Now's the Time: Part 5-5

Sean Murphy By

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The life and times of a minor jazz legend are recounted through his narrated memories. In this fictional treatment of jazz music in the mid-to-late 20th century, issues of race, creativity, addiction and, ultimately, redemption, are explored. With a title taken from the immortal Charlie Parker tune, "Now's The Time" is an extended meditation on the artistic life.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

You can never go back to sleep.

No, not once your soul has been awakened.

What about a legacy? Something beyond the music, something that was larger than he was and more important than even his music. Something that was alive, and grew stronger every day. Every time a kid practiced, or someone listened to one of those records, his soul filled up that much more. That is how you keep it alive. The process was slow, but steady. He learned that reading books was the best way to feel the way he used to feel, without doing any of the things he used to do. He read every book he had time to read. Poetry, he said. People need to get them some poetry and take a taste of what these fellows figured out a long time ago. Brother Hughes and Brother Baldwin were writing! Singing jazz with words before we all played it with instruments. I've known rivers. Ancient dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like rivers. That's what I'm talking about! You know what I'd like to do? Someday before I die it would be a riot if I could get hold of some type of sound system, like those DJ's use in all the noisy dance clubs. I'd set it up on top of one of them skyscrapers downtown and point the speakers down on the people below. I'd wait 'til rush hour, 'til the streets were nice and jammed with all the cars and commuters, and then I'd just turn it loose. Full blast, right down on all of them. What would I play? Oh, I don't know, maybe throw a little Bird at them. "Now's the Time" loud and proud at rush hour, I think that would work! A little Bird never hurt nobody; in fact, it did a whole lot people a lot of good. After a while, he felt his spirit return. It was almost as though he could hear it snap back into his body, into his consciousness. And only then was he able to start listening to music again.

He'd get stopped in the street, on occasion. Some folks still recognized him. But these encounters rarely lifted his sagging spirits; if anything, they embarrassed him. He could discern the pity, or incredulity in the faces of the ones who knew who he was, but couldn't believe such a relatively young man could look so old, so tired. He was sad because he knew the truth of what their eyes expressed: the cat they used to call Pretty Boy wasn't pretty no more.

He's back.

He's there, but he's here. A memory playing out in the here and now.

The second set was the scorcher, the real test.

He hears his song, but it sounds somehow different; and then, he realizes, he isn't just listening, he's playing.

It is dark, but the light—that glorious bright beam—is focused on him as he propels into the solo, the familiar groove of his boys, his band, behind him. He leans down and sees his horn, glistening and refracting the gaze of his own eyes.

And then he knows where he is, and what he's there for. This is his song, the song, which means it's the end of the set. Swan song, last call, second encore; the end of the night. He feels the momentum of the crowd—pulling him in and pushing him along—as he shuts his eyes tightly and brings the song back home...

He is at home: Philly, it is dark outside the window...his bedroom; and his father is lying beside him, his large, weathered palms firm, but gentle, rubbing the back of his head. His head is on his father's chest and he can smell his father's scent, the musky, mild aroma of cologne and the tobacco from his pipe: the smell of his house, the smell of his childhood. And his Pops is speaking to him, soft and slow: That's a boy, that's my big boy...you almost a man, but right now you're my boy, and no matter how big you get you always gonna' be my little man...now get to sleep. It's all right; I'm here...

He opens his eyes but he's still playing, and he knows exactly where he is, and where he's going...

He is on the bus, back in the bus and it's late—everyone around him is asleep, and the windows are down but it's still hot. Somewhere in the South. You could always feel it as well as smell it in the air: pine trees and asphalt and gasoline and smoke, the breeze off the creeks passing that moldy smell of moss and water and mud through the morning sky, dark and quiescent, alive and pulsating with all the stars, the stars of the southern skies...

And the band sounds tight, he's never played this good before. Go on SweePea, blow it baby...Yeah! Come on now...Take us home Sweets! Yeah I'm here. I'm bringing it...


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