I’ve been to KW quite a few times and although it would burn me out after a while I think one of the things that is always impressive is the amount of live music around town. As with everywhere that caters to partying tourists the quality of the music varies greatly but with some searching you can always find something interesting to hear. This time I discovered a wonderful place on Duval called The Little Bar, which bills itself as a jazz bar but in fact they book a wide variety of music. One night I heard an absolutely superb jazz guitarist with a young guy singing mostly standards. The singer was OK but the guitar work was amazing, straight ahead jazz with plenty of chord soloing and great single note soloing. One aspect of his style was that as with any great jazzer, no matter how far afield he went you NEVER forgot the melody, even if what he was playing was nothing really like the melody itself. This is way harder than it may sound, folks. Young ram-it-jam-it rockers could learn a lot from this concept!
Now here’s the kicker. I spoke with the guy on a break and he apologized for his playing because he was doing it with a BROKEN ARM!! Hoo boy, for a brief moment I thought I should just sell my guitar! Compounding it was the fact that he’s 70 years old and also endured a recent hip replacement. I’ve always felt that there are restorative qualities to music and this definitely was proof. Oh my god, I said, does it hurt to play?? Like a b*tch, he said. But his determination won out and I’ll bet no one in the place knew what he was going through. To say I was impressed would be a huge understatement.
On another night there was young woman playing who was a long-time member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. She played soprano and alto sax with a guitarist named Woody – more on him momentarily. She was quite good but her banter with the crowd was a bit depressing. Even though she is quite young, probably not more than mid 30s, she is obviously something a battle scarred veteran of the music world. For her, the music was ultimately the transcendent thing. I have to respect that but I’ve seen this many times before. Kinda sad, kinda beautiful too.
Woody I had heard with a singer a few nights before. His guitar work was solid, not much more than adequate but you have to respect that. He understood the importance of dynamics when playing both acoustic and electric guitar. A funny dude too, a true Key West character, skinny as a rail, probably in his 60s (or maybe younger, but with way too many “experiences”!) , born and raised in the hills of Kentucky with that laconic Southern drawl. I can’t imagine him playing anywhere but in a bar on Duval, which it appears he’s been doing for decades.
But in spite of hearing all this good live music the highlight of the Little Bar for me was the music they play on the house system before the live acts play, a wonderful mix of classic Motown. I absolutely love that music and if it doesn’t make you want to dance, well, you’d better check your pulse! If you haven’t see the documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” about the Funk Brothers, the anonymous amazing musicians who played on ALL the great songs of that era, just do it. One of the best movies about music I have ever seen.
The woman singer with Woody on the first night did quite a bit of that music too and after some back and forth with them between songs they pretty much demanded I get up on stage with them and sing a tune (I didn’t want to ask to use Woody’s guitar as I think that is very uncool and I don’t allow it myself….well, maybe if it was Clapton….). Anyway, I did “Stand By Me” and didn’t screw it up too badly. The crowd seemed to love it and the lady and Woody sang harmony. It was a blast!
So, if you ever happen to be in Key West be sure to spend an evening in the Little Bar on Duval Street. I guarantee you’ll walk away with a smile. Now off to chase some absolutely maddening bonefish, permit and tarpon!
Peace & good music,