Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part two)

This second part was a bit of a long time coming, but I’ve now got a plan for where this story is going. I meant for this segment to go a bit longer, but decided to break it up for readability. Expect more in the very near future. If you haven’t done so yet, you may want to start by reading part one. Thanks!


part two

I strode over to my car as purposefully as I could manage with the few drinks under my belt and performed the key test. That’s the test that I use to determine whether I’m sober enough to drive or not. Basically, if I can get the key into the keyhole in the first try without missing and jamming it on the outside of the lock, then I’m OK to drive. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever got one of those cars that doesn’t come with the keyholes anymore, and instead just has a keypad on the outside of the car. I suppose it would become more of a memory test at that point.

The key missed its slot by about a needle’s-width. Not too far off, but I really shouldn’t drive. I didn’t actually need to either, because I was only about a half-hour’s walk from my apartment. I just had the car with me because I’d come straight to the bar from work. Screw it, I thought. I’ll come back for it in the morning. Besides, I could use the walk.

It wasn’t dark yet dark, and the Atlanta sun soon brought beads of sweat up on my brow. I stopped walking and removed my suit jacket. It’s not like I needed it right now anyway, being freshly unemployed. I slung it over my shoulder in a way that I hoped would make me look carefree and started moving again. But I knew I wasn’t really fooling anyone. The knowledge that the last six years of my life had just been nullified in one afternoon was a considerable weight on my mind, and it felt like the brunt of that weight had somehow been transferred into the pockets of the jacket. I panicked and let it slip off of my fingers, plummeting to the ground behind me with a thud. I stood there looking at it for a second then picked it up, dusted it off and draped it over my arm.

In order to get my mind off of the day’s tragedies, I thought of my biggest inspiration: my dad. Rick Jones had been a jazz trombonist in the Glenn Miller Orchestra in his youth, but by the time I got to the scene he was a washed-up trombone instructor giving weekly lessons at a few of the colleges around Denver, where I grew up. He may never have reached any real level of notoriety in the jazz world, but the one thing I couldn’t help but notice about him was that he was always happy when he played his horn. What would he have thought of me right now?

I had been happy too, when I first learned computer programming. Back in college, before it was a nine-to-five job, I even spent a lot of my free time elaborating on the exercises that we did in class and creating games that I forced my friends to play with me. Even for those first few months out in the corporate world, I was doing what I loved, and I enjoyed it. But then I got under someone’s thumb, and he crushed the enjoyment right out of me. My up-until-very-recently boss. What a dickhead.

My dad never let that happen to him. Though he’d been gone now for a couple of years, I still had very vivid memories of him up on stage in the jazz clubs with his buddies, making the music they’d all loved. He’d convinced me to start playing the trumpet when I was ten years old, but I’d given it up during a rebellious stage in my mid-teens. I think his dream was that someday he and I would play together on one of those stages: him on the bone, and me on the trumpet…

The trumpet. I snapped out of my reverie and noticed there was a man at the end of the block blowing into a trumpet next to an open case. He wore a pork pie hat, like the jazz men of old, along with a dark set of shades and a grizzled goatee. Always one to support the arts, I separated a dollar from my wallet and dropped it into his case when I got close enough. I stopped walking and looked on as he played a string of notes from a tune that I didn’t recognize, until a slight breeze picked up and upset the dollar that I’d put in his case.

“Now just you wait a minute, Mr. Washington,” he said, addressing the piece of paper. “I’m an entertainer, not an Olympic runner. Don’t you be running off on me!” His voice was exactly what I’d expect from a 1950s jazz man: gravelly and smoky, with a whole lot of soul. He weighted down the dollar with a little bottle of valve oil that was in the case, then looked up at me: “Sooth! You know, when I get these fellows home I need to teach them not to fly. You know how I do that?”

I shook my head. Normally I might have excused myself at this point, but I had nowhere to be.

“I sit ’em all on a chair, then turn on a fan. The ones that try to fly away, I take ’em and spend ’em. That shows the other little Georges what not to do!” He grinned. “So what would you like me to play for you?”

Being the son of a jazz musician, there were a dozen songs that sprung to my head. But instead, I deferred to his judgement: “What is your favorite song to play?”

“You know, one of the best jazz players I never had the privilege to meet was Duke Ellington. Another great one, a bit later, was Stevie Wonder. Of course, he and I never saw each other neither.” He smiled a little bit and let his joke sink in. “But here’s a song that Stevie wrote as a tribute to Duke: it’s called Sir Duke.”

And he launched into the tune that I knew very well, having heard my father play it a hundred times with his group.

end of part two

(to part three)