Title: Chicago Blues
Author: Kim Q
Rating: PG
Length: Vignette
Flavor: loss, friendship, music

Notes: This story was written for the first Uncharted Waters Writing Challenge "Live and Learn" and has been very slightly edited from that original posting.  Though I live in Florida now, Chicago is where I grew up, so the XO's smooth Chi-town drawl sounds like home to me. :) 'Chicago blues' is a form of blues music that developed in the Windy City by adding electrically-amplified guitar, drums, piano, bass guitar and sometimes saxophone to the basic guitar/harmonica Delta blues. Set in the 70's. Blue Note Lounge is based partly on the Green Mill Lounge and partly on the Velvet Lounge; both classic jazz institutions that still thrive in Chicago.

~~~~~~

Stuart Riley gazed mournfully into his half empty mug of beer and sighed. Why did he ever let Annette talk him into coming to this particular lounge? Sure, the beer was cold and the atmosphere was kinda romantic, but he wasn't really into jazz type music. A soft hand on his arm caused him to raise his head, catching Annette's worried emerald green gaze. "Are you okay, Stu?" asked the luscious vision of shimmering auburn hair and curvaceous form that snuggled beside him in one of the curved plush velvet booths that lined the dark paneled walls of the art deco styled lounge.

"Sure, babe, just thinking about our last mission." He gave her his best sad puppy look which worked perfectly, causing his girl to coo and fuss over him in a most satisfactory way. Okay, he reminded himself, this lovely chick is definitely worth the sacrifice of a few hours away from the beach. Taking another sip of his beer, he gazed at a quartet of musicians who were banging out some smooth swing under a shimmering neon sign spelling out the name of the lounge above the wooden stage. He did have to admit, the musicians here were better than many he'd heard at other Santa Barbara night spots.

Riley's jaw dropped as he saw the familiar figures of Seaview's command team enter the lounge. It figures, he thought with a mental groan, slouching down in the booth in hopes that he wouldn't be spotted by the Skipper or, heaven forbid, the Exec. He especially wanted to avoid the Exec's eye as Mr. Morton had been unusually brusque the last couple days as Seaview neared home. None of the crew was sure why, not even the Chief. So they all just tried to stay out of the Exec's way until the boat reached port and they could evade his wrath by jumping ship. His jaw dropped even further as he saw the huge black owner of the lounge wrap Mr. Morton in a bear hug. Why, the usually reserved Exec even grinned and hugged the man back! Stu watched in continued amazement as the owner proceeded to shake hands with the Skipper and escort the two men to a table. From the many hands raised in welcome and the quiet greetings exchanged as the men passed, it seemed that the Exec was well known here.

An insistent tugging on his arm brought his attention back to his lovely companion. "What's the matter, Stu? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I kinda have," Riley murmured to himself. He shook his head and grinned at his girl. "You see those two men that just sat down near the stage? One blond and one dark-haired?" He waved a hand in the general direction of his commanding officers. "That's the Captain and the Exec of the Seaview! My boat!"

"Ooo, they're quite the handsome pair, aren't they?" Annette purred hungrily, casting an appreciative eye over the two men in question.

"Hey, baby! They're too old for you! Besides, I thought you were my girl," grumbled Riley as his youthful face fell dramatically. Annette smiled indulgently at the strawberry blond as she leaned over to meet his lips in a passionate kiss that reminded him just how much his girl she was. Riley immediately lost all thought of his commanding officers as he focused on much more pleasant things.

~~~

Chip took a long swig of his Schlitz beer then stared into his mug, sighing deeply. Catching Lee's worried look as his buddy sipped an extra dry martini, Chip attempted a wry smile. "Don't worry, Lee. I'm fine. I'll be ready for the mission debriefing tomorrow." Lee's hard hazel stare informed him that he wasn't putting anything over on his oldest and best friend. Damn. When did Lee learn to read him so well? Usually Chip was the one deciphering his Captain's mercurial moods and providing the support. But tonight, it seemed that Lee was doing the mind reading. "Okay, okay. So I was just thinking how much Pops would have loved this place." His sad blue gaze dropped back into his beer as he muttered, "...and how much I'll miss him."

