One of my favorite breakfast dining venues in New Orleans is Cobalt on St. Charles. Located on the streetcar line adjacent to the ornate Hotel Monaco downtown, this restaurant has always held a certain fascination to because of the fine-dining experience at diner prices. Plus, on many weekends, breakfast patrons once were serenaded by the renowned keyboardist Joe Krown, soloing on the house piano.
It was on one of my many pre-Katrina Saturdays at Cobalt that a star was born. Well, not exactly there on the spot, but it could happen eventually in our City of Talent. My server was a tall drink of water—nearly 6 feet of slim, brunette shyness, around 20 years old. Queried about her pursuits other than as wait staff, she revealed that she also was studying voice and singing at the University of New Orleans.
Naturally, I asked if she was currently singing anywhere but, although her interest was long-standing, she had not yet performed in public. I saw this as her opportunity, suggesting that she sing something with Joe. But she said she hadn’t been working at Cobalt very long and that she didn’t even know him. I offered to make the introduction while she continued to wait on other customers.
When Joe finally took a brief break between songs I walked over to him. I explained that the tall model/server was a singing student needing experience, and he told me to send her over. Back at my table I flagged her down and told her that Joe was waiting to meet her. She put down her pot of coffee and went over to Joe.
They were about 30 feet from me so I couldn’t hear their conversation, but by the mannerisms I could tell that she was telling him what she knew while he was listening and nodding. Within seconds Joe launched into a jazzy number followed by Slim belting out a Billie Holiday rendition. I don’t remember the song but I do remember every single member of the wait staff stopping in their tracks—plates and drinks in hands—and looking over at the new vocalist, who happened to be their recently hired colleague.
This song was followed by a blues number and was performed again with the perfection of a professional. Joe and Stretch were a perfect match, and when she finished all the wait staff put down their dinnerware and exploded into applause. She blushed, thanked Joe Krown, and walked off the little stage, heading back to the kitchen. As she passed one of her colleagues, the woman told her with an astonished gaze, “I had no idea. . . .”