[. . .] George Shearing, the great
jazz pianist, Dean said, was exactly like Rollo Greb. Dean and I went to
see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place
was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o'clock. Shearing came out,
blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking
Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a
delicate English-summer's-night air about him that came out in the first
rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him
reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless
except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a
smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano
seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began
rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to
rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair
back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up.
The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it
seemed faster and faster, that's all. Shearing began to play his chords;
they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you'd think the man
wouldn't have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea.
Folks yelled for him to "Go!". Dean was sweating; the sweat
poured down his collar. "There he is! That's him! Old God! Old God
Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!" And Shearing was conscious of the madman
behind him, he could hear every one of Dean's gasps and imprecations, he
could sense it though he couldn't see. "That's right!" Dean said.
"Yes!" Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano,
dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool
and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat.
"God's empty chair," he said. On the piano a horn sat; it's
golden shadow made a strange reflection among the desert caravan painted
on the wall behind the drum. God was gone; it was the silence of his
departure. [. . .]
[. . .] But one night we suddenly went mad together
again; we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim
Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who’s always saying,
"Right-orooni" and "How ’bout
a little bourbonorooni." In Frisco great eager crowds of young
semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano,
guitar, and bongo drums. When he gets warmed up he takes off his shirt and
undershirt and really goes. He does and says anything that comes into his
head. He’ll sing "Cement Mixer, Put-ti Put-ti" and suddenly
slow down the beat and brood over his bongos with fingertips barely
tapping the skin as everybody leans forward breathlessly to hear; you
think he’ll do this for a minute or so, but he goes right on, for
as long as an hour, making an imperceptible little noise with the tips of
his fingernails, smaller and smaller all the time till you can’t hear it
any more and sounds of traffic come in the open door. Then he slowly gets
up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, "Great-orooni . . .
fine-ovauti . . . hello-orooni . . . bourbon-orooni . . . all-orooni . . .
how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni . . .
orooni . . . vauti . . . oroonirooni...’ He keeps this up for fifteen
minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can’t hear. His
great sad eyes scan the audience.
Dean stands in the back, saying. "God! Yes!"
and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. "Sal, Slim knows time,
he knows time." Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two
Cs, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly
bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing "C-Jam
Blues" and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big
booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as
sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad
and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells
crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in
every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages. Finally the
set is over; each set takes two hours. Slim Gaillard goes and stands
against a post, looking sadly over everybody’s head
as people come to talk to him. A bourbon is slipped into
his hand. "Bourbon-orooni – thank-you-ovauti . . ."
Nobody knows where Slim Gaillard is. Dean once had a dream that he was
having a baby and his belly was all bloated up blue as he lay on the grass
of a California hospital. Under a tree, with a group of colored men, sat
Slim Gaillard. Dean turned despairing eyes of a mother to him. Slim said,
"There you go-orooni." Now Dean approached him, he approached
his God; he thought Slim was God; he shuffled and bowed in front of him
and asked him to join us. "Right-orooni," says Slim: he’ll
join anybody but he won’t guarantee to be there with you in spirit. Dean
got a table, bought drinks, and sat stiffly in front of Slim. Slim dreamed
over his head. Every time Slim said, "Orooni," Dean said, "Yes!"
I sat there with these two madmen. Nothing happened. To Slim Gaillard the
whole world was just one big orooni. [. . .]
[. . .] The girls came down and we started out on
our big night, once more pushing the car down the street. "Wheeoo!!
let’s go!" cried Dean, and we jumped in the back seat and clanked
to the little Harlem on Folsom Street.
Out we jumped in the warm, mad night, hearing a wild
tenorman bawling horn across the way, going "EE-YAH EE-YAH! EE-YAH!"
and hands clapping to the beat and folks yelling, "Go, go, go!"
