Friday, March 25, 2016

Super Nova

What better title to honor an important person in my distant past -- Nova Hudson. Nova was the proprietor of the Midway Restaurant, a favorite hang for music majors of my era at Tennessee Tech, namely the early to mid '60s. I don't know, and never asked, where the restaurant name came from, but it was located adjacent to the Tech campus, behind the women's dorms and a short walk across the street from the music department. Ignoring its rather pedestrian title, we simply referred to it as "Nova's."

What made the Midway unique, at least in the eyes of the musicians from Tech, was that Nova was a music lover, and as such, had jazz recordings on the juke box. Each booth had its own coin-operated controller, so you could sit and pump nickels into the remote box, with its flip-around menus, and pick your favorites. I remember that her offerings included Dave Brubeck; memory doesn't serve up much else, but it was the time when "Take Five" was a big hit, so it included tracks from that album. Nova loved to hang around and talk music with us, unfortunately to the point of boredom sometimes, so rather than be rude, we had a secret weapon. Nova seemed unable to tap her foot to "Blue Rondo Ala Turk," so we would drop in a quarter and opt for five plays of that arrangement in 9/8 meter, each bar repeating 2/8-2/8-2/8-3/8, relentlessly attacking the sensibilities of any decent Tennessean who loved a good two-and-four feel. About halfway through the second playing, Nova would surrender and disappear into the kitchen, presumably to help her husband, Pop.

Nova had the last laugh, even though she was probably more disgusted than anthing else. She approached our table one day and announced a "sad day in music:" Jack Teagarden had passed. We were too naive and unknowledgable to be very impressed, and she just turned around and went into her kitchen refuge. Of course we should have been embarrassed that we either didn't know enough about who Jack Teagarden was, or his stature and importance in the world of jazz history and trombone playing. Now, of course, we do, and that just elevates Nova into superstardom in our memories, that she was even privy to that kind of knowledge in our little world, our mountain town of 3,000 residents and our school of some 2,000 students, and our tiny music department of 23 majors. As it turns out, Nova's brother was Tommy Thomas, drummer on Don McNeill's Breakfast Club out of Chicago, for twenty years. No wonder Nova knew about music and jazz! Tommy taught at Tech for a year or two after his retirement, then moved on to Florida. Much later, he moved back to Cookeville and rode his bicycle around and played drums for other older folks until he was about 100.

Nova and her Midway Restaurant invoke happy memories of my time at Tech, of which there were many.

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