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Joe's Neighborhood

A jazzy romance indeed

2/11/2015

The large bushy mustache has a life of its own. As do the quizzical eyebrows tucked behind rounded eyeglasses. And the tufts of hair wanting to go sideways at the ears. He could easily be an old vaudeville player made up with props from the back room. Certainly the one-liners delivered in showman’s patter are a reminder of an earlier time.joes 1

You’re also a performer with the Java Jews, aren’t you?

“No, I play the accordion with them.”   [ba da bing!]

And how does the audience respond to the concerts you bring to town?

“There’s an older guy in the Jewish community, he comes up after every concert and has the same speech every time. ‘Abe, I could tell those were really good musicians, they were very entertaining, I could tell they really knew their stuff. But… it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.’ ”  [canned audience laughter]

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Abe winks at me to make sure I got the old man’s joke. I’m clearly three steps behind. Abe continues nonplussed.

“But he still comes to every concert. One time I asked a pianist to play ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.’ See, we can get away with that kind of stuff.”

Abe beams at me.

Jazz is what he’s talking about. Bringing great jazz to Des Moines. Simple. Or so it would seem.

Abe Goldstien loves jazz. Abe Goldstien loves Des Moines. He wants to share the two. So he found a place for jazz musicians to play — The Caspe Terrace, a 150-seat performance space operated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. He found jazz musicians — like Amina Figarova, Trio X, Eric Vloeimans, and, on Feb. 19, Lee Konitz. And he found the money to pay for it all.

Really?  From where?

Out of Abe and his wife’s own pockets it turns out.

Oh.

“We are really blessed in Des Moines. We’d be hard-pressed to do this in any other community. I have hotels, a venue. Promotion is nothing. Our only cost is the musicians and the food. We don’t make any money. I guarantee the musicians that I will give them a certain amount up front. Then any other money that comes in above that from tickets, I give to them. We always come out at a loss… But something magical is going to happen at the performance.”

So I sit at their kitchen table in a quiet bungalow on a quiet street not too far from Roosevelt High School. Abe Goldstien, 63 years old, and Jackie Garnett, 56 years old, sit across from me. They are a team. Abe finds the musicians, and Jackie, a self-styled “culinary school dropout,” feeds them.

Abe speaks of their passion…

“My goal is when the musicians go back to their towns they say: ‘I was in Des Moines, and, man, Jackie made this apple pie and whatever we wanted, and Abe drove us everywhere and it was great and you really need to play there.’ And, if possible, we like to get them in a day before so that I can show them around Des Moines. The end result, when they get up on stage they think they’re playing in our living room. They’ve gotten to know us, and they assume all the people in the audience are like us. So it becomes this little intimate dinner party.”

Wow. Another good man and another good woman doing good in Des Moines. Great.

But that is so not the story I want to tell.

Years ago, Jackie and Abe briefly crossed paths.

“I always tell people I thought she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. But you know, I was, and still am, a schlumpy Jewish guy. I would have never thought of walking up to her and asking her out.” Abe ducks his head and shyly smiles.

“And that’s why I didn’t have any dates,”  Jackie deadpans in her low syrupy voice.

Sleepy eyes, warm wide smile and a drawl. Yup, a molasses drawl. Rich and deep and comforting. Jackie tells of her former life in production at WHO, her stint in DMACC’s culinary school and her present job at Methodist hospital taking care of patients’ diets.

But Jackie does not speak of her first-place wins at the Iowa State Fair for pies and various other dishes. Abe does. Jackie does not tell of the raves that the jazz musicians give for her meals and her care-taking. Abe does. Jackie does not speak about how head over heels Abe is in love with her. Of course not. Please. Abe does.

Abe has a few rules for whom he invites to Des Moines. After the musicians pass the test of being someone Abe wants to hear, they have another major hurdle.

“They have to play a tune called ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon.’  If they won’t play that, forget it.”

And the musicians all surprisingly agree. Each group, each musician, play a tune written by Brooks Bowman, a 1930s jazz standard.

“East of the sun and west of the moon,

We’ll build a dream house of love, dear.

Near to the sun in the day,

Near to the moon at night,

We’ll live in a lovely way, dear,

Living on love and pale moonlight.”

A love affair with jazz?

“The love affair is with Jackie, not jazz,” Abe quickly corrects. He pulls off his heavy wedding ring to show me. On the inside are carved these words:

“East of the sun, west of the moon.”

“It’s our song,” Abe says with a bright-eyed smile that is not intended for me. And Jackie smiles back.

A jazzy romance indeed. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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