When I was a freshman in college in 1985, I went down to Georgetown with Marybeth Fottler, Jason Bassilakis, and Tim Donovan for spring break. We stayed at Bass’ sister’s place. The drinking age was still 18 there. It has just changed in Massachusetts. We went bar hopping, of course, and saw a chalkboard sign on the sidewalk for a jazz club in the basement of a seafood joint called the Pirate’s Hideaway. The name Dick Morgan was on the board. I had been taking a jazz class with Archie Shepp at UMass. We once had Max Roach as a substitute teacher. All of a sudden, I thought I knew a ton about jazz and recognized the name Dick Morgan. Looking back now, I think it was because he was on a Charlie Byrd record. Either way, we stopped in.
The place was classic Crusty Crab — fishnets, lobster traps, dock lights, anchors, buoys, the whole bit. Downstairs, the band was cooking, Morgan on the piano. There were high-top tables. We ordered schooner after schooner of beer. We applauded the solos. In my mind, the instrumentalists were appreciative. More beer. More applause. Until the band took a set break.
I said to my friends something like, I should go over and say thanks, and that we appreciate the music, you know, that we are not just some drunk college kids, that we came to hear some jazz. Again, this is 30 years ago and, try as I might, I have not been able to wipe this from my memory. In my memory of it, my friends were encouraging, me. But they were probably just dot discouraging me.
I got up from my stool at the high-top table. My legs felt a little jelly-like. I had what the Aussies call “wobbly boots.” Nevertheless, I quickly mustered up the drunk courage and strengthened my legs, concentrating on moving my feet forward one at a time. And I made my way to the table of musicians and their dates.
I was in the act of extending my hand and saying something like, “Hi, I just wanted to say we really enjoyed the set and I take a class with Archie Shepp,” when something horrible happened. I had not noticed that the table or booth they were at was (again, in my memory of it) a step up and I tripped into their table of drinks, knocking them all over the musicians and dates. I was mortified and tried to apologize. Dick Morgan was exceedingly polite as he righted the table and wiped off his lap and that of the smartly dressed woman next to him. I just kept saying “I’m so sorry.” He even said something like, “Oh? Archie Shepp?” The rest of the band shot me looks and the women were visibly and audibly upset with me.
I pivoted and walked very quickly by my table of friends. Marybeth’s eyes, naturally big band brown, had widened to the size of platters and she covered her mouth, agape in shock. Jay and Tim were sort of giggling, I think. I did not linger enough to look at them. I just remember them peripherally as I continued my unbroken pace up the stairs of the club to get outside. I heard them yelling my name. but I kept walking, quickly. I could not breathe.
I made my way to the crowded Georgetown sidewalk, gasping. I continued to walk, drunkenly around D.C. that night, not knowing where I was or how to get back to JBass’ sister’s apartment. I remember looking up once and seeing the Iwo Jima monument, all lit up. I have no idea how I figured out how to get back, but eventually I did. My friends were equally pissed off at me for running away like Marcia Brady and laughing at me for the cocktail tragedy.
This all came flooding back (as I said, I could never wipe away the memory — in fact, it is a well-told tale among my old friends) when I read about Dick Morgan’s passing this morning. Truth be told, I had forgotten who it was that was playing that night. But when I saw his name in his obituary, it clicked. That was him.
Wherever he is now, I hope his lap is dry and free from the shards of cocktail glasses spilled on him by an 18 year-old wise ass.