the frank turner lyrics were fun n'all, but i figured i'd give you a more general selection of little quotes i like;
"turn that bebop down, i can't hear my heartbeat"
"oh amelia, it was just a false alarm"
"if music was the food of love then i'd be a fat romantic slob"
"i guess god was a lot more demonstrative when he flamboyantly parted the sea"
"i love you, whatever that means"
doesn't help you any more does it? ... i guess you'll just have to get to know me instead
“Niama… Naima… Wake up you lazy-ass mother-fucker.”
I roll over and stare weary-eyed at the wall, ignoring him.
“Don’t give me that you son of a bitch. I know you’re awake.”
“Nnnnhhhhh… What time is it?”
“Half 10. You’ve been asleep all morning while I’ve been working.”
I sigh and don’t say anything, but very slowly drag myself from the bed, standing up. I stretch out very slowly and notice that there’s Mozart coming from George’s record player in the corner of the room. “Written much?”
“Yes. A whole page devoted to Chet Baker.” I stumble across the room in just my underwear while he continues; “You know I got a call from Goldberg today. He asked me if I could recommend him anyone to try out for second reed with the Kenton band. You play clarinet right?” I flop down onto George’s clothes hamper, situated under his window and lean outside, resting my face on my paws. George, also in his underwear, sits down on the bed, brushing his fox tail out from under him as he does.
“I’m not that good.”
“That’s not what I asked Naima. I gave your name to him. He said he liked you.”
“But I’m nowhere near that good.”
“Konitz is in the lead alto role. Think of everything you’ll learn from him!”
“There are hundreds of better players around.” George frustratedly picks up the box of matches from the table and lights a cigarette.
“You’re fucking useless. They’re practically begging for you.”
I leave the room in a silence, other than the Mozart still emanating from George’s record player across the room. I look out over the city for a few minutes.
“This is his Thirteenth Piano Concerto isn’t it?” George looks up, exhaling smoke upward.
“Fourteenth.” He replied sharply.
I go back to being silent again and continue listening, watching a street worker pick up trash from an overturned bin. George gets to the end of his cigarette and sighs a frustrated sigh, looking over at me.
“I can’t put you up here tonight Naima.” I pause, still barely awake.
“My sister is in town. She doesn’t know.”
“Ok.” More pause, There’s a gap between movements of the Mozart, and after a few seconds of movement 3, George starts again.
“The audition is tomorrow at 3. It’s at Berkley. You better fucking go man cause you need this.”
I don’t say anything, just continue looking down 5 floors into 54th Street New York, September 1951, the cars slowly thrusting their way through heavy crowds of people, distant factories pluming out smoke. George finishes another cigarette and stands up, pulling a chair up and sitting next to the lion, out of sight from any prying eyes into the window as he places a paw onto Naima’s knee.
“Do the audition Naima. You could use the money. I have to go, some come away from the window. I need to draw the curtains.”
After half an hour of sitting in George’s room doing nothing on his instruction, I sneak out as quietly as I can, alto saxophone in my paw. I creep down the stairs and raise my eyelids a little at the stranger passing me. Hopefully he isn’t an associate of George’s who suspects something.
Me and George aren’t a couple. I barely even know him. All I know is that he’s got some high paying business executive position, has a room near 52nd and reviews jazz music on occasion. He slipped me a note one night when I saw him at a house jazz musicians hang out. I don’t remember where it was, but the note was giving me his address. He was the first sex I ever had, but I didn’t want to tell him that.
I stay at his place frequently, and he comes to see me play at the Fillmore club 3 nights a week, supporting the Ronnie Ball Quartet. It’s the most stable and satisfying work i’ve ever had, but George is certain I’m capable of doing better, and has praised me twice beyond belief in the papers, while others have called me soul-less and unexciting.
After leaving Barkley school, there was little doubt in my mind that I needed to play jazz. The music just took over my entire life and compelled me to stay up until the early morning trains back home, which i did almost every night. I live in Brooklyn. Far far far away from the bebop scene I was so excited by, but the rent was almost nothing, and the train stops almost right outside. The first train back was at 4:30 in the morning, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve trundled into Brooklyn station, almost asleep, dragging my saxophone case behind me on the floor as I descend the stairs to the street.
