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Cedar Rapids "Jazz Legends"
Volume 1, number 1
by Dan Knight

Back in the Sixties, the most happening place for jazz in Iowa was a Cedar Rapids nightspot called "The Tender Trap." It was owned and operated by a legend in his own right: percussionist Joe Abodeely.

Joe ruled the Club -- and the musicians who played there -- from his own personal "throne": the drum throne, where he presided ever watchfully behind his drumset. From his "throne" he barked orders to waitresses, shouted down patrons who let their cigarette ashes hit the carpet, and administered his own brand of "swing" with the power and relentlessness of a moving freight train.

The "Trap" was best known, however, for one of its finest discoveries.

Cal Besemer, the house pianist at the "Trap," also played intermittent gigs in the area. One such gig was gig for students of Currier Residence Hall, the University of Iowa. At that gig, a young student who was working on a Masters Degree in Counseling Education came up and asked if he could sing a few numbers with Cal. Cal said "ok!" and the guy sang a few "standards." Cal thought he was pretty good, so he invited the guy to come up to Cedar Rapids later that evening and sit in at the "Trap."

Later that night, when Cal hit the "Trap," the place was packed. There was a bowling convention in town, and the place was full of "women bowlers" from all over the country. When Cal told Abodeely that there was an "unknown singer" coming in that night to "sit in," Joe was, to put it mildly, furious. Joe related it to me this way:

"I said 'What do you mean there's a new guy coming in tonight? With this place full? Man, what are you doin' to me? He'll stink, and the place will clear out in five minutes!' "

With that, the Trio went to work. And by the middle of the first tune, the place was "hummin'." They played a set or two. They forgot about "the guy who was coming to sit in" until they heard a commotion from the front of the "Trap."

There was a nice looking black guy in a rented tux making his way to the bandstand. He walked up to the piano and said "hello" to Cal. Cal looked over at Joe.

"He's the guy," Cal said.

Joe looked the singer over, and gave him the "Abodeely stare." It could melt steel at fifty feet.

"OK," Joe said. "Just one song, and if the guy stinks he gets one chorus and that's it."

"The guy" stepped up to the mike, called out a "standard" and a key, and began to sing. It was one of the songs he'd learned from years of listening to his parents' jazz records.

The crowd went nuts.

By the end of the second song, women were screaming, people were shouting, and they beginning to "blow the doors off the place." Forty-five minutes later, he was signing autographs, and Abodeely was asking him to become a "regular" at the Trap.

He became a "regular," all right. People came from miles away to hear this UI student sing. He did his first recording with Abodeely and the "Trap" trio. He even got married on the stage at the "Trap," and was a hit until he graduated from the UI and left for a job in San Francisco. After a short time, he realized that he missed performing. And he knew that counseling wasn't for him.

He went to an open audition at "The Hungry I," was hired, and was soon "discovered" there, doing the songs he had honed evening after evening with Abodeely and the Trio at the "Trap." He has since gone on to become one of the most successful singers of all time.

Who was "the guy"?

Al Jarreau.

--orginally published in the newsletter of the Eastern Iowa Jazz Society, August 2000.