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Clint Holmes remembers The Colored Musicians Club

The name of the song is "At the Rendezvous." Leave off the prepositional phrase and "Rendezvous" is the name of Clint Holmes new album, too (Ll Records).

Holmes introduces the song this way on the record: "So I was about 12 years old. My [jazz musician] Dad, Edward Louis Holmes, started taking me into Buffalo, N. Y. to hear his music. You see, I was too young to go at night. And they started to do jam sessions at 3 0'clock on Sunday afternoons. My Daddy would take me there. Some fathers would take their kids to ballgames. My Dad took me to jazz.."

In the publicity to the album, he explains the real identity of the place -- Buffalo's Colored Musicians Club -- which he calls "The Rendezvous" on the record: "I was 12 and it was a true coming of age for me. I had never seen my Dad in his world. He worked three jobs and never seemed happy until I saw him in his element. I fell in love with jazz and how cool it felt to interact with 'the cats' the way my Dad did."

His father was African-American. His mother was a white British opera singer. They lived in tiny Farnham, hence the Sunday afternoon trip "into Buffalo" for the jam sessions at the Colored Musicians Club.

Which, for the sake of the record has been fictionalized. (There was a popular Buffalo bar called The Rendezvous on Niagara Street when Holmes, now 70, was growing up. It was well-known for its privacy-inducing lack of light and notable lack of fussiness about the proof one offered that one was 18, the legal drinking age at the time.)

"A star-studded jazz collective" is what the record's publicity calls it. So who's on it doing the "studding?" Most notably Joey DeFrancesco, the reigning jazz Hammond B-3 player in the Jimmy Smith tradition on Holmes' "At the Rendezvous." (Holmes introduces him as being on the Colored Musicians Club premises, when he was 12 which is highly unlike because DeFrancesco wasn't born until 13 years later, in 1971.)

DeeDee Bridgewater, too, along with Patti Austin and Dave Koz, that's who. It's not really a "jazz" record in any pure sense--it's a jazz-ish pop record i.e. a little less pure jazz than a Michael Buble record but a little more than a Sade record.

And that's where Holmes' "Rendezvous" gets interesting: Vegas is the place where so many professional jazz musicians from Buffalo have gone to make a living. The two most prominent are probably Don "Red" Menza and ripping mainstream jazz piano virtuoso and Dave McKenna apostle Mike Jones, who makes his living as the pianist for Penn and Teller.

Vegas is one of the places in America where music professionals congregate for money's sake. "Rendezvous" is a good -- sometimes terrific -- monument to musical professionalism, Vegas style.

Holmes' version of Bernstein's "Maria" from "West Side Story" would be at home in any prestigious Vegas "big room" or, for that matter, any surviving summer tent theater in America. For all that, it's quite wonderful.

The trouble with music professionalism and the musical art of jazz is that they're not remotely the same thing.

Holmes' duet with the redoubtable Bridgewater on a mashup of two classics from "Porgy and Bess" that don't begin to belong together -- "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York" (which Holmes sings) and "I Love You Porgy" (which Bridgewater does, uptempo) -- is finally sung in oh-so-clever-and-pointless counterpoint. The lyrics to the latter are the starkest moments in all of "Porgy and Bess" and the epitome of what's tragic about it. "There's a Boat etc." is happy ending music. Counterpointing them against one another is a way of being pseudo-hip and, at the same time, indicating that you couldn't give a flying gig what either song is actually about.

But to give Holmes his props, have you ever heard anyone else sing "My Way" in a way that actually makes you forget Frank Sinatra's way? It's something he's actually able to do with his melodramatic tenor whisper. It couldn't be less like Sinatra's weary, booze-soaked baritone defiance. Holmes' vibrato somehow makes it pathetic. And nothing if not impressive.

Holmes' regular gig is at the Venetian which is where, according to his website, he'll be on April 2 when WKBW has its Sunday Variety Club telethon, an event that he hosted in past years.

Clint Holmes' history has been nothing if not interesting -- hits in the '70s, the distinction of being Joan Rivers' sidekick on the short-lived late-night Fox show that so infuriated Johnny Carson, he forbade her on his show ever afterward.

Holmes' New York appearances have been known to incur critical snarkiness about the ego required of Vegas headliners.

So the record begins with "Stop This Train" where he sings "I'm So Afraid of Getting Old/I'm Only Good at Being Young."

"What You Leave Behind" ends the disc, by telling us that "the best you have is what you leave behind," as rueful a sentiment as you're ever likely to hear.

Not exactly Michael Buble or Harry Connick territory. But that's the Vegas demographic: full of mature middle-Americans coming to play and be entertained and, at the same time, capable of stopping in their tracks and contemplating what they've been doing over the course of longish, full lives.

Nice job, Clint. Good to encounter your tribute to your home again.

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