“Hey kid. I recognise you! You’re that kitty cat who plays at the Fillmore!” I look up from the chair and nod at the ferret standing over me. That ferret was Scott Booker, a young bebop jammer. Little older than Naima, currently running the Cotton Club jam session, where Naima was currently sat at a table in the middle row. The bat and fox couple couple sat across from me looked at eachother and smiled.
“See honey! I told you it was him. He’s wearing the same clothes he always wears.” Scott smirked at the lion.
“You wanna run kitty cat? You got your horn?” I pick it from the floor and lay the case on the table, opening it. “Excellent. I’ll announce you next.”
A cold dread filled me up. Could he have known how much I hated this? Had he been told by other players around town? My stage anxieties get put into over-drive if people actually know who I am, and they’re already dangerously hurtful. It feels as though, once they know who I am and where I play I have a whole world of expectations piled upon me that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Could i reach out and grab him, asking him not to? Yes I could, but knowing the attitude of jammers along 52nd, it’ll only encourage him to make it worse for me. These people are all absolutely vile. I’ve never met a jazz musician who I like, and I don’t see that kind of thing changing any time soon.
Attaching the crook to the horn and assembling the mouthpiece, I get to my feet-paws as the band finish their raucous version of It Was Only A Paper Moon and I give the sax a gentle blow to confirm to myself it was all still working. Scott got onto the stage and took hold of the microphone.
“Now everyone, we all have to be quiet now. Naima Green, currently playing at the fin establishment, the Fillmore Club, is coming onto the stage, and if we whisper too loudly in his performance we’ll drown him out.” There was a smattering of laughter, and a give Scott a gentle but totally false smile as I scale the stage. I’m quite well known for being much quieter on stage than most other players around the scene. He releases the microphone from his grasp, letting the stand wobble back into place as he turns to the piano and bass players, yelling at them “Ornithology!” I close my eyes and move my fingers around a little, remembering the tune and taking an intake of breath as the drummer starts his count in, the band and myself beginning to play the challenging bebop head.
I hate performing. It’s one of the most terrifying experiences I can think of putting myself through. Hundreds of people looking up at you, expecting you to provide them with a service they believe is so simple, yet is so incredibly challenging both physically, mentally and emotionally. At least for me. I develop my own ways and methods of calming down, but when I have a loud drummer such as the one who’s playing at this session, I lose all of that and tense up almost immediately. This session was not a pleasant one.
After stumbling through my solo, i remove the horn from my mouth and take steps to the side as a border collie takes my place and starts to rampage through the tune, playing the saxophone like it’s a sub machine gun. My eyes start to wander around the stage before they land on the pianist, and for a while I cannot take my eyes off of him.
He’s absolutely beautiful. Like no other person I’d ever seen in my life. A strawberry tiger. You don’t see many of them in the world with their gentle orange fur colour and subtle stripes, and this gentleman was a particularly fine example. He had broad shoulders and wore a very subtle brown waist coat, and rolled up sleeves on his white shirt. He was muscular, but was attacking the piano keys extraordinarily gently. I could only just hear him over the drummer and bassist who were slamming all their limbs as hard as they could into their instruments.
The border collie ceased making a noise and stood back too, leaning into my ear and shouting something about “fucking bebop, man”. I nod but can’t take my eyes off the pianist, who’s now taking his solo. The band quietened down a little for him, and so now I could ear him properly for the first time. His playing mesmerised me. He would play very small and very infrequent phrases; never too excited, never too loud, never too involved in himself as to obstruct anything else the band was doing.
I was watching him so much even after he stopped that I missed the return of the head, joining in late and fluffing most of the out, especially buffing the last note. No one seemed to care and I descaled the stage as soon as I could, hoping that I could see the pianist from where I was sat earlier. Returning to my seat I placed the sax onto the table and peered back at the band. I could only just spy him, but Scott who was about to play a tune of his own was obstructing him with where he stood on the stage.
I’m sat outside the the Cotton Club. It’s 3:30 in the morning now, and the music has stopped downstairs. The streets are still bustling with various walks of life, largely jazz musicians seeing if they can find anywhere to play last minute, but all the clubs are starting to close their doors and the musicians are stumbling onto the streets, many drunk, almost all loud and many already investigating where the best place to score some form of narcotic would be. There’s a russell next to me, and I turn. It’s the tiger from the Cotton Club. He’s sat down on the bench next to me.