Dean was already racing across the street with his thumb in the air,
yelling, "Blow, man, blow!" A bunch of colored men in
Saturday-night suits were whooping it up in front. It was a sawdust saloon
with a small bandstand on which the fellows huddled with their hats on,
blowing over people’s heads, a crazy place; crazy floppy women wandered
around sometimes in their bathrobes, bottles clanked in alleys. In back of
the joint in a dark corridor beyond the splattered toilets scores of men
and women stood against the wall drinking wine-spodiodi and spitting at
the stars – wine and whisky. The behatted tenorman was blowing at the
peak of a wonderfully satisfactory free idea, a rising and falling riff
that went from "EE-yah!" to a crazier "EE-de-lee-yah!"
and blasted along to the rolling crash of butt-scarred drums hammered by a
big brutal Negro with a bullneck who didn’t give a damn about anything
but punishing his busted tubs, crash, rattle-ti-boom, crash. Uproars of
music and the tenorman had it and everybody knew he had it. Dean
was clutching his head in the crowd, and it was a mad crowd. They were all
urging that tenorman to hold it and keep it with cries and wild
eyes, and he was raising himself from a crouch and going down
again with his horn, looping it up in a clear cry above the furor. A
six-foot skinny Negro woman was rolling her bones at the man’s hornbell,
and he just jabbed it at her, "Ee! ee! ee!"
Everybody was making and roaring. Galatea and Marie
with beer in their hands were standing on their chairs, shaking and
jumping. Groups of colored guys stumbled in from the street, falling over
one another to get there. "Stay with it, man!" roared a man with
a foghorn voice, and let out a big groan that must have been heard clear
out in Sacramento, ah-haa! "Whoo!" said Dean. He was rubbing his
chest, his belly; the sweat splashed from his face.
Boom, kick, that drummer was kicking his drums down the cellar and rolling
the beat upstairs with his murderous sticks, rattlety-boom! A big fat man
was jumping on the platform, making it sag and creak. "Yoo!" The
pianist was only pounding the keys with spread-eagled fingers, chords, at
intervals when the great tenorman was drawing breath for another blast –
Chinese chords, shuddering the piano in every timber, chink, and wire,
boing! The tenorman jumped down from the platform and stood in the crowd,
blowing around; his hat was over his eyes; somebody pushed it back for him.
He just hauled back and stamped his foot
and blew down a hoarse, baughing blast, and drew breath, and raised the
horn and blew high, wide, and screaming in the air. Dean was directly in
front of him with his face lowered to the bell of the horn, clapping his
hands, pouring sweat on the man’s keys, and the man noticed and laughed
in his horn a long quivering crazy laugh, and everybody else laughed and
they rocked and rocked; and finally the tenorman decided to blow his top
and crouched down and held a note in high C for a long time as everything
else crashed along and the cries increased and I thought the cops would
come swarming from the nearest precinct. Dean was in a trance. The
tenorman’s eyes were fixed straight on him; he had a madman who not only
understood but cared and wanted to understand more and much more than
there was, and they began dueling for this; everything came out of the horn,
no more phrases, just cries, cries, "Baugh" and down to "Beep!"
and up to "EEEEE!’ and down to clinkers and over to
sideways-echoing horn-sounds. He tried everything, up, down, sideways,
upside down, horizontal, thirty degrees, forty degrees, and finally he
fell back in somebody’s arms and gave up and everybody pushed around and
yelled, "Yes! Yes! He blowed that one!" Dean wiped himself with
Then up stepped the tenorman on the bandstand and asked
for a slow beat and looked sadly out the
open door over people’s heads and began singing "Close Your Eyes."
Things quieted down a minute. The tenorman
wore a tattered suede jacket, a purple shirt, cracked shoes, and zoot
pants without press; he didn’t care. He looked like a Negro Hassel. His
big brown eyes were concerned with sadness, and the singing of songs
slowly and with long, thoughtful pauses. But in the second chorus he got
excited and grabbed the mike and jumped down from the bandstand and bent
to it. To sing a note he had to touch his shoetops and pull it all up to
blow, and he blew so much he staggered from the effect, and only recovered
himself in time for the next long slow note. "Mu-u- u-usic
pla-a-a-a-a-a-ay!" He leaned back with his face to the ceiling, mike
held below. He shook, he swayed. Then he leaned in, almost falling with
his face against the mike. "Ma-a-a-ake it dream-y for dan-cing"
– and he looked at the street outside with his lips curled in scorn,
Billie Holiday’s hip sneer – "while we go ro-man-n-n-cing"
– he staggered sideways – "Lo-o-o-ove’s holida-a-ay" –
he shook his head with disgust and weariness at the whole world – "Will
make it seem" – what would it make it seem? everybody waited; he
mourned – "Okay." The piano hit a chord. "So baby come on
just clo-o-o-ose your pretty little ey-y-y-y-yes" – his mouth
quivered, he looked at us, Dean and me, with an expression that seemed to
say, Hey now, what’s this thing we’re all doing in this sad brown
world? – and then he came to the end of his song, and for this there had
to be elaborate preparations, during which time you could send all the
messages to Garcia around the world twelve times and what difference did
it make to anybody? because here we were dealing with the pit and
prunejuice of poor beat life itself in the god-awful streets of man, so he
said it and sang it, "Close – your –" and blew it way up to
the ceiling and through to the stars and on out – "Ey-y-y-y-y-y-es"
– and staggered off the platform to brood. He sat in the corner with a
bunch of boys and paid no attention to them. He looked down and wept. He
was the greatest.
