Sunday, July 24, 2016

Religion of Lust

I was born a Christian,
baptized of my sins,
before I could walk.
I tried to be a Muslim
for two years.
I didn’t eat pork,
I took Aptes –
ritual ablutions.
I tattooed my ribs with
“only god can judge.”
An atheist in my spare time,
when I wanted to sin.
I ended up with no religion-
though I prayed to God
sometimes in the back of the bar
on my knees for a man I just met.
I had no religion,
no religion except lust. 

--Kristen Williamson 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Existential Gangster's Paradise

Death Grips dropped a single today. I am 
syncing myself with MC Ride to build an agreeable day, 
got to teach myself the sounds of glitches, and 
the lost art of breaking limits. I feel pretty good, 
J Dilla kind of flow is kicking here. 

survive another bout of empty feelings. Check. 
call your wife at work. Check. 
read friend's poems on Facebook. Check. 
be humble. Check. 
drink a lot of water. Check. 
don't use the word "Love" in vain. Check. 
don't forget parents' hard work. Check. 
don't get bogged down by the Matrix. Check. 
keep it gangster. Check.

Break the rules.  

I am not afraid to admit, this is an ugly 
world I live in. Naturalists, Romantics disagree. 
I take a sip of the lager. Beer-buds, 
that is all you need to make the world a better place. 

Get wasted on week-days sometimes. 

"I make the money, man, I roll the nickels. 
The game is mine. I deal the cards."*

I live noise every day, but I was told 
it was all music. But well, I got to take it easy. 
Every moment, countless universes go tangent to me 
I pick up my own, and paint it with thousands of hues. 
I am not afraid to paint it love. I am not afraid to ask for forgiveness. 

--Sudeep Ahikari 

(*The italics-ed part is a quote by the infamous serial killer, Charles Manson)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Speak Your Peace: Judas

This piece was originally performed on May 22 @ Cha Island for our local Speak Your Peace event! It was awesome. You shoulda been. 

Now, if you could please stop
every fuck-suckin, tickin clock -- cause time will soon be departing
off- on a plane from this existence much like none of your dissonance
Ya must trust its about to get weird and then queerd and then just on and on after thaat
No tricks, I shit you not, I’m a fuckin space warlock
and I got endless treats in my invisible hat
You’ve nothing to fear, unless you take issue with queers
and if so , before you hit the door
lemme lick up them cishet tears
Cause those in the know call me Sharpe and rightfully goddamn so
my syntax will slice you slicker than any razor I wield in my professional field
and with precision my words will envelope your vision much like the glitter I drop as I chopchop
any busy-body cissy that can’t intimidate
So don’t be marshin in my mellow, I don’t hesitate
I will rough up any rough neck
Who thinks they have the audacity
to try and apply their motherfuckin posion to me
Because they can’t magic mischief with the likes of XE
But babes, you have everything in you that you need to be free
So says the sea and so says me
The otherworldly, extra-wordy ne’erdowhale with a fantastical curse
and indeed I’m quite bougie-bullshit adverse
Too sick of choking
So instead I flaunt love and scars like they’re a goddamn crown
Each cicatrix a sequin in my wizardy cloak
Reclaimed craters of the world’s sick tricks
Funkadelic relics of the powers I invoke
Weirdos please yell if you want to get down
I’m no flimsy, all whimsy
if you need that fix just ask cause i tote that shit in a flask
Cause I am the one and every master of mystery
Pipe up, space cadet
take a toke and learn to float
There’s no violence in these cuddle puddles but it can get consensually rough
Disrespect and I spank so good you’ll be biting your cuff
Ruff Ruff - all that tough attitude isn’t current -- so don’t rock my fuckin boat
For the way I sling my sass you’re sure to be defeated
All spies get up and please be seated
Or be bound to trip trying to skip the ripple of my lines
They transcend rhyme and I’m too damn fine
Ya it’s true, whats it to you
I’m 0000x years old and I’ve lived more stories than you’ve ever been told
Cosmic kavortin, teleportin and inciting mass orgies
are but a tip of the defiance and wunder that rushes from my soul
but if the beams too high a psi - lemme mix you a potion to rearrange your commotion
of backseat emotion
Chaos drives but she don’t steer
Maybe grip on to your moxy socks
It’ll probably be fine
Just sneak a quick breath
and pull the cap off your mind


