Just getting into the after-hours club in Phoenix required an unlikely combination of connections and trust.
You had to know it existed in the first place. Then you needed directions – there was no sign outside advertising the joint that opened at 2 a.m., the hour Arizona law required all bars to close.
After knocking on the door, you needed to give the name of a reference. Only then would you be admitted into the foyer, where you’d be patted down for weapons ~ or whatever.
“Don’t bring your purse,” Willie advised. So I slipped my driver’s license into right back pocket of my jeans, and a pack of cigarettes into the left.
Some time after midnight, we took off in his 1974 Datson 260Z for the south side ~ to a place where the city’s best jazz musicians congregated to jam with each other for the fun of it, after the bars where they were paid to play closed down for the night.
We parked, he knocked and offered an acceptable name, and we got the pat down from the bouncer.
Looking around, I realized we were the only white folks in the room ~ except for the bartender, an off-duty cop.
The “pick up” band grew steadily by twos and threes, reaching about two dozen people by 3 a.m. There must have been about eight saxophones, from tenor on up to soprano, acoustic and electric bass players, a guitar or two, and a full compliment of trumpets, trombones, drummers and singers.
There were so many musicians up front that some spilled out into the room among the tables, not missing a note.
To my complete surprise, Willie took my hand in his and asked, right there, if I would marry him.
Right on cue, a tenor sax sidled up to the table and played for us like we were the only people on earth.
Soft, breathy and low at first, the saxophone swung higher and got more intense. The man behind the horn leaned into the riff, and the bell of the saxophone moved out and up as it wailed a passionate plea.
“Of course, I will,” I smiled.
A while later, we left, walking out the door just as the sun was coming up on the first day of June, 1986.