Jazz — good jazz — will find a way inside you.
It does more than get your feet tapping or your head bobbing. It bebops its way around you until it finds a way in deep, into your gut.
“It grabs me,” says Joan Russell, co-owner of Murphy’s Place in downtown Toledo. “It touches your stomach, or something like that.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night. If the jazz is good — and tonight it is — then nothing else matters: not eyes heavy with sleep, not feet tired of standing, not the prospect of work early tomorrow morning.
The party here started hours ago, part of a live recording being made by the Murphy’s Trio, featuring Clifford Murphy, 75, on stand-up bass; Claude Black, 74, on piano, and Sean Dobbins, 31, on drums.
They’re halfway into their second set, and the standing-room-only crowd that squeezed into the basement club earlier in the evening has thinned to about 30. Everyone is watching rapturously, along with legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, whose faces along the walls emit a soft phosphorescent glow.
Here’s what they see:
Clifford’s eyes are closed as he plucks the strings of the bass with his enormous hands. His graying moustache rocks up and down with his head and the music.
Claude’s right foot taps out the beat as his hands flit back and forth over the piano’s keyboard, the only interruptions to his otherwise perfect calm.
Sean grooves smoothly on the drums until it’s time for a thumping solo, the kind of solo that stops a woman in her tracks as she walks through the club.
Behind the bar, washed in the warm haze of pink, red, and yellow neon light, Maureen Lalonde cleans up and handles the cash register. This isn’t her real job; she works for a restaurant equipment company but helps out from time to time.
“I also like how comfortable diversity is here,” she says.
Her words ring true tonight, as black and white, young and old nod their heads in time together and let out occasional yelps of approval. Most are ringed around the performers up close, but a few sit farther back.
That’s where, resting in a comfy chair among some friends, Mike Pierce, 22, is taking it all in.
“There’s nowhere that compares to this,” says the bearded college student from Northwood who also plays bass.
Watching the Murphys play inspires him. Maybe it’s a little selfish, but his favorite times here are when no one else is around.
“It’s so much more intimate,” he says. “It feels like being part of something.”
Something special. Clifford and Claude have known each other for more than 50 years, including the time the two were swingin’ so hard in church that the preacher threw them out. They’ve played with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Charlie “Bird” Parker, and Ellis Marsalis.
Things have changed a bit since Clifford and his longtime partner, Joan, originally opened a place in 1991. There are more young people and the crowds drink less.
But the owners’ passion is just as strong. While Clifford jams, Joan attends to everything else, cleaning glasses, getting change, and asking all comers if they’ve tried some of her homemade pie yet.
It can’t last forever, though. Tonight, at least.
About 11:50 p.m. Clifford calls out “Good night” and the recording session is over. The music ends and the applause begins, an outpouring of love and appreciation.
Then things quickly settle down. Patrons walk up to offer the trio kudos, before turning excitedly to one another to share their thoughts on the show. Waitresses add up their credit card tips. The lights come on, and Clifford grabs his usual seat alone at the bar.
“I can see everything from here,” he says, holding a glass of diet pop. “It’s all I drink.”
Soon, he’ll have to get up and give an employee a ride home and Joan will do likewise. Then it’s back to his own abode, where he usually does puzzles or reads until sleep comes around 6 a.m.
Normally, the club closes at midnight on weeknights.
But tonight, the house of jazz is alive and none of the guests are eager to leave. Tonight, Murphy’s will have to improvise.
Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.
Murphy’s Place [11 p.m. - MIDNIGHT]
Originally published in The Blade on Sunday, June 24, 2007
Closing time at Murphy’s: Music keeps jazz fans in their seats
Claude Black, left, and Clifford Murphy play at Murphy's Place on a recent Wednesday night. (THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)
24 Hours in Toledo