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fiction: Searching for Birdland

Searching for Birdland by Bill Peterson

“Yes, sir, you got the right street—44th—an’ you’re headin’ the right way—west.  The club is just in the next block, other side of the street—north side.  Might be able to see…no, can’t quite see it from here, but when you get to the lights, go to the other side of the street and watch for the sign, about the middle of the block.”

“Thanks for your help, I appreciate it.”  Fumbling in wallet for a dollar bill, which changes hands.

“Thank you, sir.  I’m not a jazz man, but I understand they get good jazz there.  Been there a long time.  You enjoy your evening, sir.”

Relieved, I walk on to the intersection.  Getting close to showtime.  Underestimated the time to get here; thought it would be straightforward from the address. Didn’t realize I’d have to work my way around Grand Central Station.  Then there was Times Square, with wall-to-wall people and the overwhelming light show. I was disoriented, took some time to find 44th Street again.  Wasn’t sure how much further the club was.  Began to look around for someone who could help me. No shortage of people; I was dodging them every few steps.  But probably mostly tourists, like me.  Then I spotted a uniform.  Looked to be a doorman, in front of a theatre, in a long, grey coat and peaked military-style hat.  Middle-aged black man.  Didn’t know what kind of reception I’d get, but he turned out to have a ready smile and set me straight.

Now to cross the intersection, an adventure in itself.  New Yorkers have their own way of dealing with intersections.  Many of the streets are one-way. Pedestrians watch for breaks in the traffic and just go, regardless of red or green lights.  Some will step right out on the road, within arm’s reach of cars whizzing by, waiting for their chance.  When I first encountered this, I thought they were taking their lives in their hands.  But I’ve come to realize that if everyone waited for the lights, the sidewalks surrounding the intersections would become impossibly jammed, and it would take pedestrians too long to get anywhere.  The population density is just too great.  So walkers and drivers perform this intricate dance of faith, ignored by the police.  Amazingly, few people are run over.  Go with the flow, baby.  Lots of blaring horns.  With the streets teeming with taxis, service vehicles, and aggressive pedestrians, I cannot imagine driving inManhattan.  It seems insane to an outsider. 

I follow the crowd across 44th and continue west, looking up frequently.  Suddenly, there it is—the Birdland sign, subtitled “the Jazz Corner of the World”.  I stop, someone bumps into me from behind, I blurt out an apology, and pick my way out of the sidewalk flow as a smile spreads across my face.  I’m here, man. Birdland.  One of the iconic New York jazz clubs.  Named for the god of the alto saxophone, Mr. Charlie “Bird” Parker.

Wiping the goofy smile off my face, replacing it with the reverent gaze of a pilgrim, I enter the temple, taking care that my imagined white robe doesn’t catch on the door.  An appropriate hush descends, broken only by the tinkle of knives and forks on plates and the low conversations of other pilgrims over their pre-show meals.

I approach the maitre d’s desk and proudly present my email ticket confirmation to the stout black woman who hovers over the entry.  The high priestess?  She beckons and a server guides me to a single table at a front corner of the stage, which is set up for a large band.  I am steps away from a baritone saxophone and a bass trombone.  Fine with me.  I order a glass of wine.  No meal for this pilgrim during the show.  No distractions, please.

I kill time by thinking about the history of Birdland and some of the giants who have played here.  The colourful emcee, Pee Wee Marquette, a midget. Symphony Syd’s radio broadcasts from the club in the 50s.  Of  course, that wasn’t here; this isn’t the original location.  After a trip to the well-concealed washroom (washrooms are another adventure in Manhattan), I approach the priestess again, as she isn’t busy at this moment.  Another ready smile.

“This isn’t the original Birdland location, right?”

“Right.  It started in ’49, not too far from here, on Broadway, just north of 52nd Street.  Shut down in ’65.  The place became a strip club.  I think Charlie Parker would have liked that haha.”

