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Improvisors

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Michael is a musical force in his own right, always was. T he talent that made Von a sensation at 12 helped Michael stand out at 21. I'd like to think that Michael sensed he'd met his moment, but I don't know. What I do know is the guy could riff. To play with Von, you had to. You had to know music from the inside out. You had to be as spontaneous as he was.  By the time we met, Michael, was in his thirties and a seasoned pro. He had a way of biting his lip, closing his eyes and leaning into the drum set. A little closer, a little lower, as if the drums held all the secrets, the fleeting rhythms, of a memorable performance.  We met at Tower Records when Tower Records was a thing. It was a Monday in September when he approached me in the jazz section. I thought he worked there. The day before, I'd read a feature on Louis Armstrong in the Sunday Times. Now I had a hankering for Satchmo. Fresh off a run through Lincoln Park, beads of sweat still glistened on my forehead wh

Remembering Von Freeman

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Lincoln Park's blues scene comes alive in a cool, thumping tantrum of Chicago sound. Belting voices, bottleneck guitars, the melancholy sirens wail all night long in the dives and doorways near DePaul.  They bellow in River North and on the South Side, from House of Blues to Buddy Guy's.  Carl Weathersby, Koko Taylor, B.B. King. Those were the names lighting up the marquees back then. The legends got people in the door; the music kept them there.  C over after cover I made the rounds, from Blues on Clark to Rosa's Lounge. Each  joint  beckoned with soulful serenades and crying six-strings that could make you weep if you let them. So it seems strange that once I discovered jazz, I never set foot in a blues bar again.  It's Michael's fault. Or Von's . I really can't say. All I know is, once I heard their music, I never needed anything else. Andy's on Hubbard, that's where it was. Von never liked me on the South Side. Without a car, it wasn't feasib

Getting Down to It

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Disclaimer: Tapering off antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) always raises the risk of seizures. Because of the many risks associated with it, tapering  should only be done under doctor supervision . While the writer is sharing her personal experience for the purpose of this story, she in no way condones this risky behavior or encourages others to follow her example.   She recognizes that seizures are different for everyone and believes great care should be taken to prevent them. It was just an experiment. It seemed more an imaginary test than anything I was doing in real life. But every two weeks, I'd drop another dose. After a while, I realized I had dropped 100 milligrams. Then 150. As time went on it became more confounding. And it started getting real.  Halloween passed. The accident . Surgery. Christmas. Through it all, no seizure, no aura, no nothing. One part emboldened, another part baffled. That's how it went. With each drop I felt lighter, more awestruck. For a minute, I was

The Bathroom

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Disclaimer:  Tapering off antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) always raises the risk of seizures. Because of the many risks associated with it, tapering  should only be done under doctor supervision .  While the writer is sharing her personal experience for the purpose of this story, she in no way condones this risky behavior or encourages others to follow her example. She recognizes that seizures are different for everyone and believes great care should be taken to prevent them. A gentle hush fell upon the apartment, one as quiet as the moment demanded. All I heard was the pounding of my heart telling me to do it. Intensity flashed in my eyes, gold upon hazel. Years would pass before I'd see it again.  The bathroom was dark, I want to say it was raining. I stood before the sink, advising my reflection. The conversation was brief. A breathlessness hung over it. For the first time in ages, I was doing something right, even though it looked wrong.  I didn't flinch, didn't lean in. I k

Two Months

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Right away I knew.  Of course, you never really know, do you? Not with epilepsy.  But I knew.  For the first time in eight years, no aura . I was walking out the door, my hand on the knob, when I realized it.  There came a whisper, almost a gasp, and I heard myself say, "Wow." Had epilepsy cleared my system? For five months, instinct had said I was traveling somewhere — to a place where the sun rises within you.  It was gonna be the sunrise of my life. But this  destination looked like nothing. Felt like nothing. It shouldn't have surprised me. Epilepsy is an  invisible illness . E ven, apparently, in remission.  Outgrowing it at 33, I hadn't heard of that. People tend to outgrow it in puberty, not 20 years later. Yes, I had suspicions. They were written in sand. The internal monologue went like this: "I've outgrown epilepsy. I've outgrown epilepsy! Haven't I?" At 13 and 18, I tapered off under doctor supervision — stayed off for 7 and 10 days. I

Moving On

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Dennis came in on a revolving door. It ushered him in. More than a year later, it escorted him out. After New York, I never saw him again.  It was for the best, though it never felt that way.  Without him, a chasm opened that wasn't there before. I missed our conversations, the way he made me feel connected. All I wanted was to see the guy again.  That would have required him to be more invested than he could be. I get that now. I didn't then.  After New York , there were a lot of nights where I stayed up thinking about him. I'd feel the electricity in my arms, how it was when we hugged goodbye in L.A., and I'd wonder if he was thinking about me, too.  I wished he'd call. He never did.  One autumn night, there came the soft tapping of rain against the windows. In the dark, with the shadows, it was easy to get lost in the sadness of it all. The glare of the street lights revealed tiny droplets upon the glass. I saw them there and felt the dampness of my own tears.  T

A New York State of Mind

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Gazing onto East Seventh Street four stories below, people looked like figurines. Some walked their dogs, others carried packages.  One couple, holding hands, stopped to steal a kiss. I watched as he drew her close,  g ently brushing a wisp of hair from her eyes. I couldn't see her reaction but imagined her smile. August in New York. Two proper nouns that never go well together.  The haze and humidity swirled in a stifling blend that could lull anyone to sleep — if not for the intolerable heat.  I had expected the city to be a ghost town, but  people were out. Buying produce at Second and Seventh, stopping for a bagel, going places. It was nearly 11 a.m. on Saturday.  I was standing in Dennis's new apartment. With the windows closed, walking in  felt like entering a sauna .  And yet it was easy to see what he saw in the place.  Heavy on wood with a Beatnik mystique, the vacant studio  was a study in contrasts, like Dennis himself. It was barely 500 square feet in size, but pull