CrimeMag freut sich, Ihnen eine neue Kurzgeschichte aus dem großen Sinnzusammenhang Jazz, Mord & schöne Frauen präsentieren zu dürfen. Natürlich von Bill Moody.
File Under Jazz
“Man, there it is again,” Ray says, reaching for the knob and turning up the volume. “That same damn song.”
They’re in Lloyd’s car, heading down the 405 freeway toward Santa Monica, mired in lunch hour traffic. His big calloused bass player hands on the wheel, Lloyd listens for a minute and shrugs. “It’s a minor blues. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal,” Ray says is I know I’ve heard it before but I can’t figure out who it is.” Ray shrugs. “You know how I am.”
Lloyd glances over at Ray. “Yeah, I do. Mr. obsessive-compulsive. You won’t be happy till you know what the tune is, who’s playing, when it was recorded and –”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ray says.
“So call the station,” Lloyd says.
Ray listens some more, but it’s only the last few bars. The song ends and they’re suddenly blasted by Miles Davis, live at the Blackhawk.” He lowers the volume and says, “Maybe I will.”
He pats his pocket for his cell phone, but remembers he’d left it charging at home. He looks out the window. They’d only moved a few car lengths. The Wilshire Boulevard exit looms mockingly just ahead.
“Think we’ll make it,” he says to Lloyd.
“Yeah, we’re early,” Lloyd says, glancing at his watch.
They’re scheduled to hit at one. Some kind of fund raiser scholarship thing and the organizer is a jazz fan, so it shouldn’t be too dumb. The weird part is the location.
“You ever played at a cemetery before?” he asks Lloyd.
Lloyd smiles and lights a cigarette. “No, this is a new one for me.”
“Spooky, man,” Ray says.
“Hey,” Lloyd says, “At least it’s not at night.”
They find the cemetery and drive in the gates, passing one funeral procession of cars, parked along the curb. They drive on, around a long curve to an open area. On a concrete slab, a canopy has been set up and folding chairs arranged in a half circle.
“There we go,” Lloyd says, parking his van as close to the tent-like covering as possible. There are a few people milling around already and Ray sees a large color photograph of a young girl displayed on an easel near the chairs.
They unload Lloyd’s bass and Ray’s electronic keyboard and amp and began setting up. A maintenance man appears with a long orange cord and and power strip and shows them where to plug in. Ray gets everything connected, playing a little, testing the sound when the drummer arrives, rolling his drums over to join the setup. Ray doesn’t know him, but Lloyd says he plays good. By quarter to one, they’re ready.
It is weird Ray thinks, looking around at the expanse of green lawn, the tombstones, monuments, as more people arrive. He takes a short walk, smokes a cigarette, idly looking at the inscriptions on some of the more prominent grave markers. Others are just small plaques in the ground, many overgrown where the grass needs cutting, but one catches his eye.
The grass is neatly trimmed around it and the plaque is polished. Ray bends down, reads the name.
Louis B. Harris 1935-1967.
Somebody misses you, Ray thinks. He straightens up and turns back toward where they’d set up, the strains of that minor blues running through his mind.
More people have arrived now, a fairly respectable crowd. Ray is surprised. He sits at the keyboard and waits for the host to remind everybody why they’re here and introduce the trio. Some polite applause follows. Ray nods to Lloyd and thinking of the little girl, begins with “Sweet and Lovely,” He hears Lloyd laugh and say, “Better not play ‘Body and Soul’ here.” Ray hears the drummer chuckle, but the idea sends a chill through Ray.
Later, at home, the tune still haunting him, Ray calls the jazz station. He knows he won’t be right until he learns the title, and who is playing it. It happens like that every once in a while with Ray. He’d hear a few bars of something and can’t stop till he knows the tune, who recorded it, whatever information he can find.
“KJAZ,” the DJ on air answers.
“Yeah,” Ray says. “You played something early this afternoon. I only heard the end but I was wondering if you remember what it was. Saxophone, some minor blues line.”
“I came on at four, man, so you’d have to call back tomorrow and talk to Chuck. He would have been on then. He’s on at noon every day.”
“Right,” Ray says. “Thanks.”
He almost counted down the time the next day waiting to call.
“Hey, are you Chuck?”
“Yeah, what can I do for you?”
“Geez, man, I play a lot of things in four hours. I’d have to check the playlist for yesterday.”
“Can you do that? It’s important.”
Ray heard him sigh over the music playing on the studio monitor. “Yeah, I guess. Give me a half hour and call back.”
“Thanks,” Ray says. He turns on the news but doesn’t really focus. He keeps checking his watch then calls again a 2:45.