“You think he could have played behind that, eh?”

“Oh yeah, he would have been all over that.  You know, even though the club was named after him, Charlie didn’t actually play there very much.  Apparently the owners didn’t like him.  He was always asking for money…probably to support his habit.”

“Yeah, what a shame.  He died so young.”

“Age thirty-four, in 1955.  Anyway, the club stayed shut for twenty years.  Started up again with a new owner in ’85, still on Broadway, but uptown at 105thStreet.”

“Oh, really?  I thought when it opened again, it was here.”

“No, not until ’96.  Same owner.  Moved ‘cause he thought it would have better exposure and foot traffic in the theatre district.  Yep, this is location number three.”

“So are you doing well here?”

“Well, we survive, you know.  That’s about all a real jazz club does—survive.”

I return to my table.  There seems to be a delay in the show so I order another glass of wine and look around.  Small tables are set along the front of the wide stage.  Behind these is a large, raised terrace holding the main dining area and a small bar to one side.  The d├ęcor is nothing special but the room is clean and comfortable, hardwood and paneling, with good sightlines for everyone.  The audience is mostly middle-aged or older, with scattered younger folks.  I would guess that many of the patrons are tourists.  How many New York clubs would survive without tourists?  Same for the theatres.

Soon the musicians are drifting onto the stage, taking their seats, arranging music sheets, blowing a little warm-up.  This is a big band, seventeen players by my count, with multiple trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, rhythm section, and guitar.  They, like the audience, are a somewhat aging crew, but with a handful of younger players.  Mixed-race, mostly white, no women.  Maybe they treat it like a ship—bad luck to have a woman on board haha.  Jazz is still largely a male enterprise, but it’s changing.  All casually dressed, seemingly relaxed.  It’s fun to be close enough to hear them conversing, joking.  The leader of tonight’s gig, Dave Liebman, passes right in front of my table, smiles at me, asks how I’m doing.  He takes his front-row position, clips on his soprano saxophone, and says a few introductory words after the house announcer does his thing.

Then they have at it.  Standards, originals, structured arrangements, improvisation, uptempo, ballads, with solos from most of the instruments, including the baritone sax, which washes over me from a few feet away.  Liebman is an accomplished and forceful player.  The whole band blows the hell out of it for one extended set, no intermission, as they have a later show.  The server catches my eye during the set.  I don’t usually drink much during jazz shows or pay much attention to servers.  But what the hell, I’m having fun, so I signal for another glass.  So much for the pilgrim’s purity.

At the end of the set the room has to clear quickly to make way for the second show.  The staff works feverishly to process the tabs and reset the tables.  The bigger clubs do at least two, sometimes three, shows a night, seven nights a week.  The priestess is already greeting early arrivals for the second show.
The musicians are milling about near the door.  I overhear something about photos to be taken outside.  Maybe promotional shots for this club gig, or perhaps for the recording that Liebman and this band have made together recently.  As I exit onto the street in their midst I’m thinking it would be fun to try to pass myself off as a band member, to appear on the edges of their photos.  It’s the wine playing in my head.  Like a trombone vibrato.  Discretion prevails and I separate from the group to get my bearings on 44th Street.

Looking east and south, the directions back to my hotel, I see the glow from Times Square.  It’s like daytime over there.  The city that never sleeps.  Don’t want to deal with Times Square again, or the bus terminal that blocked my way earlier, so where do I go?  I’m still a bit leery about walking at night when I’m drinking.  But the subway’s supposed to be risky at night, too.  And I don’t want a taxi; I want to see and hear New York.  Besides, it’s not late.  Lots of people around.  Should be okay.

