Tag Archives: J. J. Johnson

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part three)

Here’s the second half of the scene from yesterday. I you haven’t read the story from the beginning, you should start with part one. Thanks for reading!


part three

When he’d finished the song, he held onto the last note a little longer than normal, then cut off with a sharp nod of his head. He grinned at me. Even though he hadn’t hit all of the notes, I had to give him credit for the performance.

“What’s your name, my man?” he asked me. “I’m Mitch. Mich Green from New Orlean’!”

I smiled. “Johnson. Johnson Jones. From Denver, Colorado.”

“J. J., huh? Wait a minute — ‘J. J.’ and ‘Johnson’. Like that old jazz ‘bone player, J. J. Johnson! You play any jazz, yourself?”

“No sir… uh, Mitch. Matter of fact, I played a little trumpet when I was a kid, but I quit before I ever really got good.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet it was a real little trumpet if you was just a kid!” He laughed. “Now hold on a second, though. You said your name is Jones? From Denver? And you named after that old trombone player? I bet you Rick Jones’s kid!”

It took a second for his unexpected conclusion to process in my brain. Then I answered, with genuine surprise: “Yeah, I am. How did you know my father?”

“Well now, I wouldn’t say I knew him. More I knew of him.”

“I never knew he really made that much of an impact in the jazz world, to be honest.” I pondered this for a second. Had my dad really been so well known in the prime of his jazz life that this street performer in Atlanta had heard of him, and still remembered his name all these decades after he had settled into his life of mediocrity and teaching?

As if reading my mind, Mitch elaborated: “I used to play up in Denver for a while myself, back in the day. I saw your daddy on several occasions, wailing out solos. Sooth, that cat could blow!”

So not quite the national sensation I had imagined a moment earlier, but still. The name had stuck with this guy, as the years and the miles brought him further and further from the old Denver jazz scene.

“Why do you keep saying ‘sooth’?” I asked him. “Isn’t that more of a Shakespeare thing than a jazz thing?”

“I say ‘sooth’ because it means ‘truth’! That’s what I’m out here spreading to the people who come by: the truth. You see all these other guys always asking for money and expecting to get something for nothing. Sure, maybe they’ve got some cute story about how they need money to buy their psych meds; or how they ain’t eaten in three days, and if you knew how they felt you’d give them the money no questions asked; or how the homeless shelter charges a cover fee and they’re only five bucks short. All these little lies, little fictions. Yet they try to sell it as the truth. I’m here blowing on my horn and bringing to people the real truth of music. And I never ask nobody for money; my case is here just in case anybody is feeling especially appreciative.”

Throughout this diatribe, he’d gotten increasingly more impassioned. But now that he’d reached the end, he’d calmed down significantly. He raised his hands resignedly. “And that’s the best thing anybody can search for in this world. The truth. Yet it’s so hard to come by the real deal. That’s why I play my music; I ain’t pretending nothing, just spreading the joy.”

I felt compelled to fill the silence that followed this statement. “Well, thank you. Your song meant a lot to me just now. I suppose I’m searching for a few truths of my own right now. Like what I’m going to do now that I lost my job.” I mean to say something else to turn the topic away from this particular subject that had wormed its way to the surface out of my own mouth, but I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say.

After over a minute of standing there silently, Mitch broke the quiet. “That’s going to take some searching all right. But that’s not the truth you’re really after. You just remember that. No matter what happens in these next few days, you just keep on looking for what that real truth is that you’re after. Find your truth.”

I turned this over in my mind for a second, and was just about to ask him to clarify, when I heard a string of notes come pouring out of the end of his trumpet. A group of people had just rounded to corner at the other end of the block, and he was hoping to earn some more cash. Or spread his truth, whatever that meant.

I nodded my head to him to thank him for the distraction, dropped a second dollar bill in his case and continued walking home. As I crossed the street at the end of the block, I felt a breeze ruffling my hair.

“Now just you wait a minute, Mr. Washington,” I heard behind me. “I’m an entertainer…”

I got home and fell face first on my bed. I hadn’t had dinner yet, but I wasn’t really hungry. As I drifted into a deep and troubled sleep, the jazz man’s words echoed through my brain.

“Find your truth.”

end of part three

(to part four)