Dean and I went over to talk to him. We invited him out
to the car. In the car he suddenly yelled, "Yes! ain’t nothin I
like better than good kicks! Where do we go?" Dean jumped up and down
in the seat, giggling maniacally. "Later! later!" said the
tenorman. "I’ll get my boy to drive us down to Jamson’s Nook, I
got to sing. Man, I live to sing. Been singin ’Close Your Eyes’
for two weeks – I don’t want to sing nothin else. What are you boys up
to?" We told him we were going to New York in two days. "Lord, I
ain’t never been there and they tell me it’s a real jumpin town but I
ain’t got no cause complainin where I am. I’m married, you know."
"Oh yes?" said Dean, lighting up. "And where is the darling
"What do you mean?" said the tenorman,
looking at him out of the corner of his eye. "I tole you I was
married to her, didn’t I?"
"Oh yes, oh yes" said Dean. "I was just
asking. Maybe she has friends? or sisters? A ball, you know, I’m just
looking for a ball."
"Yah, what good’s a ball, life’s too sad to be
ballin all the time," said the tenorman. lowering his eye to the
street. "Shh-eee-it!" he said. "I ain’t got no money and
I don’t care tonight."
We went back in for more. The girls were so disgusted
with Dean and me for gunning off and jumping around that they had left and
gone to Jamson’s Nook on foot; the car wouldn’t run anyway. We saw a
horrible sight in the bar: a white hipster fairy had come in wearing a
Hawaiian shirt and was asking the big drummer if he could sit in. The
musicians looked at him suspiciously. "Do you blow?" He said he
did, mincing. They looked at one another and said, "Yeah, yeah,
that’s what the man does, shhh-ee-it!" So the fairy sat down at the
tubs and they started the beat of a jump number and he began stroking the
snares with soft goofy bop brushes, swaying his neck with that complacent
Reichianalyzed ecstasy that doesn’t mean anything except too much tea
and soft foods and goofy kicks on the cool order. But he didn’t care. He
smiled joyously into space and kept the beat, though softly, with bop
subtleties, a giggling, rippling, background for big solid foghorn blues
the boys were blowing, unaware of him. The big Negro bullneck drummer sat
waiting for his turn. "What that man doing?" he said. "Play
the music!" he said. "What in hell!" he said. "Shh-ee-eet!"
and looked away, disgusted.
The tenorman’s boy showed up; he was a little taut
Negro with a great big Cadillac. We all jumped in. He hunched over the
wheel and blew the car clear across Frisco without stopping once, seventy
miles an hour, right through traffic and nobody even noticed him, he was
so good. Dean was in ecstasies. "Dig this my, man! dig the way he
sits there and don’t move a bone and just balls that jack and can talk
all night while he’s doing it, only thing is he doesn’t bother with
talking, ah, man, the things, the things I could – I wish – oh, yes.
Let’s go, let’s not stop – go now! Yes!" And the boy wound
around a corner and bowled us right in front of Jamson’s Nook and was
parked. A cab pulled up; out of it jumped a skinny, withered little Negro
preacherman who threw a dollar at the cabby and yelled. "Blow!"
and ran into the club and dashed right through the downstairs bar, yelling,
"Blowblowblow!" and stumbled upstairs, almost falling on
his face, and blew the door open and fell into the jazz-session room with
his hands out to support him against anything he might fall on, and he
fell right on Lampshade, who was working as a waiter in Jamson’s Nook
that season, and the music was there blasting and blasting and he stood
transfixed in the open door, screaming, "Blow for me, man, blow!"
And the man was a little short Negro with an alto horn that Dean said
obviously lived with his grandmother just like Tom Snark, slept all day
and blew all night, and blew a hundred choruses before he was ready to
jump for fair, and that’s what he was doing.