The safest walking plan might be to go straight south to a busy artery like 42nd Street and go east, then south on a busy avenue.  But I’m a little inebriated and starting to ponder those earlier incarnations of Birdland.  The second one, the uptown one—105th Street?—is way too far.  But the first one…where did she say it was?  Broadway and 52nd?  53rd?  That’s not too far.  Eight blocks north, and Broadway’s not far east.  Then keep goin’ straight east and then south to my hotel. Avoid Times Square and Grand Central.  And think about the history, man.  It’s the original.  The original Jazz Corner of the Universe…uh, World…guess the World will hafta do for now.  What jazz recording should we send out to the aliens?  Mr. Charles “Bird” Parker.  Now yer talkin’.  So, is it north, William?  Yes. Like a good jazz man, I will improvise.

Okay, here’s 8th Avenue.  Turn left to go north.  Actually, “Yardbird” Parker originally.  Different stories about where that nickname came from.  Seems to go back to Kansas City where he grew up.  Lot of people think he was in prison. Prison yard.  Not so.  Certainly arrested a number of times because of drugs.  Spent six months in a mental health hospital in California in the late 40s.  Shortened to “Bird” later by most people.  More respectful.  Played like a bird.  Hocked his horns for drug money.  Sometimes played cheap, rented plastic saxophones.  Still sounded great.

Man, there sure are a lot of restaurants.  Every street.  Restaurants and diners.  Check out the menus.  If you don’t like what you see, walk a block, there’ll be another two or three.  Must be hundreds, maybe even thousands of them in Manhattan alone.  Not even counting the fast food chains.  Or the food carts.  Or the supper clubs.  Like Birdland.  Man, that Dave Liebman is good.  Saw him in Edmonton years ago at the local club.  The Yardbird Suite.  The one and only real jazz club in Edmonton.  Also named for Mr. Parker.  The Bird in the Boonies.  Don’t think Charlie ever played Edmonton haha.  Toronto, though.  Was it 1953? Massey Hall.  With a plastic sax he had to borrow.

And patios!  All the restaurant patios.  Here it is October and people still eatin’ on the patios in shirtsleeves.  Don’t think they’re eatin’ on patios in Edmontontonight.  ‘Less you like your dinner cold.  Shirtsleeves.  The band was in shirtsleeves.  Casual.  No uniforms.  No choreography.  This ain’t the Cotton Club no more.  Cab Calloway.  Minnie the Mooch.  Jungle music.  No muggin’ for the white folks.  Those days are long gone.  Thankfully.  Should try to take the A train up to Harlem while I’m here, though.

But they sure are professional.  Great players.  Probly bounce around different bands and small groups.  Monday seems to be big band night in New York.  Gotta be the only place on the planet where you can see more than one big jazz band on the same night.  Must be crazy, juggling schedules and huntin’ up gigs all the time.  Wonder what the money’s like.  Some of ‘em probly have day jobs, too.  Family men.  Daddy the jazz man.

Wow, look at these menu prices!  Some lower than Edmonton, an’ more bang for your buck from my experience.  That diner I had lunch at today, couldn’t finish it all.  But good.  And cheap.  And good service.  All that competition, I guess.  Good ol’ Yankee free enterprise.  Let the market decide.  And most of them deliver.  There’s an army of delivery guys on bicycles, see ‘em everywhere.  Helmets, reflective vests, bags of food.  Makes you wonder if anybody cooks at home in Manhattan.  Just so easy to eat out.  Or get it delivered.  Haven’t seen many grocery stores.  Mostly small ethnic operations.  Hole-in-the-wall with curry.  Some nice little produce markets, though.  With flowers.  Lots of fresh flowers.  See people carrying them.  Flowers in the cement canyons.  Yeah, take home some Chinese or East Indian and some flowers for momma.  Now yer talkin’.  Daddy the flower man.

Delivery.  Entry-level position.  English an asset but not necessary.  Can you smile?  Can you ride a bicycle?  Do you know the neighbourhood?  Can you work late at night?  Twenty-four hours a day?  You can catch a nap at the restaurant and we’ll feed you.  Wonder how many are illegal.  Underground.  Lots of Asian and Hispanic.  Especially Hispanic in the restaurants.  That diner the other day.  On Fifth Avenue?  Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop.  Jewish deli, right?  That’s what the food was.  But all you heard behind the counter and from the kitchen was Spanish.  Puerto Rican smoked meat haha.