“Hey. You’re Naima yeah?” I say nothing, looking directly at the floor infront of me. “Yeah. I heard you’re really shy.” He smiles. His voice is high pitched, and fairly gentle too. “You played pretty good today man, even though it’s not really your thing.” I look up at him.
“Thanks.” I think for a brief moment before smiling. “Err… I loved your playing.” The tiger grinned a wide grin.
“Thanks! I was kinda hoping you would like it. I absolutely love your sound.”
“I can’t get enough time to come and see you play enough cause I’m stuck in the houseband here 6 nights a week, but what I heard I love.” I pause again.
“I heard you’re auditioning for the Kenton band?” Fucking hell, how on earth did that word get out so quickly?”
“What?” He seemed shocked.
“There are so many better mother fuckers out there.” I’m not sure why I suddenly picked up the jazz talk. I think it’s because I’m trying to impress the tiger who’s name i still haven’t caught, but my English accent just makes it sound ridiculous, highlighting just how awkwardly I speak. “Not really worth me taking the train.” The tiger frowns.
“Fuck off. I dunno if there’s a better unemployed alto player short of Lee and Charlie Parker, and Bird is fucked right now. Off in some insane asylum somewhere.”
“And Lee is in Kenton’s band already.”
“So you should get the second seat.” I shake my head and get onto my feet-paws slowly, the tiger looking up at me.
“I have to get home.”
“Where’d you live?”
“Wow, really?” I nod. “Well…” He stands up too. “Can I get the train with you? My folks live that way and I’ve been meaning to visit them for a while, plus I have tomorrow night off this place. Some house cat is covering me. My name’s Ellis by the way.” He offers his paw.
“Naima.” He laughs at me.
“I know your name man!.”
I live in the top floor of a family house that they’re renting to me for basically nothing. They’ll still be in bed, but me and Ellis creep up the stairs anyway. Ellis has decided against staying at his parents’ place for tonight for fear of waking them, so I offered to have him stay at mine. The door is at the top of a set of spiral stairs and I fumble very clumsily with my keys, letting the tiger in first as he squeezes by me.
My apartment is pretty messy. Dishes in the sink, lots of identical green sweaters and blue jeans scattered all over the floor and chairs, sheet music lying everywhere, a pile of records stacked up against a very old record player stood against the wall by an open window. I drop the saxophone by the door and close it.
“This is it… I don’t really have anywhere for you to sleep so you can just kinda…” As my back is turned, two stripy paws wrap themselves around my waist and squeeze me gently against a powerful chest.
“You didn’t bring me here to sleep on the floor.”
I can’t quite believe what’s happening. How did he know I was queer? I’m still struggling to work out how George knew to give me the note on the day, but this was a much bigger gamble than the note. I don’t move, still holding the saxophone strap in my paw.
“How did you know?” The paws run up inside my top.
“Mmmnnnhhh, I don’t know. You were looking at me the whole time I was on the bandstand today so I kinda guessed.” He takes a few steps back and kicks off one of my sweaters from the bed, taking a seat on it as he undoes his waist-coat, throwing it onto a chair a few feet away and undoing the buttons of his shirt as i turn around, not moving otherwise. “Are you going to come and join me then?” He said with a smile on his face. I say nothing, but take a few steps towards the bed, taking a seat next to him before he swiftly grabs me and pushes me down onto the bed.
The breeze from the open window wakes me up, it being right by my bed with the record player. I do my normal morning routine of just pressing play on the last record i’d been listening to. Amazingly it was Mozart’s fourteenth Piano Concerto. As the music starts I lean back in bed and the tiger beside me rolls over, I think still asleep, draping an arm over my upper body. The muscles on his arms did no lying. He kept himself in phenominal shape.
After a few minutes of us lying there, Ellis stirred a little and opened his eyes, looking up at me in the eyes. Remembering me, he closes his eyes again and smiles a broad, relaxed smile, shuffling close. After a few more minutes of Mozart, he speaks.
“That was your first time wasn’t it?” I pause.
“Second.” He takes a moment to listen to the music, his ears rotating to focus on it.
“This is Mozart’s Thirteenth Piano Concerto isn’t it?”
Joined 16 December 2013