Richard Nisley


The Girl Who Loved Jazz
Pop Culture Released - May 29, 2021
How can you not love a girl who adores the Beatles, gets Frank Sinatra, loves Jazz, and who enjoys sitting under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to the L.A Philharmonic performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"?

That's the girl who changed my life. She was one-part lady, and one part feisty competitor. The first time I took her out was to a seaside restaurant in Ventura, California, where we dined on a Sunday brunch of crab-meat omelettes, strawberries, and crisp sourdough toast, seated beside a window with a view of the blue-green Pacific. Later, we trekked out onto the wind-swept Ventura Pier and imagined what it would be like to continue driving on up the coast to Monterey, which is what we did three years later, on our honeymoon.

While I was working six days a week and she was in her final year of college, we spent many of our Sunday afternoons together playing tennis, which I taught her to play. Imagine my surprise when we played our first match and realized she was trying to beat me? It was my first introduction to her grit, and determination to succeed.

While I introduced her to sixties Rock-N-Roll and international motor racing, she took me to plays and museums, and introduced me to classical music. One of our early dates was to the Hollywood Bowl. She made sandwiches and hot cider for us to snack on. It was a magical, memorable evening, one that I wanted to experience often. Later, after we were married and began moving around the country, we attended outdoor concerts at Blossom (the summer home of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra), and at Ravinia (the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Besides classical music, we also attended jazz and pop nights at these venues.

On our second date we attended a play performed at nearby Cal-State Northridge. The play was the comedy, "Dear Liar", based on the letters between Irish playwright (and confirmed bachelor) George Bernard Shaw, and the decidedly independent (and acerbic) actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Cindy purchased the tickets after discovering that I was a big fan of Shaw's plays.

Around this time, we attended a play by William Shakespeare–a first for me–entitled, "The Winter's Tale". This started us down a path of seeing about 30 of the Bard's 36 plays, some more than once (I saw "The Winter's Tale" twice more, once in Chicago, and once in New Jersey).

AKRON

About two years after we were married, I was offered a promotion, which meant moving to my company's corporate headquarters, in Akron, Ohio. The day we arrived in Akron was the start of the Christmas season. Cindy got busy and purchased tickets for a performance that night, of Handel's "Messiah". I was stunned by the grandeur of the words and music, and began purchasing classical music, beginning with Beethoven's Nine Symphonies.

Our next concert was at Blossom, watching Irish pianist Barry Douglas with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, performing Tchaikovsky's majestic Piano Concerto No 1. This was a big deal, as earlier that summer, Douglas had won the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, the first non-Russian to do so since the great Van Cliburn won first prize, in 1958. We had amazing seats, so close to the stage we actually could see the perspiration on Mr. Douglas' face, as he attacked the climatic Allegro Con Fuoco.

North of Akron, the city of Cleveland was a revelation. Running through it was the Cuyahoga River, which in the 1970s, was so polluted that it actually caught on fire. At the same time the waters of Lake Erie were so toxic that it was pronounced "dead" by conservationists, who grimly predicted that once the polluting stopped, it would take one-hundred years for the lake to cleanse itself.

Wouldn't you know it? When we arrived in the mid-1980s, the lake had fully recovered, and wildlife had returned to the now-pure waters of the Cuyahoga River. To complete the miracle turnaround, down in the flats, where the river flowed through downtown Cleveland, boutiques, nightclubs, and restaurants had taken over the defunct factories.

What was great about living in Northeast Ohio, was the inexpensive housing–we lived in a four-bedroom colonial on "Cinnamon Lane"; a similar residence in L.A. would have sold for much more than we paid in Akron. Also, we could easily obtain good seats at concerts and plays, that in L.A. would be impossible to get.

Besides music, Cindy found historic Ohio pioneer settlements and farms for us to explore on weekends, including a day trip to the Ohio River, where we stayed at an old riverfront hotel, where George Washington's friend, General Marquis Lafayette of France, had once docked his boat and spent the night. That evening, we walked over a nearby bridge, that links Ohio with Kentucky, and watched a number of barges bearing coal pass beneath us, on their way to St. Louis, or some such destination far downstream.

While not exactly a day trip, we also traveled to the Washington D.C. area, walked the Washington Mall (at two miles, it's longer than it looks), visited the Smithsonian Museum, and drove down to Mount Vernon, George Washington's home.

CHICAGO

As much as we enjoyed living in Northeast Ohio, it didn't last long. After two years, the CEO of my company–who had been commuting on weekends between his home in Chicago and Akron–decided to move our corporate offices to Chicago, a decision that affected about a hundred employees, including us. We found a home we liked in Chicago's South Suburbs, where our two sons were born.

Once she learned she was pregnant, Cindy did as she always does–investigate the options. To deliver our baby, she chose a pediatrician who specialized in natural childbirth. I would have a part, too, holding Cindy's hand and encouraging her to breathe deeply, while pushing the baby out.