Wonder how many musicians are underground.  Might be hard to join the union if they’re illegal.  If there’s still a musicians’ union.  Don’t even know.  Black musicians were harassed by police in early days.  Arrest them, sometimes trumped-up charges, have their musician registration—cabaret card, was it called?—revoked.  Then they couldn’t play in clubs.  Often drug charges.  Drugs and jazz.  Hopheads.  Vipers.  Quite a few addict jazz players, both black and white.  Part of the culture?  Will it help me play like Charlie Parker?  For black musicians, maybe a reaction to the racism.  Escape.  Survival.  Buskers.  Play for tips.  Central Park solo saxophonists…“playin’ real good for free”…Joanie Mitchell…that was a clarinet.  John Lennon.  Shot just outside the park.  Imagine.  Peace and love to the flower children.  Freedom and grooves to the hepcats. 

Not sure why I’m doing this.  Looking for the first Birdland.  Not like it’s still there.  What are you expecting, William?  A heritage site with a plaque, spotlights, and a tour guide?  Pee Wee Marquette:  “Ladies and gentlemen, we are channeling something very special here tonight.”  Symphony Syd: “For your listening pleasure, from the original Birdland, it’s the ghost of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers from the other world.”  Outta my head.  “Goin’ outta my head over you…”  Dionne Warwick?  You gettin’ a little off the jazz track, my man.  At least she had a good voice.  Chalk it up to the wine.  Don’t even have the exact address.  Can’t identify it.  Maybe just wanta see if I can pick up a vibe in the area…”good, good, good…good vibrations…”  The Beach Boys, Willy?  Now you definitely goin’ off the jazz rails!

Okay, here’s 52nd Street.  Turn right to go east, headin’ for Broadway.  Keep an eye out for Chinese restaurants and strip clubs.  Apparently several jazz clubs on 52nd in the 40s and 50s.  One of the birthplaces of bebop, along with Harlem.  Went belly up, replaced by the aforementioned institutions.

Man, look at the garbage pilin’ up outside the restaurants.  All bagged up, waitin’ for pickup.  Where does it all go?  Gotham Garbage Works.  Speaking of work, here’s more scaffolding.  Seems like there’s scaffolds all over Manhattan.  Cleaning, renovation, rebuilding.  A city constantly renewing itself, like an animal moulting.  Stay tuned, new store coming right up.  And these scaffolds can rise pretty high in the canyons.  “I’ll build a stairway to the stars…”  Swing tune?  For your dancing pleasure.  Scaffolds can provide some shelter in a rainstorm.  Or to street people at night.  Haven’t seen many street people.  But they’re around. Like that young woman this morning, sitting on the sidewalk with a can and a note in front of her: “homeless and pregnant, please help”.  And that guy sleeping or passed out with his head hanging down into a subway entrance.  A precarious position.  Nobody was stopping.  Watch your step, please.  The City of New York is not responsible for any injuries incurred while stumbling over drunks.  “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”  Al Jolson?  Bing Crosby?  Wonder what social services are like in the Big Apple.  Let the market decide?

No idea where those early jazz clubs were.  Can’t feel any vibes.  Somebody needs to invent a jazz detector, like a metal detector…“Hold it, Frank, I’ve got something…it’s a weak signal, but yes, jazz was definitely played in this building…forty, maybe fifty years ago…hard to say what kind…post-bop, maybe fusion.”  Some of these businesses have probly turned over several times since those days.  Wonder how long an average music club lasts in New York.  Or restaurant.

Broadway already?  Oh yeah, because it’s farther west up here.  The big, bright street that doesn’t follow the Manhattan grid.  Angles northwest.  Read a historical novel about New York before I came.  Broadway was the original north-south trail on the island, used by the native people and the first European settlers.  If they could see it now.  “They say the neon lights are bright, on Broadway…”  Yeah, lots of people have sung that one.

