Tag Archives: trombone

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!

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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)

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!

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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)