Friday, March 18, 2011

Slipping into jazz

A baby grand takes his place at the raven polished Steinway. Four men in mismatched suits grab their instruments of choice for the set. The worn brass reflects in the light as a collection of saxophone, trumpet and trombones raise up to begin. The singer, a short lass with curls grabs her mic and yells to the crowd. A lone drum beat, sturdy and loud starts up and the pianos syncopation chimes in. A five, six, seven, eight, and the evening’s festivities take over the room.

For me, jazz with its swinging notes and improvising, keeps my heart in the music. It is a type of outlet that can take any emotion and flip it around. The soul and funk of the rhythms is a perfect healing concoction, and what better way to ease out of the sour mood then through jazz.

The Hip Kitty jazz and fondue lounge in Claremont, Calif., is a hot spot where various music styles are welcomed. Nestled in the south-end of the village Packing House, this lounge is the cat’s meow when it comes to variety jazz and smooth night life. The dimly lit entrance and red satin drapes resemble an underground jazz lounge from the 1920s’.

Throughout the venue, smells of chocolates and wine waft in and out of the brightly covered tables. The waitress glides between parties as her flapper beads swish over her delicate dress. It is the small details that can really send someone back through time.

“ I come for this intricate ambiance, the upbeat live music, and the mood of the place as a whole,” Chad Easter of Upland said. “ It is a way to get away from the stress at the fire station, I like to be taken back every once in awhile, the Kitty does that for me.”

Many of the refugees who seek sanctuary at the lounge often remove themselves from the bustle of the inner quarters and move to the outside patio. Lights drape across vine-covered awnings and roman couches surround warm glass fire pits. Although outside, the sounds of the smooth and big-band swing can be heard still and resembles a party scene out of “The Great Gatsby.”

“I see this place as an upscale location, clientele, and atmosphere, not to mention the bar tenders know how to make a drink,” Robbie Rugg from La Verne said.

A swing band rolls on to the stage and the soft sounds of brass wield to the upbeat jams. Rugg grabs his partner and heads to the floor where they perform like two falling leaves, intertwining and swinging about. The raspy voices on the stage fill the room. A group of businessmen and women in suits raise their glasses, while a few college students in their worn jeans and band t-shirts huddle together and hum along with their ale. A table dedicated to a bachelorette party laugh as they mimic the lyrical tune and the table to the right houses a couple college professors who head to the bar to refill their amber glasses.

“ I need something like this to get away from grad school and my business, I have always used music for that and when it is live, it is more of a high,” Rugg said.

A worn wooden bar grounds the chaos of the music in the center of the eclectic room. My eyes are captured by the hand-blown glass lit up within the liquored shelves as multicolored lamps above surround the room. Abstract city paintings and earth tones cover the walls, while on stage, the musicians continue to play rhythms and lyrics that keep the crowd engaged. The bartender mixes drinks with ease, a glass flips right and the liquor goes left and in front of his eyes both collide into a sweetened mixture.

“ At the end of my work week I come here to listen to these musicians, I let them take my worries away with a tuned clarinet and a thick, booming stand up bass,” said Kyle Lawrence of Ontario.

With free admission anyone may come and listen to the music of the night. Another band is rolling in, members quickly set up to close out the evenings festivities. A swanky man in a suit runs in front of the mic.

“Check one, two, welcome, welcome,” he says. “We are here to take you fine ladies and gentlemen back, join us in the music.” The brass booms and they are off again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inhale an age old remedy

The glass door opens to a spacious room toned with hues of red and gold. The warm wooden floor reflects orbs of dim lights scattered about. Soft chatter fills the spaces of air as I kick off my shoes and add to the mountain already piled at the entrance. I step on to the smooth black mat, and breathing in it begins.

Yoga, it is an ancient art form known for meditation that dates back as early as 3300 BC. But for health nuts, especially in California, it is seen as a means of exercise. But, within this ceremony of breath and strained poses there is a sanctuary that many in these difficult times seek.

Yoga, for me, is a rebuilding of energy, finding that which is lost in the chaos of the workweek. As many health experts are beginning to notice, most individuals in this economic downturn are looking for the same. The Mayo Clinic posted an article stating that chronic stress can lead to a variety of health and emotional problems. The article suggests yoga as a way to lower this risk as well as boost overall health benefits; increased fitness and weight loss. While yoga brings together mental and physical disciplines, it is proven to leave the mind less riddled with problematic tension.

Kaiser Permanente has even backed behind the yoga industry claiming it aids in lowering high blood pressure, helps asthmatics breath easier and improves fatigue within individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis.

“People come to yoga to release stress, they rely on the practice as a form of escape,” said Rancho Cucamonga yoga and wellness nutritionist Doug Moss. “I know it is one of the major ways I am making it through this recession.”

Moss explained that the human body holds most of its tension in the lower back and jaw, and through yoga, one is forced to relax those areas.

“I remind my group about every few minutes to relax the jaw, you would be surprised at how much just doing that can help.” Moss said.

The room is darkened, and files with a quick warm air as the smell of faint spices waft through the room. I hear the instructions, “Urdhva Hastasana” and my arms raise upward and rest just in front of my heart. With slow rhythmic motions my body makes a dance across the now sturdy mat. Small beads of water form at my brow like a crown and I make a stance reflecting that of a poised ballerina. My hands rooted in the earth and my crown raised to the sky. It is through these motions that I find my grounding in the calamities of a full school and work load.

With many firm believers in yoga, the focus on breath is the craze that can get everyone hooked on this practice. “Exhale all of your worries and inhale all of your aspirations,” said Master instructor Gina Decker. “It is what gets me through the day.”

There are studios throughout each city, some almost blocks away. Many of them, like Green Tara Yoga in Upland have discounts for students. A special way that this particular studio aids the community is by actually setting up special package for those suffering during the times. On Sunday’s the studio holds a donation class where people pay what they can, even if it is only a few cents.

“We do not want anyone to miss out, we will try and make it anyway possible for people to come here and rejuvenate,” Moss said. “There are options for everyone.”

The diverse poses within the actual session is what makes the mind veer away from any stress related material. As the body heats up, the warmth is calming and can have a positive effect on the mind. When warmed up and at the peak of my practice, I find that my body begins to sway and take its own positions as to almost unwind itself.

“You have to be able to have a place to release and have solace for an hour,” said Moss.

Resting in child pose, my rushed breathes from the hours workout cool to a soft hum. My eyes open to the warm lights that begin to take back their place in the room. The journey is over for now, back to the work and stresses of the real world. But in returning, life is a new. The worries which entered an hour earlier now dwindle. The group and myself pack up for home, to return another day to this therapeutic workout.

“This place we come to, the space that we share is communal. It is how we can grow and heal in times of hardship,” said Moss.