When our first son was born, to my surprise, the newly-born infant did not cry, but rather took his first breath and looked at us. In two days, we had the distinct joy of bringing young Scott home to begin his life with us.

THE RAGGED EDGE

While Cindy was carrying Scott, I used my time on the commuter train to write the first draft of what would become "The Ragged Edge". While a work of fiction, the story was based on the career of hard-luck California racer Dan Gurney, who, despite tremendous ability, had never fulfilled his dream of winning the drivers' world championship. I had been following Grand Prix motor racing since high school, and felt I had the knowledge to write a racing novel that portrayed the sport accurately. While writing the story proved more difficult than I imagined, selling it to traditional publisher proved impossible (later, I interviewed a number of published writers who had written very good motor racing novels, that failed in the market place. It turned out, motor racing fiction–and sports fiction in general–is a genre that just doesn't sell. However, I discovered an electronic publisher in southern Indiana with access to a printing house, that agreed to publish my book, and make it available on Amazon.com. And while "The Ragged Edge" received encouraging reviews in car and motor racing journals, as well an award from the International Automotive Media Association, it never sold quite as well as I'd hoped.

Bill's birth was decidedly different. Again, Cindy chose the natural birth method, only this time our baby was born not in a hospital room, but in our house. At 1 a.m., Cindy felt her first labor pangs. We called the nurse, who arrived 30 minutes later, and confirmed the baby, indeed, was on his way. She notified the doctor who arrived just in time to watch the nurse deliver our second son. Again, there were no drugs and no tears, only a very hungry baby boy who was ready to nurse.

Let's face it, having children amounts to a reset of your marriage, which isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's to view the world in a fresh new way. Places you wouldn't think of going–playgrounds, children's museums and child playhouses (such as Chucky Cheese)–become your new destination. Chicago had a whole host of interesting places to take children, from children's museums, to day walks along the bucolic I & M Canal.

Particular destinations included the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, and family bike rides on the Old Plank Trail (a retired railroad bed stripped of tracks and cross-ties, and repaved with wood planks). When Scot was older, he particularly enjoyed attending the Music Box Theater, north of downtown (originally opened in 1929) that specialized in classic films, including some Charlie Chaplin and other silent movies, such as "Modern Times", "City Lights", and "Safety Last." A yearly event we all enjoyed was our annual trek to the Bengston Pumpkin Festival. A Pizza dinner followed by a walk through the haunted house was something we always looked forward to.

As a family, most years we vacationed in Williamsburg, Virginia staying with Cindy's parents (in a roomy house that we referred to as the "Blount Bed and Breakfast"). While staying there, we of course visited Historic Williamsburg, and also made day trips to many of the grand plantation houses on the languid James River, and to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's hilltop home, in Bedford County. We also enjoyed a day at Bush Gardens, rated as the most beautiful theme park in the nation.

When Scott was eight, he began taking piano lessons, and soon thereafter developed a knack for composing his own instrumental pieces. At the same age, Bill began taking piano lessons and later added the guitar.

NEW JERSEY

I had by this time taken early retirement, while Cindy was offered a very good position with Computershare Investor Services, which led to us moving once more, this time to the New York metropolitan area.

We chose to live in Westfield, New Jersey, where Cindy's father had been raised. After moving into our new house, Bill attended summer classes at the local grammar school, where he learned to play chess, and the guitar. He proved to be a quick study on guitar. Soon thereafter Scott (on piano) and Bill (on guitar) began practicing together.

Friday night at the high school Scott attended, was band night, where Scott began performing, first as a solo performer on piano, and eventually with Bill accompanying him on guitar. What they needed was a drummer to make them a band. The first night Jack sat in on drums was the making of "Boulevard", as they named themselves.

They continued to perform on Friday nights at high school, while playing many Saturday afternoons at Rockin' Joe, a local coffee house. With Bill writing tunes of his own, they soon had enough songs to fill an album on CD.

However, after recording their first album, Jack departed. Scott and Bill continued making music, with an ever-changing cast of drummers, and recorded two more albums: "Musical Graffiti" and "Roof Hopping." After Scott graduated from high school, and began attending Rutgers University, Scott and Bill chose to make music separately, resulting in numerous solo albums, including Scott's "Brick City Skies", and Bill's "Water Echos Movement."

At some point, we flew out to central California for a vacation, with the goal of showing the boys some of our favorites places, such as San Francisco, and a stop at Ferlinghetti's famed City Lights Bookstore, and to Carmel, where we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast with a view of the Monterey Bay, and down along the coast to Big Sur, where we spent the better part of an afternoon hiking among the coastal redwoods.

And the girl who loved Jazz? Last summer, she took Bill and me to hear Romero Lubambo, a Brazilian jazz guitarist, perform with Trio da Paz, at Dizzy's Club in New York City.

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