Okay, she said it was north of 52nd.  Don’t know which side of the street.  Now I could use that detector.  Or maybe a strip club detector…“Yes, Frank, women did indeed take off their clothes in this building.”  ‘Course the strip club’s probly long gone, too.  Although strip clubs probly do better than jazz clubs.  Let’s have a look around.  The usual stores and restaurants.  Ah…across the street, a flashy neon front with “gentlemen’s club” in the name.  Those words usually mean one of two things—strippers or massage.  Maybe both.  That could be the place.  But it could be more recent, too, different location.  Don’t have the Birdland address number so can’t check.  Guess I could go in and ask, see if anybody knows the history.  Naw, they won’t know.  Too long ago.  And nobody cares about jazz but us old farts, William.  Besides, I don’t feel like goin’ into a strip joint now.  Tonight’s about jazz, not strippers.  Let’s not demean one of America’s great indigenous art forms.  Hmmm…which art form you talkin’ about, Willy? haha  Besides, still got a long walk to the hotel.  Shouldn’t stay out on the streets too late.  You could become a target, William.  Old, white, impaired tourist alone.  You can’t run very fast anymore.  Or beat up many people.  This ain’t high school football anymore, Willyboy!  Better switch the wallet to the front pocket.  Attaboy!

Okay, guess I’ll continue along 52nd.  See if I can pick up any other vibes.  Feels good to be in the historical area, at least.  A little darker as you move away from Broadway.  Here’s some more scaffolding.  Guess I can walk under it.  Good thing most of the shops keep lights on at night.  Woops!  What’s this?  It looks…yes, a person, a man, I think.  Not moving.  Hope he’s not dead.  There, he moved, sees me.  Careful, William, better just avoid…oh, man, look at those eyes.  Cloudy, but aware.  Looks old, but who knows with these people.  Black guy, probly his neighbourhood.  His territory.  Shouldn’t do this, but…

“Hey fella, are you okay?”  No reaction.  Might be scared.  “Listen, I’m not gonna hurt you.  I’m just passing by here.  I was just wondering…do you mind if I ask you a question?  Can you hear me?”  No reaction.  Unblinking eyes.  “Do you know this neighbourhood well?  Do you know anything about the old Birdland jazz club?  It was back there, around the corner on Broadway.”  No answer, but a blink.  Seems to hear.  “Birdland shut down in the 60s.  Taken over by a strip club.  There’s one around the corner here on Broadway.  Do you know the place I mean?”  A movement this time.  Raised eyebrows.  “Do you know if that place was the old Birdland club?  Anything about the history?”  Looks up at me but still no answer.  “No?  Okay, well, thanks for listening to me.  I’m just curious. Sorry to bother you.  Are you sure you’re okay?  Here, take this.”

I fish two one-dollar bills out of my wallet and place them under his hand, which is resting on a scaffold crossbar.  His eyes move to the bills.  The forefinger is slowly raised in acknowledgment.  I straighten up just in time to see two figures approaching from the east.  Slight panic.  Hand moves to wallet.  I consider turning and hustling back toward Broadway, or crossing the street, but decide these might be unwise moves.  Predator response to flight.  Try to remain calm. And now I see the figures are women, two black women, one maybe middle-aged, one older.  I breathe, take a few steps toward them, then step to the curb to let them pass.

“Any problem, sir?  Is he still alive?”

“Pardon?...Oh, yes, yes, I think he’s okay, as much as you can tell.”  Nervous laughter.  “I just gave him a couple of bucks…I was just asking him a question.  But no answer.”

“He don’t talk too much.  But he will appreciate the money.  ‘Course it’ll likely just go for liquor.  Were you asking him directions?  Don’t mean to be nosy but you don’t look like you live around here.  Anything we can help you with?”

“Well, no, I don’t live around here.”  How much should I tell them?  “Actually, I was just asking him if he knew anything about a place around the corner, on Broadway, just north…”

“The strip joint?  Are you going to the strip joint?”

“Uh, no…no, I’m not going there…actually I’m just interested in the history…”

“The history of the strip joint? haha…Hey, I’m sorry, sir, I’m not trying to embarrass you.  We just like to keep an eye out when we’re walkin’, you know? You’re a tourist, aren’t you?  You don’t sound like New York.”

