Jewel Trumbeau is nearing eighty – an aging man complete with hunched-back, sagging skin, Red Man gums, and a left hand without a single finger facing the same direction. His joints are stinted and stiff. Most of the evening however, he is slouched in the corner of a couch picking at a chocolate chip cookie. His complexion is ruddy and his face seems to crack right down the middle every time he smiles. Oddly enough, I don’t notice him at first – rather, he notices me. He grabs my left shoulder from behind with his right hand – a grunting weight – so as to turn me almost on a swivel from the barstool in which I was sitting. Quietly surprised, I acquiesce to his pulling me towards him, and lean in for a shared, whispered conversation over the loud music. He says to me: “I come out ‘cause I wanna hear ‘em play the fiddle like’a Jerry Reed.”
The fiddle he is talking about belongs not to Jerry Reed, but rather to Elana James, front woman and fiddler for Hot Club of Cowtown. The trio (including guitarist Whit Smith and upright bassist Jake Erwin) stopped off in St. Louis last night on their way back to Oklahoma, which is home base for the band when they are not performing or taking personal extravagant vacations to ride llamas in the Middle East as disclosed per some of the onstage banter last night. Or should I say, on kitchen floor banter? Hot Club of Cowtown actually performed for the Woodhouse Concert Series last night in a kitchen in University City. These concerts I came to discover started in 2005 when Caitlin Cary (formerly of Whiskeytown) stopped in for an intimate, last minute show. The rest, as I understand it, is history. And as for me, it begins a new chapter in my book of music. Discover for yourself at: http://woodhouseconcerts.com/
Amid that roomful of middle-aged men and women however, is where Jewel and I began an unlikely friendship of sorts. His voice was gruff and grunt-like. A Tennessean vernacular, Jewel’s speech patterns reminded me of young chickens pecking at their feed. His sentences were quick and forceful and I regrettably understood very little. The gist, however, resonated with his growing up in Tennessee and his love for country music. After a depression and a world war, serving in at least two branches of the military, Jewel met his wife Barbara. A native of Chicago, Barbara was more of a “sophisticate” and preferred classical music and jazz, which is understandable when she herself was the daughter of a jazz theorist and teacher. The details of their meeting and marriage were simply glossed over, but inevitably they lived to see children and even grandchildren. When I asked the both of them what brought them to the show, they admitted that Texas-swing was the one true musical style that they could both agree upon. Elements of jazz, country, folk, blues, even gypsy music it seems bridges the gap between this blue collar Tennessean and this white collar social elitist from the North side.
Aside from their similarities and differences, Jewel somehow was curiously drawn to me. Why, out of all the people in the room, did he pull me aside to articulate his love for such things? Maybe it was my Tennessee-style cowboy boots matched with my starched white shirt and sweater that reminded him of him and his wife’s differences. My wardrobe couldn’t have beeen the metaphor for the whole damn evening, could it? Or was it the fact that Jewel’s foot tapped in time with mine and the band’s as they ripped off classics such as “Chinatown”, “Crazy ‘Cause I Love”, and even a folk-swing rendition of Tom Wait’s “Long Way Home”? Either way, we shared pleasantries for a good twenty minutes after Hot Club of Cowtown played their final note. Most people were scrambling to get autographs and pictures taken with the group. Jewel and I had different plans however – to appreciate the music and musicians in a slightly different way. And with a shake and a nod, we each went our separate ways humming those lingering melodies that have transcended cultural and societal differences for generations of men and women.