Hush, Whisper and Speak Easy
HUSH, WHISPER AND SPEAK EASY
The Dee Daniels Trio at the Lenox Lounge
For those of you old enough to remember, you may recall the days of back doors, undergrounds and side entrances. They were the entrances into speakeasies. They were created as a result of the Prohibition Era as they were the havens for the manufacture and sale of illegal alcohol. The etymology of the word was based on keeping the noise down in the establishments that sold illegal alcohol so as not to draw attention to them. In spite of what spurred the creation of speakeasies, behind some of those doors was the music that was unique to America.- -Jazz.
And even though the nomenclature has changed these speakeasies still abound in very public ways. Such are the likes of the 21 Club in New York City, The Mayflower Club in Washington, D.C., and the Lenox Lounge in Harlem.
As you enter the Lenox Lounge on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, also known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, you try to imagine the feel of a speakeasy. In the front of the lounge drinks and seating are available at the bar with a smattering of tables and chairs. The patrons are engaged in effervescent conversation and the music piped in is more like white noise. There is such buoyancy in the front of the lounge that even many regulars are unaware of what lies beyond the double doors.
But what lies beyond the double doors is what made speakeasies so popular. It was the clandestine atmosphere that allowed the greatest music to be played, enjoyed and experienced. And the patrons returned again and again to be a part of what was forbidden and fun. The forbidden eventually became legal and the fun never ended.
Jazz was the fun and one night a couple of weeks ago, I walked through those double doors to hear “Dr.” Dee Daniels’s trio. She sang Ella and Dinah and gave us some Ray. In the midst of it all, she educated the audience, which made the doctor prefix apropos. Alongside the traditional standards, she introduced us to her own musical works, which was a surprising treat because we bopped and snapped and thoroughly enjoyed everything she offered.
What’s interesting about Ms. Daniels’s style is that she gives contemporary songs a jazzy arrangement. Familiar songs that we once knew, “What a Fool Believes,” “Our Day Will Come,” “Can’t Hide Love.” And it’s the jazzy arrangement, which give the songs a new freshness and was completely welcomed by the mostly foreign-born audience. As she ended the set, Ms. Daniels cleared the bandstand and opened her treasure trove of solo piano and thanked us collectively by singing, “A Song For You.”
Although, the idea and necessity of speakeasies has faded, the structure of those that remain still expect the audience to hush, whisper and speak easy.