Sammy’s Blues – Part II

Sammy put on his black jacket and beret after turning out the lights. He closed the store then headed south. Going through the park, he noticed the bandshell resting silently on the far left end of the playing field. A dilapidated chainlink fence still surrounded it. No one has played there since Alfonso was little. Back when he had a full head of thick black hair, summers for Sammy meant gigs at the bandshell. Wondering if the guy from the city would show up to unlock the place and get the power going so that the show would start more or less on time. Worrying about the monitor speakers cutting out again, mid-performance. Working long days with little pay under the oppressive blanket of heat and humidity that settled over the neighborhood. But it was a joy. They got to play together. “Beanpole” Bob Rush on bass, Slack “The Jack” Jennings on piano, and “Sam-boom” Turner on drums. And the audiences always turned out.

He crossed 48th street and found Mrs. Parker on the stoop wearing her burgundy shawl and pink bunny slippers. He took a seat one step below her.

“You just missed Bill,” she said. “He was out here about thirty minutes ago.”

“You remember the time my group played ‘Bitches Brew’?”

Mrs. Parker started laughing. “I think I was the only old fart to get into it. All the rest of them, oh my goodness!”

“We burned through three albums trying to learn how to play it. Goddamn if we didn’t think we were hot shit.”

“Admit it. You loved the chaos from the crowd.”

Sammy did his slow staccato laugh. “Up until folks started throwing things.”

For the “Bitches Brew” show, they were joined by Funk It on trumpet, Logan X on tenor sax, and Beanpole’s brother Big-L on guitar. Some folks in the audience became restless when Beanpole put down his upright and plugged an electric bass into an amp and Slack the Jack set up an electric keyboard. Without any announcement, the band began performing their interpretation of “Bitches Brew.” Sammy and his group couldn’t wait to bring Miles’ revolution to Huckleberry Park. They wanted a scene and got their wish. Folks around their age and younger quickly fell into the groove. Older folks, whose tastes went no further than Art Blakey, hated it. Stop playing that motherfucking shit! When you gonna stop tuning up and play! Fuck Miles Davis! It got crazy. Young folks started dancing to the trippy free flow of the music, while the older folks ratcheted up their indignation. They switched from yelling at the band to yelling at the kids for enjoying the music. The kids yelled back. Eventually it came to blows and when chairs started flying, that’s when Sammy called out a time out.

“By the time we stated playing again, I think most of the old folks had already left, ‘cause Beanpole and Slack still played electric, and they weren’t have it. But at least the crowd calmed down.”

“Hmmm,” Mrs. Parker said, leaning back and reminiscing. “That was still a pretty funky version of ‘Satan Doll’ you all played.”

“Yeah. We thought we were so revolutionary.”

A few cars travelled down the oneway street, towards Lincoln. Faint music floated down from a cracked-open window above. Bill’s room. It sounded like soul.

“You ever think about playing again?” Mrs. Parker said.

“It’s been so long. But just recently, I was wondering where I could set up my kit. Shit, I haven’t taken it out of storage since who knows when. I played my tune for the boys. Alfonso danced so beautifully to it. He just improved it, right on the spot. It was like he had rehearsed it for years. He has the gift.”

“Uh-huh. See? You need to play it for him live.”

“Heh. Yeah. I should.”

“Sammy, before I go I want to see that park fixed and you playing in that bandshell again.”

Fixing the park, one of Charlotte’s talking points.

“You know,” Sammy said, “other than the first time she ran, Charlotte has never failed at nothing she’s started? She owned her job with Larkin. She graduated top of her class, for her BA and MSW.”

Mrs. Parker pointed across the street. “I used to watch her practice double-dutch when she was little, right over there next to the community center.”

Sammy nodded.

“Some of the girls teased her, ‘cause she kept getting tripped up. But she had a couple of friends who helped her and kept turning the rope for her. She got it, made it her own.”

“I think what tripped her up in the first election was that she hates talking about herself. She’s a great advocate for everyone except herself. We gotta help her win this time. I want her to win it, you know.”

“I know, sugar.”

He began scat singing “Lavender Veil Blues,” tapping out the beats on his knees slow and easy. Mrs. Parker closed her eyes and began swaying.

© 2016, gar. All rights reserved.


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