Lee laid a comforting hand on his friend's arm. "I know how close you and your grandfather were, Chip. The Admiral is still more than willing to excuse you from the meeting tomorrow. We can handle the mission debriefing if you want to head to Chicago right away, then I'll fly up in time for the funeral."

"S'okay, Lee," he patted the hand still resting on his arm. "The part of the mission concerning the computer guidance system trials was my area of concern and I should be the one to brief COMSUBPAC." Chip sighed again. "Besides, the funeral isn't until Saturday anyway and I'd rather wait until you can come with me." Seeing Lee shake his head and glare at his stubbornness, Chip managed a smile, comforted by the certain knowledge that, despite any complaints to the contrary, his brother in all but name would always be there to support him. He turned his attention to the stage, applauding the quartet that had just finished their set, but watched warily as the owner of the lounge walked to the stage and grabbed a microphone.

"Thank you, thank you all for your kindness! The band will be back in a few moments after they catch their breath. For those of you that are new here, I'm Big Jim Jenkins, and as, the owner of this here fine establishment, I'd like to welcome you all to the Blue Note Lounge." Jim smiled broadly at the enthusiastic crowd. "Now, during the band's break, I'd like to recognize a friend of mine." Chip rolled his eyes, knowing what was coming, one corner of his mouth lifting in a wry grin as Lee smirked at him. Big Jim walked over to their table and laid a large hand on the blond's shoulder. "You Blue Note regulars know my friend Chip from his frequent appearances at our Sunday night open jam sessions whenever his big grey boat is in port." Hoots and whistles of appreciation bounced around the room as Chip shook his head, the darkened room not quite hiding his blush. "Well he gets his talent honestly. His grandfather and mine used to play some jumping jazz and swing together back in ol' Chi-town."

Big Jim looked around at the eclectic mix of patrons in his lounge - old black men in suits and ties, young eager college students in scruffy jeans, preppies in their designer labels - and beamed with pride. "My Granpappy and his Pops would have loved this place 'cause with them, there was no thinking 'bout black or white, rich or poor, North Side or South Side. The only thing that ever mattered was making hot, hot music on a cold Chicago night. And we were lucky enough to sometimes be allowed to tag along and learn from the best." His face sobered. "Well, he just got word that his grandfather's now playing the biggest gig of all up in heaven and Chip will be heading back to Chicago this weekend to be with his family." Looking directly into the eyes of his childhood friend, Jim said firmly, "Chip, you know very well that the best way to honor your Pops' memory would be to play some of that sweet Chicago jazz that he loved so well, so get your butt up on that stage and lay down some licks for us while the band takes their break." With a strong push from Lee and the encouragement of many lounge regulars, Chip sighed in resignation and headed for the stage.

~~~

Riley watched in utter shock as Seaview's calm, reticent and oh-so-proper Executive Officer shucked his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and settled down at the piano with the air of a man who knew exactly what he was doing.

Morton spoke quietly into the mike on the piano, "Thanks, Big Jim. You know, my mom taught me and my sisters to play piano like this..." The intricate melodies of Mozart poured from the keyboard under the command of the blond's strong fingers. "...but Pops encouraged me to play like this." The classical music segued into a slow swinging jazz riff as the crowd chuckled in approval. He kept playing as he continued, "After serving in the Navy during WWI, Pops worked for the Port of Chicago, but the jazz guitar was always his true love. Evenings he'd play at a variety of speakeasies and lounges all around town." The blond raised a wry eyebrow, "You should have heard some of his stories about Chicago during Prohibition." A ripple of laughter danced around the now attentive room. "As Big Jim can tell you, I'm normally more of a swing player, but tonight, in honor of my grandfather, I'd like to share with you a classic Chicago blues song called "Sweet Home Chicago."

He spoke briefly with the bass player and drummer who'd come back up to the stage for support, shifted into a classic mid tempo blues rhythm and ran the intro. As the spell of the music began to take hold of the audience, he sang, his deep baritone voice soaring smoothly over the instruments.

Come on, baby don't you want to go
Come on, baby don't you want to go
Back from the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago


A smooth ripple of sound cascaded from the piano, the powerful playing and singing a total contrast to the pianist's calm expression. Riley saw that Morton played with the same focused control with which he directed the crew aboard Seaview. But now all that intensity was being channeled into the song. The Exec's normally guarded emotions were given free reign in the safe haven of the music. Bodies swayed to the rhythm without even realizing they were moving as the player's aching loss and heartfelt longing for a place that was home, even if only in memory, resonated within the souls of all who listened. As the song drew to a close, the audience applauded with gusto, Riley and his date included.  The young surfer could see that playing the blues had brought the Commander a certain amount of peace as the man's fair face lost that strained and stern look of the last few days. Stu nodded inwardly. As a musician himself, he understood the power that music had to heal a wounded heart and was glad that the strict but very fair Exec had found some comfort that evening. Riley relaxed into the music as Morton started up a lively swing piece that brought several couples to the small dance floor.

"He's quite talented, isn't he?" came a smooth deep velvet voice, causing Riley to yelp and protectively grab a smirking Annette. Stu suffered his final shock of the evening when he turned to face the intense blue gaze of Admiral Harriman Nelson.

"Sir!! Yes, he is! I mean...I always thought that Mr. Morton was the most straight-laced, square person I'd ever seen, but man, can he ever play! That is, I never realized a long hair like him...umm..." Riley snapped his mouth shut before he could put his foot any further in.

"Well, live and learn, eh Riley?"

"Yes sir!" The young man had the grace to blush.

"You do realize that Mr. Morton would be quite upset if..."

Riley felt Nelson's laser blue stare pierce directly through him. There was no way he'd want to upset the Exec. Besides, he knew that the Captain would be royally ticked if anyone bothered his best friend at such a difficult time. And no one ever wanted to be responsible for making the Skipper angry or disappointed.

"Yes, sir. Don't worry; I won't say anything to the crew, sir," his deep blue eyes met the sapphire ones of his boss in perfect understanding.

"Thank you, Riley. Now why don't you and your lovely lady head out before the Captain and the Exec see you? Have a wonderful evening, miss." Riley suppressed a groan as the Admiral smiled warmly at Annette and gallantly kissed her hand, causing her to blush prettily. It was hard to compete when all the commanding officers were such charmers. Stu quickly bundled up his date and escaped before anything else could happen. He'd had quite enough shocks for one evening!