"It’s Carlo Marx!" screamed Dean above the
And it was. This little grandmother’s boy with the
taped-up alto had beady, glittering eyes; small crooked feet; spindly
legs; and he hopped and flopped with his horn and threw his feet around
and kept his eyes fixed on the audience (which was just people laughing at
a dozen tables, the room thirty by thirty feet and low ceiling), and he
never stopped. He was very simple in his ideas. What he liked was the
surprise of a new simple variation of a chorus. He’d go from "ta-tup-tader-rara
. . . ta-tup-tader-rara," repeating and hopping to it and kissing and
smiling into his horn, to "ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP!
ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP!" and it was all great moments of laughter
and understanding for him and everyone else who heard. His tone was clear
as a bell, high, pure, and blew straight in our faces from two feet away.
Dean stood in front of him, oblivious to everything else in the world,
with his head bowed, his hands socking in together, his whole body jumping
on his heels and the sweat, always the sweat, pouring and splashing down
his tormented collar to lie actually in a pool at his feet. Galatea and
Marie were there, and it took us five minutes to realize it. Whoo, Frisco
nights, the end of the continent and the end of doubt, all dull doubt and
tomfoolery, good-by. Lampshade was roaring around with his trays of beer;
everything he did was in rhythm; he yelled at the waitress with the beat;
"Hey now, babybaby, make a way, make a way, it’s Lampshade comin
your way," and he hurled by her with the beers in the air and roared
through the swinging doors into the kitchen and danced with the cooks and
came sweating back. The hornman sat
absolutely motionless at a corner table with an untouched drink in front of him, staring gook-eyed into space,
his hands hanging at his sides till they almost touched the floor, his
feet outspread like lolling tongues, his body shriveled into absolute
weariness and entranced sorrow and what-all was on his mind: a man who
knocked himself out every evening and let the others put the quietus to
him in the night. Everything swirled around him like a cloud. And that
little grandmother’s alto, that little Carlo Marx, hopped and
monkeydanced with his magic horn and blew two hundred choruses of blues,
each one more frantic than the other, and no signs of failing energy or
willingness to call anything a day. The whole room shivered.
On the corner of Fourth and Folsom an hour later I
stood with Ed Fournier, a San Francisco alto man who waited with me while
Dean made a phone call in a saloon to have Roy Johnson pick us up. It
wasn’t anything much, we were just talking, except that suddenly we saw
a very strange and insane sight. It was Dean. He wanted to give Roy
Johnson the address of the bar, so he told him to hold the phone a minute
and ran out to see, and to do this he had to rush pell-mell through a long
bar of brawling drinkers in white shirtsleeves, go to the middle of the
street, and look at the post signs. He did this, crouched low to the
ground like Groucho Marx, his feet carrying him with amazing swiftness out
of the bar, like an apparition, with his balloon thumb stuck up in the
night, and came to a whirling stop in the middle of the road, looking
everywhere above him for the signs. They were hard to see in the dark, and
he spun a dozen times in the road, thumb upheld, in a wild, anxious
silence, a wild-haired person with a ballooning thumb held up like a great
goose of the sky, spinning and spinning in the dark, the other hand
distractedly inside his pants. Ed Fournier was saying, "I blow a
sweet tone wherever I go and if people don’t like it ain’t nothin I
can do about it. Say, man, that buddy of yours is a crazy cat, looka him
over there" – and we looked. There was a big silence everywhere as
Dean saw the signs and rushed back in the bar, practically going under
someone’s legs as they came out and gliding so fast through the bar that
everybody had to do a double take to see him. A moment later Roy Johnson
showed up, and with the same amazing swiftness. Dean glided across the
street and into the car, without a sound. We were off again.
"Now, Roy, I know you’re all hung-up with your
wife about this thing but we absolutely must make Forty-sixth and Geary in
the incredible time of three minutes or everything is lost. Ahem! Yes! (Cough-cough.)
In the morning Sal and I are leaving for New York and this is absolutely
our last night of kicks and I know you won’t mind."
No, Roy Johnson didn’t mind; he only drove through
every red light he could find and hurried us along in our foolishness. At
dawn he went home to bed. Dean and I had ended up with a colored guy
called Walter who ordered drinks at the bar and had them lined up and said,
"Wine-spodiodi!" which was a shot of port wine, a shot of
whisky, and a shot of port wine, "Nice sweet jacket for all that bad
whisky!" he yelled.
