Over at The News and Observer's web site, there are some very nice reminiscences of the time that North Carolina-born Thelonious Monk did a ten-day stand at The Frog and Nightgown, a jazz club in Raleigh, NC. (See also critic Bill Morrison's thoughtful contemporaneous review; he might not have liked the performance much, but it wasn't because he didn't get it or wasn't thinking about it.)
Raleigh, and the metro area surrounding it, feels more and more like a "real city" to this adopted New Yorker these days. I spend one week a month in Raleigh and the rest of the time in Manhattan for the most part, so I get to make the side-by-side comparison on a frequent basis.
But when I was growing up there in the 60s and 70s, Raleigh was a sleepy, small Southern city of no particular distinction, certainly not in the area of restaurants and nightclubs... or anything else, really.
It was Mayberry, with more stoplights.
But there were, you know, pockets of interest.
The universities in the area, the seat of state government, and the nascent industries and research centers coming into nearby Research Triangle Park brought a lot of intellectual types into the region, and so you got interesting little epiphenomena like "The Frog."
"The Frog" was the Frog and Nightgown jazz club and restaurant, which, for the length of its run (it was, if memory serves, open for about a decade... from the late 60s to the late 70s) was the only club regularly booking major jazz acts in the latitudes between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.
I was more interested in Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street than jazz during the Frog's glory years, and it was long closed by the early 80s, when I started tuning in Gary Shivers' jazz radio broadcasts on WUNC-FM and began what would be a lifelong love affair with this music... or by the late 80s, when I was old enough to go drinking in jazz clubs.
But I still have my own personal memory of The Frog, and it's a pretty cool one.
My buddy Eric--we were elementary school classmates--had a birthday coming up. Even in elementary school you could tell Eric was going to be--was already--a gifted musician; he was a piano prodigy. And his parents, who were scientists working in nearby RTP, saw a rare opportunity to give him a really special birthday party.
Believe it or not, they bravely took a bunch of eight year-old kids to an all-ages matinee show at The Frog and Nightgown, and introduced us all to Dizzy Gillespie.
If John Birks Gillespie was surprised to see a table full of children in party hats at a jazz club, he certainly didn't let on. During a break between sets Mr. Gillespie came over to meet and greet us, and even put his finger to his lips and puffed out his massive cheeks for comic effect; later, I recall the band gamely attacking "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with a bop accent, to demonstrate some rudimentary concepts around jazz improvisation to the table with the cake and ice cream.
Despite being gravely informed of the importance of the man we were going to hear, I didn't really get it at the time, of course. I was *eight*.
But you know something? I remember shaking the man's hand.
If you shook hands with Mozart, you'd remember that too.