15, my dad began to allow his daughters to bring friends along when we went to work with him. In fact, there were a few friends in my group that would jockey for a chance to accompany us to Alisio's South, a club in Costa Mesa on the corner of Newport Boulevard and 17th Street.

Alisio's had great food but was more casual than some of the other clubs my dad played. The Vegas-style crowd didn't hang out here, just people wanting a big steak, a dark room and some good music. Straight-ahead jazz wasn't in demand at many of the clubs anymore, so the bands made concessions to play more popular music and Top 40 tunes.

For me, getting out of Huntington Beach on a Friday or Saturday night before I could drive gave my friends and I something to talk about for a week. At the club, we could also sneak a smoke without being suspected since everyone else smelled like smoke. Sneaking alcohol was nearly impossible, and I was further dissuaded by my dad's life-and-death threats about the consequences of the ABC—Alcohol Beverage Control board. I didn't dare try to drink because I didn't want the guilt on my conscience of shutting my dad's club.

I loved taking friends to work with my dad so they could see why my life was so different from theirs. My parents worked at night and dressed in tuxedos and gowns; their parents worked during the day and wore business suits. Their parents always seemed so normal.

When my dad would pick up me and my surfer girlfriends from the beach before we could drive, or if he was shuttling us to the mall, he would have the old jazz station, KKGO, blasting on 10 . . . with hip teenagers riding along looking at one another in bewilderment. He'd beat his fingers on the steering wheel when a particularly good riff would pop up.

At 2:30 a.m., when my parents got home from work, it felt was like 6 p.m. to them. My dad would often be keyed-up and looking for a quiet household chore to do, so he would water the lawn. It seemed like a normal thing for him to do after work, but more than one neighbor in our Huntington Beach tract thought it was odd to see him out at 3 a.m. watering the lawn—in his tuxedo.

I'm now in my 30s, the age of the ladies who used to watch my dad play, and I must admit, I might think it a bit odd to see a man watering the lawn in a tuxedo.

The Boon Docks is now Bistro 201, and Crown House is known as the Salt Creek Grill. Alisio's South is an Outback Steakhouse. The Stuft Shirt has undergone a dozen name changes since those days—most recently, it was called Cano's—but the white-arched monstrosity has sat vacant for a couple of years.

Obviously, I've undergone some changes, too. It's been more than 15 years since I turned 21 and could have patronized the club without my dad, but I never wanted to spoil the memory. I was always afraid it would be smaller and cheaper than I remembered.

I still listen to jazz—the old stuff—and I like when artists such as Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello and Debbie Harry do covers of the old standards—though I'm just as likely to listen to the latest by David Bowie, Chris Isaak or Nick Cave. Actually, I'm just as likely to listen to the stuff my kids are into: Pink and Britney Spears and Barney.

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