Saturday, July 08, 2006

My Baby and Art Blakey

How to deal with a fussy baby? My wife and I were confronted by this problem for the third night in a row. Young Elias seemed to be revving up for another fit of crying and screaming with brief pauses of hiccups and sneezes, a heartbreaking cycle for we new parents. Last night we could see the cycle beginning again. I picked up young Elias, and carried him downstairs, hoping that the jiggling and the swaying would put him back into that happy fetus mood.

As I entered the living room, the disc on the CD player changed. Suddenly, Elias'’ ears perked up to the call-and-response that begins "“Moanin'."” His attention locked onto the rolling, bluesy piano riff and the chordal cadence, so reminiscent of gospel music: –ummm-hmmm. Then as the band launched into a full swing, Elias' eyes lighted up. I danced with him around the room. Then, I laid him across my lap, kicking the beat with my left foot and tapping the swing with my right hand against his side. Elias seemed to understand Jazz, even as the soloists diverted from the melody, and his mood continued through the next song, this one from Hampton Hawes'’ Seance session.

This story has another beginning. Several months ago I announced that my wife and I were expecting. For six weeks we prepared for the birth (the reason for my very light and sporadic blogging), keeping complicated plans to a minimum, eating out perhaps a bit to much. Finally, our son was born:
Finally, congratulations to our colleague, Nathanael Robinson, and his wife, Karen. On Friday evening, Elias William Robinson weighed into the world at 7 lbs. 14 ounces. ... Young Robinson will grow up multi-lingual. You can count on it.
Labor and delivery were anything but smooth. Twice induced, my wife was, as the OB ironically remarked, in labor for five days. In truth, labor was fourteen hours--–fourteen painful hours that included a failed epidural and a cesarean section. I watched, worried, feeling powerless. But in the end, I was surprised by the big smile that covered my wife'’s face as she held Baby Elias for the first time. ("And Sarah said: 'G-d hath made laughter for me'"?)

Both mother and child spent four days cooped up in the hospital and were ready to break out on Independence Day. Despite undergoing surgery, my wife has had no inclination to stay in bed or isolate herself in the house. We've been out several times with the Elias, shopping in crowded stores and eating out at our favorite sushi restaurant.

This may or may not have overstimulated him. Elias has been quiet on all our outings, sleeping almost all the time. Only the noisy traffic on Main Street in Northampton upset him. His fussiness could have been caused by the change in environment, the formula we use to supplement his diet, or his young digestive tract. Regardless, it reached epic proportions late Thursday night in a screaming fit that lasted two hours; his diaphragm should be explored as a renewable source of alternative energy.

Why would Jazz, of all possible music, calm him down? Mozart and other Classical/Enlightenment era composers are usually recommended for the impressionable (although I wonder what the parents think of the music they force onto their children.) In utero, I played a few records, some jazz, some folk, some 19th century chamber music. A few times, I held my acoustic guitar up to my wife's belly and sang (especially "Railroad Bill.") Perhaps he was influenced by the repeated viewings of "O Brother, Where art Thou" (have you read the lyrics to "Big Rock Candy Mountain"?). He enjoyed it all.

He also kicked a lot. Not yet born, Elias could keep Karen up for days with his bouncing back and forth. To some, this was a sign of a future footballer--the soccer kind. An interesting idea, but given how little we are intercompetitivempetetive sports, I doubt that would come to pass. One friend of ours haintriguingntrueging forecast: Elias will be a drummer!

Both my wife and I are musicians. Indeed, we met as musicians, working in a Goth band in Connecticut. Although we have some talent, we are not known for our ability to hold down a beat. My own forays on the drum kit have been laughable, and the only song I could play with any metricality was Robyn Hitchcock's "Oceanside."

Speculating about how are children will grow up may be a new tradition--when you don't have to follow in your father's or mother's footsteps, the possibilities are endless. Certainly, I've had fun thinking about young Elias as an adult. If our influence rubs off on him, it might be as a scholar or as a traveler. With my love of foreign languages, I'd bet that Elias will grow up to be a linguist. But seeing him engaged by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, swinging through one of the funkiest, most soulful, 'blackest' pieces in Jazz, I could see Jazzy fingers sprouting from those small hands. Perhaps a bassist, like William Parker, or a trumpeter, like Louie, Dizzy, Lee Morgan, and Roy Campbell.

Drums? ... Here's to the next twenty-two years, Elias!


At 12:24 PM, Blogger Brandon said...


My parents discovered early that the best way to deal with me when I became fussy was to turn on the Spanish music station. For some reason Latino dance music was the only music that put me in a good mood.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Marc said...

Just wanted to say Congrats, from one drummer to another!

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Brdgt said...

I kept remarking to my best friend that her baby was always smiling in pictures and she explained that under three months a smile means gas. So now I point to the pictures and say "look at that gassy baby!"

What an ordeal Karen had to go through! At least her son will grow up to support her in the lifestyle she's accustomed to through his thriving music career!

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Geitner said...

I'm delighted to read that you found something to help calm young Elias, Nathanael. The challenge of seeing to the needs of a newborn can be staggering.

On a jazz note: My brother-in-law just gave my 12-year-old son a copy of Mile Davis' "Kind of Blue."

Best wishes!

Geitner Simmons

At 2:58 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Congratulations to both of you, and all the best to colicky baby Elias. Your account takes me back to the birth of our daughter, almost 21 years ago! My wife's water began to leak Sunday nite. We walked into the hospital (not very far away) Monday morning but labor didn't start, no matter how much my wife marched around the hallways and balconies. (We resisted the advice to go the Caesarean route.) So I reported to work the next day, to the consternation of my boss and colleagues on a brand new job, just started the week before. So I returned to the hospital from Wednesday until early Friday morning, when my reluctant daughter finally exited the womb, after a lot more walking, and two bouts of induced labor, separated by a short spell of rest. I still remember how strange it sounded to ask after 'my daughter' during her short spell in the nursery. Our favorite bit of advice to new parents is, "It only gets better with time." (Not to say there aren't some tough spells on the way.) Best wishes to all three of you.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Ah, the "the human metronome." It makes sense that would be comforting, actually. Strong medicine against boredom and existential angst, indeed. Careful though, Roy Haynes may necessary soon.

Here's to the future of his good taste; and congratulations.


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