“I understand.  Yes, I’m a tourist…and a jazz fan.  I was at Birdland tonight.  You know Birdland?”

“Sure.  Down on 44th.”

“Yes.  Well, they told me the original location of Birdland was up here, on Broadway, that it became a strip club.  Well, I decided to come up on my way back to the hotel, just out of curiosity.  I don’t have the exact address, so I…”

“So you were tryin’ to find out if the strip joint was the place.  But our quiet friend here wasn’t much help.  Well, we can help you with that.  It is indeed the place.  When was it Birdland closed, Mama?  In the 60s, right?  I was just a teenager.”

“I believe it was ’64 or ’65 when Birdland shut and they brought in the girlie shows.”

“Yeah, the club has been through changes and different owners but it keeps goin’.  I guess sex sells better than jazz.”

“There’s no doubt about that.  The ticket lady at Birdland joked that Charlie Parker would have liked playing at a strip club.”

“Oh yes, Charlie Parker!  The Bird.  Named the club after him, right?  I was too young to see him but I remember he was famous.  Do you remember Charlie Parker, Mama?”

“I remember him.  The Yardbird.  Was in prison for drugs.  I didn’t pay no attention to the music.  I was not a jazz fan.  So many of those jazz musicians were hopped up. I know he was famous and a hero to some people, but he wasn’t no hero to his poor young wife and children.  His daughter died so young and he died in the apartment of a rich white woman who kept him.  It was shameful.”

“Now, Mama, don’t preach.  It was hard for black musicians in those days.”

“Of course it was!  It was hard for all of us!  It wasn’t no harder for the jazz players than it was for the rest of us.  We was all pushed around by the police, the landlords, the bosses…an’ we still are!  They say it’s all passed, but if you believe that, I got a bridge I wanta sell you.  I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge!”

“Oh boy, I guess we better be on our way before Mama gets too excited.  We lost Daddy some years ago and it’s been hard for Mama.  But I just wanted to tell you, since you’re interested in the music history, that I was a club dancer myself.  Not a stripper.  A go-go dancer.  In a rock ‘n’ roll club in the Village in the 60s. I was one of the first black girls to be hired as a go-go dancer.  Yep, the boots, the short skirts, the Afro hair, the cages, the whole bit haha.  You must remember that stuff.  Mama didn’t like it but I was quite proud of myself.  It didn’t last very long, of course.  The go-go thing died out pretty fast and Mama was after me, so I went back to school and did an accounting program.  I’ve been a freelance bookkeeper for local businesses for decades…including a strip joint, which Mama has never forgiven me for haha.  Guess I’ll be working till I drop.  No pension, no husband.  Anyway, you better get back to your hotel soon.  Just stick to the busy streets an’ you’ll be fine.  Enjoy the jazz while you’re here.  Good-night, now.”

“Good-night.  Thank you for the history.  Best wishes to you both.”

Well, that was interesting.  Her story, that is.  So that’s the place.  Well, at least I found out and I’ve seen it, so that’s that, I guess.  A bit anticlimactic.  Wine wearing off?  Probly never see location number two.  Not a big deal.  Okay, better keep moving.  Moving target harder to hit.  Busy streets.  Is there a street inManhattan that’s not busy?  Wanta see more of 52nd.  Not that far to my hotel avenue.  Should be okay.

Wow, a go-go girl.  Now there’s a flashback for you.  Still a good-looking woman.  Still working hard at her age.  We must be about the same age.  Bookkeeper. Guess she’d know as well as anyone that sex makes more money than jazz.  Wonder if she was ever married, any kids.  Looking after Mama.  Mama’s little rant. Can’t blame her.  Whole different world for them that I could never understand.  And her view of jazz musicians.  The mistaken history of Parker.  Didn’t want to argue about it.  I’m sure I’m guilty of some idol worship.  The pilgrim.  They were human beings with all the faults.  There were quite a few addicts.  But numbers sometimes get exaggerated over time.  Stereotypes.  The addicts were probly a small minority of the jazz population. 

