"If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly . . ." The song ran through my mind almost everytime I looked out the window of our living room/kitchen at Villa St. Stefan on Capitol Hill in Seattle.
The large second floor suite did not feel like a prison cell with its oriental carpets and walk-in closets, but the old mansion is secluded from the world by eight foot concrete and ivy walls on two sides, and a wall of bamboo on another side. A laurel bush taller than the two-story structure and slim cedar trees complete the privacy of the backyard. Eventually, Karrin Allyson singing I'm Always Chasing Rainbows replaced the Hank Williams tune.
Our adventures force us to eat good food, stay in interesting places, and enjoy great entertainment. It's a living . . . well, not quite . . . but it is fun. We had just added a section to our website on vacation rentals, and the villa was our first selection. We had lost out on a trip to Seattle to meet the PBS stars of Downton Abbey just weeks before, when the apartment was occupied for the days we wanted it. Although nowhere as elegant as the estate in the British mini-series, it caught my interest, and the price was right. The villa is one of the Washington State Vacation Rentals we chose to have listed on our website.
The fourteen by twenty living room/kitchen connects to a bedroom of the same size via a walk-thru/walk-in closet. The bedroom contains another walk-in closet. Peg and I fell in love with the heavy, ornate queen bed. It not only looked nice, but was oh, so very comfortable. The large private bathroom is located on the landing. When I first saw where the bathroom was I was afraid it would be shared, but not so. Actually, once we got checked in we never saw anyone again at the villa, upstairs or downstairs.
There are two ivy framed windows in the bathroom, which overlook the backyard. Sticking my head out the window and looking off to the corner I spied two interesting architectural features lying up against the backyard fence beneath the large laurel. I first thought them roaring lions, but second and third thoughts ran through my mind. They could have been dragons . . . or a combination of animal and reptile.
Perhaps they once guarded a gate of the prison wall, or stood side by side to greet visitors arriving at the front door. Whatever their original job, they still looked impressive alone in the backyard.
Once we had settled in it was time to get ready for dinner and the reason we were in Seattle: Karrin Allyson at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley. Karrin is one of Peg's favorite jazz singers. Karrin Allyson's voice has been described as feline, but I hate that description. It always reminds me of Eartha Kitt as Cat Woman on the TV sitcom of the sixties, Batman. That's not a good comparison for me.
Figuring that Sunday evening should be relatively traffic free we started on our way downtown to Jazz Alley. Freeway construction was being done and the Mercer Street Exit was closed. As we drove down Denny there were policemen directing traffic at the bottom of the hill. But even with the traffic hassle and parking we were only a minute or two late for our dinner reservations of 6:15.
We shared a Caesar salad with anchovies on top, and ordered an appetizer of bread, olive oil, and roasted garlic. Peg had a glass of wine, while I had a beer before switching to Sprite. For dinner I ordered spaghetti with lamb/beef meatballs, while Peg had the tangerine-honey chicken. The food was excellent. We had to turn down dessert.
The entire bill, which included Karrin Allyson and a 20% tip was just over $150. A top entertainer at Tacoma's Broadway Center for Performing Arts will run around sixty to eighty dollars a ticket. We paid just under ninety per ticket to The Monkee's 45th Reunion Tour in late spring. Great food and great entertainment for about $75 per person is very affordable and well worth the trip to Seattle for us. Plus, the service was excellent as well.
Karrin was gorgeous . . . from her stiletto heeled half-boots to her blonde, pixie hairdo with its forward slant . . . she it all the right notes. She had a ready smile and eventhough this was her fourth night in a row at Jazz Alley, you couldn't tell it. The audience at Jazz Alley loved her. Karrin says, "This is always one of our favorite places to play."
And play she did. She sings in several different languages and usually makes comments about each song. She performed a ton of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Her classical piano training showed as she played Turn Out the Stars. Her voice and the grand piano were made for each other. My favorite was Loads of Lovely Love, which was composed by Harold Arlen, the man who created both Over the Rainbow and Lydia the Tatooed Lady.
At one point Karrin asked for suggestions. Peg could barely restrain herself. She quietly said, "Azure-te." More forcefully she finally said, "AZURE-TE!" The man from the only table in front of us turned around and said, "She's going to do your request." Peg was beaming.
Thoughout the night Karrin gave plenty of credit to her sidemen. Rod Fleeman from Kansas City has been with her for over twenty years. Bass player Jeff Johnson and Mark Ivestor are from Seattle. They all played like they had been working togetber for years.
Rod Fleeman has been a professional guitarist for over 30 years. He plays with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and tours with many other jazz artists as well as Karrin Allyson. Through most of the evening all I saw of Rod was his back, his baggy pants, and his white hair. When I finally had the opportunity to talk with him and take his picture I was amazed. His smile and blue eyes took off about thirty years of my estimate.
Fleeman has taught jazz guitar at Missouri Western State College and is currently on staff at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas City Kansas Community College. I was born about ninety miles south of Kansas City in Nevada, Missouri so I always have a soft spot for fellow "Show Me" residents. I lost count of his number of solos during the night.
Jeff Johson had some great solos as well. The audience appreciated his bass. He first learned guitar at the age of nine before moving on to the double bass at 17. In addition to Karrin Allyson, he has accompanied Ernestine Anderson, Rebecca Parris, Annie Ross, Gail Pettis, Dee Daniels, Jackie Ryan, Karin Plato, Marlena Shaw, and Kendra Shank.
Jeff won Seattle's Earshot Jazz "Northwest Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year" awards in both 2000 and 2001. Jeff has toured the United States and Europe several times with Hal Galper. Johnson records for Seattle-based Origin Records and co-leads a collective of Origin Musicians.
My best view of the night was of drummer Mark Ivester. He was adept at conga and snare and it looked like everything in-between. He switched styles and beat whenever he needed from rock to jazz to blues. Mark has performed with numerous jazz artists of international stature including Larry Coryell, Freddie Hubbard, Diane Schuur, Mose Allison, Charlie Byrd and Eartha Kitt (but not when she was on Batman). He currently performs and records with the Jovino Santos Neto Quartet, Greta Matassa and Susan Pasca. He is an adjunct instructor a Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts.
Mark had several solos as well, but I enjoyed just watching him play. He seemed to enjoy playing as much as we enjoyed hearing him. Great sideman.
Karrin not only shared the spotlight with her sidemen, but invited up local artist Lisa DaCosta of Lisa and the Pok'Chops. Lisa sang Summertime and did a great job. Karrin and Lisa took turns and blended around each other. Lisa was worth listening to. Karrin showed her versatility as a jazz artist and shown as a star with this act of kindness.
Lisa and her group perform in the Seattle area. Peg and I are going to make an effort to attend one of her gigs. Lisa and the Pok'Chops? Who wouldn't love that name? They play jazz, funk, and blues.
Peg was really happy to attend a live performance of Karrin Allyson. I was happy that Peg was happy and I enjoyed myself as well. World-class entertainment just twenty feet away? What's not to like? The food and service was excellent. "The fish are jumping and the parking is free . . " oops, that's my own little version of the classic Summertime. Peg walked away with three CDs and one was a replacement of her favorite Karrin Allyson blues CD that refuses to work on her new portable player. We listened to Karrin sing all the way back to Tacoma . . . and beyond.