Monday, November 9, 2009

The Rhythm Is Gonna Get Ya

“Do you think we could use this on Miguel’s resume?”

“Uh, no,” Verna answered me.

“OK, maybe we can say he appeared with the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

In my never-ending quest to expand Miguel’s cultural horizons and expose him to music I enjoy, especially since he’s hijacked the radio and now plays rap or hip-hop every time we are in the car together, I took Miguel to a jazz show in San Francisco yesterday afternoon. Yoshi’s, a jazz club and Japanese restaurant, has a Sunday matinee where kids get in for only $5. When I saw that Pete Escovedo, well-known Latin percussionist, and his daughter, Sheila E, were playing with an orchestra that also features two of his sons, I bought two tickets for my saxophone-playing preteen and me.

“Do I have to go?” Miguel whined in typical preteen fashion a couple of weeks ago after I’d purchased the tickets. “I don’t want to see jazz.”

Even though I am not the adult in our household with the strongest sense of intuition, I knew if I could actually drag Miguel’s butt to the performance, he would enjoy himself.

And I was right. Very right. And all it took besides some scorching hot Latin jazz from a sizzling orchestra was a kid’s bento box with sushi and Japanese fried chicken and two fresh berry lemonades.

Once the music started and my feet were be-bopping under the table and the rest of my body was pulsating to the Latin rhythms, I looked over at Miguel.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” he said, munching on the last of his chicken and motioning toward his empty juice glass. “Another one?”

Good thing he wasn’t driving home. I think the juice was carbonated.

After a few songs, one of Pete Escovedo’s sons, Peter Michael, invited any of the kids in the audience on stage to join the orchestra.

“Miguel, go on up,” I said in the dimly lit restaurant.


“C’mon, Miguel,” I said, but wanted to add: You’re in the school band, you read music, you’ll make me proud, so do it for me. Then I thought about bribing him again.

When we were in Portland as a family three years ago, we ate dinner one night at the Lucky Labrador, an excellent family-friendly brewpub we’d discovered on a trip there in 2002. Miguel was taking piano lessons at the time, so I said, “Miguel, I’ll give you $10 to play piano in front of the entire restaurant. Three songs.”

“No, not for ten bucks,” he said.

“OK, we’ll give you a $100,” said Verna, the usually more frugal one.

“Really?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes,” she said.

“Really?” I asked.

Turns out Verna had promised Miguel that we would buy him a certain Star Wars Lego set that retailed for close to $100, so her incentive that night was really just a jump on a gift he’d nearly earned. He actually played four songs and inspired another kid to tap on the keys after him.

Back at Yoshi’s, Miguel wasn’t panicking about going on stage, but he wasn’t moving.

“I’ll walk you up there,” I said as several young people made their way to the front.

“No, I’ll go by myself,” he said as he jumped out of his seat.

And there he was, up onstage with Pete Escovedo, his three children, the rest of the orchestra, and about 25 other kids. Peter Michael stuck a microphone in each kid’s face and everyone introduced him or herself. Then the music began.

Miguel was in the back row, hidden behind the smaller kids, so I had to wait until he returned to our table to find out he played some kind of shaking instrument that may or may not have been in the tambourine family.

“How was that?”

“Okay,” he said in typical preteen fashion. But there seemed to be a gleam in his eye.

The Escovedo Family is from Oakland, and proudly called themselves ‘ghetto’, so they play a hip-hop tune that I hoped would compete with Miguel’s preteen fascination with LMFAO and Jason Derulo.

By the time the show was winding down, after more than 100 minutes of music, I looked over at Miguel again. He was pounding on his chair with his chopsticks as if he were the sixth percussionist in the orchestra. He was feeling the music. And he was on a mission.

“Dad, once the show ends can you buy me a pair of Sheila E’s drumsticks?”

“I guess so,” I said.

“They’re autographed,” he added. “And how about a drum head as well?”

It was also autographed by her.

How could I turn him down and splash cold water on his Latin jazz music-fueled enthusiasm?

So he brought home the drumsticks and the drum head for himself, and the chopsticks for Maya, and they banged and thumped before and after dinner. It was loud and it was entertaining and it was heavenly. Just as I knew it would be.

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