"JAZZ from the Belly of the BLUES" by D. Price


  JAZZ IN THE ATTIC  -   away from it all

Momma caught a rooster; she thought it was a duck. She put it on the table with his legs cocked up. I thought that was so-o-o-o funny!

In come the chillun, their cups in their hands, to get the likker from his yass, yass, yass. That old wind-up Victrola, up there in the attic, gave an eerie " nothing like church music " quality to her voice

I was five years old, but I was a farmer's daughter. I surely knew the difference between a rooster and a duck. "The things some people don't know!" I thought.

Besides! The way she described the position of the rooster on his back; and the way the children were lined up to get the juices from the rooster's body seemed like a snickering kind of 'funny' . . . the kind where you put both hands over your mouth and part of your nose, and then laugh behind the barrier.

I've tried to find a re-issue of that old recording on the internet and have found a man singing it, but not a woman's voice recording. It could never sound the same, anyway, without the contribution of that wind-up, (then slowly wind-down) Victrola.

If you are familiar with a woman's voice singing Mama caught a Rooster, please let me know. a

Email List Member, H. Degermark commented: "I heard that song one time in the '80s, sung by Etta James. I don't know if that was the title or not. I've never been able to find it since. As I recall, she sang Mama cooked a chicken, she thought it was a duck"

To share any of your jazz related special memories, please share here. If at all possible, I will find a way to tuck your comments into this story. We respect your email privacy and will NOT publish (nor reveal in any way) your email address.

Actually, our attic was a great place to be. My mother would clean it frequently enough to keep down the spider population. Filled with quilting supplies, old furniture and old or out of season clothing, we could play dress-up and place our dolls into ''real" cribs.

Also, there were comic books and children's books brought by friends and relatives from Philadelphia. The attic was the perfect place for the books.

As my sister and I developed our reading skills, we would slip up to the attic to get beyond earshot of our parents. Finding some Charleston type jazz records that weren't cracked, we placed them on the old Victrola's turntable and settled into some serious comic book or regular storybook reading.

Our farmhouse
Photo of our farmhouse in the late Forties, after the general economy got a little better and fresh paint and awnings could be afforded.

The wind-up Victrola in the attic looked like this one, found on a Google search
Victrola photo

'The reading never lasted long. Always, there seemed to be something for us to do.

Go get some wood from the woodpile.

Go to the chicken house and get some eggs.

Go to the barn and get some cracked corn to feed the chickens.

Go to the garden and pull some onions or pick some peas.

Take this bucket of no good tomatoes, cabbage leaves and potato peelings to the pigpen. Wait! Let me put this clabber (sour milk) in there, too. Pour it over the fence, into the trough; and don't spill it on yourself.

Go to the sweet potato house and get some sweet potatoes.

Go to the cellar to get some white potatoes.

As we got a little older: Go put the cow out to pasture.

Go get the mail (a half-mile round trip walk to the highway.) 

And so it went.

Mother birthed only one child in "The City". She claimed she practically enjoyed the process, considering the attention of the visiting nurses.

Her first three - two girls, then six years later, oh, boy! A boy! - were more than a handful at birthing time in the country. Later, in "The City", after four years, a third girl was born.

My father's salary was regular; comforts and conveniences were available. Prenatal care and postnatal visiting nurses afforded my mother this rare taste of comfort and convenience.

One year later, with the comparative ease of the fourth child's good delivery and the helpful caregiving of the visiting nurses, she was not immediately alarmed when she realized she was pregnant again.

As the pregnancy progressed, my father lost his job and the earlier escape from the farm to "The City" was reversed. Miners use canaries to be the indicators of dangerous air quality in the mines. When the canary dies, there is barely enough quality air to allow the miners to get out.

People like my parents were the proverbial canaries of industry. They were the most dispensable factory workers, the first to be pushed out of their nests. They moved back to the support of their family owned farms - their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. Thank goodness, their forefathers, from the Revolution on, had managed to purchase parcels of land from time to time and could sharecrop, rent, sell or pass it down to family members.

My parents returned to the farm in 1929 and I was born that December. They tell me I was born in a bed of holly. Apparently, my mother was busy making Christmas wreaths right up to the time of my delivery. Mortified that there was no money elsewhere to be had, she used her wreath money to pay the granny woman (midwife), and then continued making wreaths right there in the bed during her (our) confinement.

They said I was fussy and had a red, pimpled face. Could that have been from the prickly holly? I cannot imagine any Jazz in my parents' hearts at that time - just some stoic hymns.

The time was such that poverty and insecurities ran rampant. Governmental policies were used to provide sitting duck scapegoats to boost the petty egos of the "privileged". Attempts to "amount" to something all too often included denying a vulnerable person's humanity.

Wild, free-for-all riots and self-rightious lynchings took place. Of course, these were already taking place while the richer folk were happy. They simply got worse when the economy collapsed ...or is that another story?

Meanwhile, you know that old saying: As the going gets tough, the tough get going. JAZZ and the BLUES carved their niche into the economy. People's spirits had to be enlivened. JAZZ was the  method and means readily available. JAZZ was the remedy, the elixir, the medicine of the  moment.

Even now, it wouldn't hurt to enliven your spirits. This book just might get the blood rushing through your arteries and suggest surprising - perhaps enriching, insights into your world.

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CHAPTER TWO click here


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