He invited us to his home for a bottle of beer. He
lived in the tenements in back of Howard. His wife was asleep when we came
in. The only light in the apartment was the bulb over her bed. We had to
get up on a chair and unscrew the bulb as she lay smiling there; Dean did
it, fluttering his lashes. She was about fifteen years older than Walter
and the sweetest woman in the world. Then we had to plug in the extension
over her bed, and she smiled and smiled. She never asked Walter where
he’d been, what time it was, nothing. Finally we were set in the kitchen
with the extension and sat down around the humble table to drink the beer
and tell the stories. Dawn. It was time to leave and move the extension
back to the bedroom and screw back the bulb. Walter’s wife smiled and
smiled as we repeated the insane thing all over again. She never said a
Out on the dawn street Dean said, "Now you see,
man, there’s real woman for you. Never a harsh word, never a
complaint, or modified; her old man can come in any hour of the night with
anybody and have talks in the kitchen and drink the beer and leave any old
time. This is a man, and that’s his castle." He pointed up at the
tenement. We stumbled off. The big night was over. [. . .]
[. . .] Great Chicago glowed red before our eyes. We
were suddenly on Madison Street among hordes of hobos, some of them
sprawled out on the street with their feet on the curb, hundreds of others
milling in the doorways of saloons and alleys. "Wup! wup! look sharp
for old Dean Moriarty there, he may be in Chicago by accident this year."
We let out the hobos on this street and proceeded to downtown Chicago.
Screeching trolleys, newsboys, gals cutting by, the smell of fried food
and beer in the air, neons winking – "We’re in the big town, Sal!
Whooee!" First thing to do was park the Cadillac in a good dark spot
and wash up and dress for the night. Across the street from the YMCA we
found a redbrick alley between buildings, where we stashed the Cadillac
with her snout pointed to the street and ready to go, then followed the
college boys up to the Y, where they got a room and allowed us to use
their facilities for an hour. Dean and I shaved and showered, I
dropped my wallet in the hall, Dean found it and was about to sneak
it in his shirt when he realized it was ours and was right disappointed.
Then we said good-by to those boys, who were glad they’d made it in one
piece, and took off to eat in a cafeteria. Old brown Chicago with the
strange semi-Eastern, semi-Western types going to work and spitting. Dean
stood in the cafeteria rubbing his belly and taking it all in. He wanted
to talk to a strange middle-aged colored woman who had come into the
cafeteria with a story about how she had no money but she had buns with
her and would they give her butter. She came in flapping her hips, was
turned down, and went out flipping her butt.
"Whoo!" said Dean. "Let’s follow her down the street,
let’s take her to the ole Cadillac in the alley. We’ll have a ball."
But we forgot that and headed straight for North Clark Street, after a
spin in the Loop, to see the hootchy-kootchy joints and hear the bop. And
what a night it was. "Oh, man," said Dean to me as we stood in
front of a bar, "dig the street of life, the Chinamen that cut by in
Chicago. What a weird town – wow, and that woman in that window up there,
just looking down with her big breasts hanging
from her nightgown, big wide eyes. Whee. Sal, we gotta go and never
stop going till we get there."
"Where we going, man?"
"I don’t know but we gotta go." Then here
came a gang of young bop musicians carrying their instruments out of cars.
They piled right into a saloon and we followed them. They set themselves
up and started blowing. There we were! The leader was a slender, drooping,
curly-haired, pursy-mouthed tenorman, thin of shoulder, draped loose in a
sports shirt, cool in the warm night, self-indulgence written in his eyes,
who picked up his horn and frowned in it and blew cool and complex and was
dainty stamping his foot to catch ideas, and ducked to miss others – and
said, "Blow," very quietly when the other boys took solos. Then
there was Prez, a husky, handsome blond like a freckled boxer,
meticulously wrapped inside his sharkskin plaid suit with the long drape
and the collar falling back and the tie undone for exact sharpness and
casualness, sweating and hitching up his horn and writhing into it, and a
tone just like Lester Young himself. "You see, man, Prez has the
technical anxieties of a money-making musician, he’s the only one
who’s well dressed, see him grow worried when he blows a clinker, but
the leader, that cool cat, tells him not to worry and just blow and
blow – the mere sound and serious exuberance of the music is all he
cares about. He’s an artist. He’s teaching young Prez the boxer. Now
the others dig!" The third sax was an alto, eighteen-year-old cool,
contemplative young Charlie-Parker-type Negro from high school, with a
broadgash mouth, taller than the rest, grave. He raised his horn and blew
into it quietly and thoughtfully and elicited birdlike phrases and
architectural Miles Davis logics. These were
the children of the great bop innovators.
Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful
top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had
paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime.
Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile,
blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and
subtlety – leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and
sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker,
a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto
among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old
swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest
– Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad
Thelonius Monk and madder Gillespie – Charlie Parker in his early days
when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing. Somewhat
younger than Lester Young, also from KC, that gloomy, saintly goof in whom
the history of jazz was wrapped; for when he held his horn high and
horizontal from his mouth he blew the greatest; and as his hair grew
longer and he got lazier and stretched-out, his horn came down halfway;
till it finally fell all the way and today as he wears his thick-soled
shoes so that he can’t feel the sidewalks of life his horn is
held weakly against his chest, and he blows cool and easy getout phrases.
Here were the children of the American bop night.
Stranger flowers yet – far as the Negro alto mused
over everyone’s head with dignity, the young, tall, slender, blond kid
from Curtis Street, Denver, jeans and studded belt, sucked on his
mouthpiece while waiting for the others to finish; and when they did he
started, and you had to look around to see where the solo was coming from,
for it came from angelical smiling lips upon the mouthpiece and it was a
soft, sweet, fairy-tale solo on an alto. Lonely as America, a
throatpierced sound in the night.
What of the others and all the soundmaking? There was
the bass-player, wiry redhead with wild eyes, jabbing his hips at the
middle with every driving slap, at hot moments his mouth hanging open
trancelike. "Man, there’s a cat who can really bend his girl!"
The sad drummer, like our white hipster in Frisco Folsom Street,
completely goofed, staring into space, chewing gum, wide-eyed, rocking the
neck with Reich kick and complacent ecstasy. The piano – a big husky
Italian truck-driving kid with meaty hands, a burly and thoughtful joy.
They played an hour. Nobody was listening. Old North Clark bums lolled at
the bar, whores screeched in anger. Secret Chinamen went by. Noises of
hootchy-kootchy interfered. They went right on. Out on the sidewalk came
an apparition – a sixteen-year-old kid with a goatee and a trombone
case. Thin as rickets, mad-faced, he
wanted to join this group and blow with them. They knew him and didn’t
want to bother with him. He crept into the bar and surreptitiously undid
his trombone and raised it to his lips. No opening. Nobody looked at him.
They finished, packed up, and left for another bar. He wanted to jump,
skinny Chicago kid. He slapped on his dark glasses, raised the trombone to
his lips alone in the bar, and went "Baugh!" Then he rushed out
after them. They wouldn’t let him play with them, just
like the sandlot football team in back of the gas tank. "All
these guys live with their grandmothers just like Tom Snark and our Carlo
Marx alto," said Dean. We rushed after the whole gang. They went into
Anita O’Day’s club and there unpacked and played till nine o’clock
in the morning. Dean and l were there with beers.
At intermissions we rushed out in the Cadillac and
tried to pick up girls all up and down Chicago. They were frightened of
our big, scarred, prophetic car. In his mad frenzy Dean backed up smack on
hydrants and tittered maniacally. By nine o’clock the car was an utter
wreck; the brakes weren’t working any
more; the fenders were stove in; the rods were rattling. Dean couldn’t
stop it at red lights, it kept kicking convulsively over the roadway. It
had paid the price of the night. It was a muddy boot and no longer a shiny
limousine. "Whee!" The boys were still blowing at Neets’.
Suddenly Dean stared into the darkness of a corner
beyond the bandstand and said, "Sal, God has arrived."
I looked. George Shearing. And as always he
leaned his blind head on his pale hand, all ears opened like the ears of
an elephant, listening to the American sounds and mastering them for his
own English summer’s-night use. Then they urged him to get up and play.
He did. He played innumerable choruses with amazing chords that mounted
higher and higher till the sweat splashed all over the piano and everybody
listened in awe and fright. They led him off the stand after an hour. He
went back to his dark corner, old God Shearing, and the boys said, "There
ain’t nothin left after that."
But the slender leader frowned. "Let’s blow
Something would come of it yet. There’s always more,
a little further – it never ends. They sought to find new phrases after
Shearing’s explorations; they tried hard. They writhed and twisted and
blew. Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a
tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and would raise
men’s souls to joy. They found it, they lost, they wrestled for it, they
found it again, they laughed, they moaned – and Dean sweated at the
table and told them to go, go, go. At nine o’clock in the morning
everybody – musicians, girls in slacks, bartenders, and the one little
skinny, unhappy trombonist – staggered out of the club into the great
roar of Chicago day to sleep until the wild bop night again. [. . .]