A little night music in the canyon

Thumbnail image for al-martinez-photo.jpgThey were playing jazz pieces I didn't know and singing blues songs I also didn't know, but it didn't matter. I wasn't at Topanga's Canyon Bistro to take notes that starry Friday evening but to just sit and listen as music floated like a cool fog up the mountain sides and down the boulevard, leaving a vaporous trail of melody in its wake.

I left feeling good about myself, less obsessed with the ailments that sap my energies and taunt my wounded physiology. Music, from Beethoven to Elton John, calms me to the extent that sometimes I fall asleep in my own bed with a headset still on and music playing from my Nook. I drift off to Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters and awaken to Johnny Hartman singing Lush Life. There are no Lady Gagas or Miley Cyruses in my collection. I'm talking music, not noise.

Larry Cohn, who owns the Bistro, offers jazz every Wednesday and twice a month on Fridays, the night I dropped by after burning my brain writing columns. The Bistro's two inside rooms and most of its outdoor seating area were filled, summoned by Facebook promises from one Catherine McClenahan that it would be a night to remember, and it was.

Both a singer and actress, McClenahan, a tall, willowy blonde, offered pop tunes to balance off the evening, reaching back for memory songs that can lull you into the past. She's a Topangan and also offers vocals on certain Thursday nights at Froggy's, a fish restaurant that took over the American Legion building a long time ago and has become yet another gathering place for the diet-minded community.

Music entwines our village and helps define the people in it, seeking peace on a level that is not otherwise offered. A friend sees music as a prayer and so does the United Methodist Church in Northridge, where Jazz Vespers help the Earthbound reach up to heaven's gates in a room awash with colors that stream through its stained glass windows.

Ken Wild on bass and a legendary vocalist Leslie Smith filled out the evening at the Bistro along with owner Cohn at the piano. McClenahan's pop compositions created an intersection where all music joins, offering choices that never seem to end.

I hadn't intended to stay very long at the Bistro, but I did, until the last words of a song had been sung, the last note of a piano had resounded through the room and the last low glide of the bass fiddle had ended. I sat for a few moments longer after the crowd dissipated, grateful for the equanimity of harmonics that calms the spirit and remains within reach to balance fears of mortal vulnerability when the night demons march.

More by Al Martinez:
A little night music in the canyon
'I Am Woman,' hear them roar
A tea party in the rain
Mary, Mary quite contrary
A warning in the wind
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