No doubt Parker’s family suffered.  His wife Chan.  Common-law.  Pretty lady.  Another dancer.  Interracial marriage, which meant a lot of prejudice in those days.  A woman, part Jewish, living common-law with a black jazz musician.  Man, in the 40s and 50s you couldn’t get much more marginalized than that.  Son and daughter.  Daughter died—cystic fibrosis?—very young.  Guess Parker tried to cover up some big hurts in his life with the heroin and booze.  It didn’t work. Troubled man.  As for the white woman.  From an aristocratic European family.  Countess—no, baroness—Baroness Pannonica de something-or-other.  Lived in a Manhattan hotel.  Arts patron of sorts.  Older woman.  Apparently not a sexual relationship.  Gave Parker shelter and support when he needed it.  A nest for the wayward Bird.

The 52nd Street jazz scene.  Love to have been here.  They wanted a sound the white bands couldn’t copy.  Be bop de bop she bop.  Rootie tootie.   More research needed.  Only early 52nd jazz club name I know is the Onyx.  Apparently it became a strip joint, too.  Jazz and drugs.  Jazz and strippers?  Less saxophone and more flesh.  The customer is always right.  Go with the flow, baby.  Stripper just needs a drumbeat.  Lower overhead.

Chan’s Song.  By Herbie Hancock.  After Charlie died Chan married another jazz player—not an addict—and moved to France.  Once a jazz fan, always a jazz fan.  Apparently a happier life there.  Wrote a memoir.  Maybe try to find it.  Restaurants just getting into high gear.  New Yorkers eat late when they go out. They’ll still be going at midnight.  Round midnight.  Jazz supper time.    

Lexington Avenue, heading south.  Night is still young.  Folks havin’ fun.  New Yorker stereotypes.  Loud, aggressive, only out for number one, right?  If theUnited States was invaded, it would be stopped in New York, military or no military, right?  Well, they certainly hustle.  Have to, just to get around these crazy streets.  But haven’t been yelled at or pushed out of the way.  Haven’t felt threatened.  The subway—crowded, but civilized.  Help and information when needed. Good service in restaurants, clubs, hotel.  Conversations with strangers.  Now including two black women, outta the blue on a nighttime street.  As a white male, did not expect that.

And now the dogs are out.  Who let the dogs out? haha  People walk their dogs in the evening, carefully leashed to avoid conflict.  Apparently strict rules about pets on the street.  Yet to see a loose dog or cat.  Haven’t seen anything more exotic, like an iguana or a leopard.  Iguana on a leash.  Did see a guy with a parrot on his shoulder.  The dogs are surprisingly quiet.  Maybe because they’re so busy smelling.  Imagine having a dog’s nose on these old streets full of restaurants, ethnic shops, markets, and people.  They hardly know which way to turn next.  Whoa, what was spilled here?...oh, can we go in this place?, master, just give me a few more seconds at these garbage bags, oh, please!!

Speaking of stereotypes, here comes a classic pair.  An older lady and her poodle.  The poodle washed, curled, and manicured.  The lady equally so.  Tastefully applied makeup.  On the lady, that is.  Stylish poncho and beret, long skirt, leather boots, gloves.  Sophisticated and expensive.  Jewish?  Perhaps.  A baroness? Not likely.  Old enough that she has probably outlived her investment broker husband, who left her well financed.  The children gone.  Now she has her secure apartment, her dog, and her flowers.  A handsome woman.  I smile as she approaches.  But no return eye contact.  A lady must be careful.  Ships passing in the night.  A distinctive floral scent in her wake.  I salute you, Madame New York, in your independence, out on the street at this hour.  But you know your territory. Born and bred.  Could she be a patron of the arts?  The beret.  A soft spot for the beat poets?  Does she know where Birdland is?  Was?  I visualize her strolling in Central Park, poodle in tow, pausing to listen to the saxophone buskers.  Leaving fifty-dollar bills in their cases and a floral scent in the air.  Improvise, boys.

Sliding hotel door yawns.  Tired from walking and wine.  Good-night, Madame New York.  Good-night, Manhattan.  Dreamland.  Lullaby of Birdland.

The End     

--Bill Peterson