~~~

As his fingers kept up a lively rhythm and people danced, Chip watched Nelson make his way to the table where Lee waited patiently for him to finish his impromptu set. The blond smiled as he played the last verse of a swing classic, considering how very fortunate he was to have such good friends. As the song ended, he was finally able to let go of the sharp edges of his grief and remember the joy that Pops had brought so many through his music. He listened, sure that he could almost hear his grandfather's approving laugh dancing above the applause. His azure eyes shimmered as he whispered quietly. "Fair winds and following seas, Pops."

Fin

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Musical Credits:

Sweet Home Chicago
probably written by Robert Johnson (though Woody Payne also claimed credit)

Come on, baby don't you want to go
Come on, baby don't you want to go
Back from the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

Come on, baby don't you want to go
Come on, baby don't you want to go
Back from the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago

Now two and two is four, six and two is eight
Come on baby, don't you make me late
I'm cryin' hey, baby, don't you want to go
Back from the land of California to my sweet home Chicago

(Instrumental with piano and guitar solos trading off)

Now, one and one is two, two and two is four
I'm heavy loaded baby, I'm booked, I gotta go
I'm cryin' please, baby, don't you want to go
Back from the land of California to my sweet home Chicago

(Instrumental with piano and guitar solos trading off)

Come on, baby don't you want to go
Come on, baby don't you want to go
Back from the land of California to my sweet home Chicago

Come on, baby don't you want to go
Come on, baby don't you want to go
Back from the land of California to my sweet home Chicago


This is considered *the* classic Chicago blues song. These lyrics are from the Eric Clapton cover which is closer to the original lyrics than the Blue Brothers version which has the last line of each verse as, "To the same old place, sweet home Chicago. Here's a somewhat wimpy midi that can give you the idea of what the song sounds like, but I was listening to Eric Clapton's wonderful version when I wrote this.   http://members.tripod.com/~The_Zig_Man/blues/sweechi.mid


2006 Kim Q. All Rights Reserved