The little houses nearby were very old and unkempt. None of them had been all than much to begin with. This, after all, was only a neck of the woods; only a little bunch of buildings along this frayed and narrow strip of asphalt road that followed this shallow river south into the coalfields. Why in the world a jazz spot was ever established here in the first place was a big enough mystery, but how it had survived over the decades-long exodus from this mined-out country was, far and away, the greater puzzle.
But here it was, the white sign on the lawn the only thing that distinguished it from a residence, advertising one more evening of dinner and dance; a touch of grace amid a little world of the worst karma.
The menu was limited, consisting of only those five or six dishes that the original owners had started with back before the war. Everyone got cheese soufflé, which was memorable, but the main dishes were mediocre at best. The chicken, steak, chops and fish. But nobody came for the food. The thing was atmosphere. It was as if this place was an island kept safe from the last half of the twentieth century that had ravaged the surrounding mountains and laid the local communities to waste. Here in the mud and gravel were white tablecloths and white cloth napkins and stemmed glasses.
More importantly, here was music. Real, live music. Not the stuff that was now endemic to the area – skinny teenagers banging out power chords or hefty forty-somethings bellowing out the latest country to a karaoke machine. No. This was real music: songs with complex harmonic structure and pure, memorable melodies. Romantic, lyrical, slow-dance music.