“Hi, I’m the guy that called earlier about the tune you played yesterday.”
“Oh yeah. Hang on. I can hardly read my own writing. Okay, it’s called ‘D Minor Hues.’ Done in the sixties sometime I’d guess. Lou Harris, alto player. Don’t know what happened to him. Not much info on the LP. Not even the personnel. Just says unidentified piano, bass, and drums.”
“Did you say Lou Harris?” Ray feels a chill again, thinking of the grave marker. Had to be a different guy. There must have been scores of guys named Lou Harris in L.A.
“Yeah. Hey, I gotta go man. Going live in a few seconds.”
“Thanks,” Ray says but the guy had already hung up.
Lou Harris. Imagine, recording an LP and not even getting your name on the record. Ray thinks he’s heard the name but isn’t sure. He snaps his fingers then, remembers somebody who would know.
Dean Earl was just finishing with a student when Ray looks in. A tall gangly kid with thick glasses, nodding to Ray as he leaves. Dean is short with a thick mustache, looking relaxed in a cardigan sweater, slacks and polished loafers. Nearly seventy, he’d always reminded Ray of the guy who played George Jefferson on television. Dean spins around on the piano stool. “Hey,” Dean says, holding out his hand. “You been being a stranger. Got a lot of gigs I hope.”
“I’m making it,” Ray says, slapping Dean’s upturned palm. “Got a few minutes?”
“Yeah.” Dean glances at his watch. “Nobody till four now. What brings you by?”
“You remember an alto player named Lou Harris? I heard something on the radio yesterday, a minor blues line from an album he did.”
Dean’s face creases into a frown. ”Damn, Lou Harris. Must have been an old one. Lou died long time ago. Yeah I know who he is. Made a few gigs with him.”
“Really?” Ray sits down and looks at Dean. “You remember the tune? The DJ says it was called ‘D Minor Hues’’”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Dean says, running his hands through his fuzzy white hair. He hums something, swivels back toward the piano, his fingers searching out the notes.
“Yeah, that’s almost it,” Ray says.
“Should have been called ‘Weird Blues’,” Dean says.
“What do you mean?”
“Bad vibes from that tune. Last thing Lou wrote before he died.”
“How did he die?”
Dean looks up at Ray and shakes his head. “Nobody is really sure who did it but he was shot.”
“Jesus,” Ray says, feeling a shiver. “Murdered? What happened?”
“Long time ago man. We were playing this little club in Hollywood, near Shelly’s Manne Hole. We finished the set. Yeah, I remember now. That was the last tune we played.” Dean shakes his head slowly. “Lou put his horn on the piano, went out the door behind the band stand to have a smoke in the alleyway. I was still talking to the bass player when we heard these two little pops.” Dean raises his hand up like a gun, points his index finger. “Pop, pop! We ran out there and found Lou on the ground, blood pouring out of his stomach. We called the cops but he was gone by the time the ambulance came. They kept us there half the night, questioning everybody.”
“They never caught who did it?”
“Nope. Lou had a big eye for the ladies, but he had a wife too. There was one woman always hanging around. I think she was there that night but in all the confusion I’m not sure. Everybody thought it was a girlfriend, some woman he’d dropped. Like that gal who shot Lee Morgan at Slugs in New York.
Remember that? They’d argued, she went home, came back and shot Lee right there.” Dean laughs. “Imagine that, shot at Slugs. Anyway with Lou, I don’t know. Police didn’t try very hard You know how that shit goes, at least then.”
Ray nods. Hollywood or South Central Los Angeles. The sixties. The Watts riots still a fresh memory. “Were you on the recording? The DJ said the rhythm section was unidentified.”
Dean nods and shakes his head. “They didn’t keep very good records then, especially with some little company. No, he’d done that earlier, some little studio, small pressing. Didn’t get much air play or distribution though. Lou was never big. He could play but lucky he got that one date.”
Dean looks at Ray and frowns. “Why you so interested in Lou Harris? You on one of your missions again?”
“I don’t know,” Ray says. “I don’t know.”
But Ray did know. He had to track down that record. He goes online, does the google thing, checks out Amazon, other sites that list old recordings, reissues, but nothing. Not a mention of Lou Harris anywhere. He calls around to used record stores he finds in the Yellow Pages, but except for a big place off Hollywood Boulevard, most don’t carry much jazz.
“Blue Star,” a guy says answering the phone.
“Hey, you carry any real old jazz LPs. I’m looking for a saxophonist named Lou Harris.”
The guy just laughs. “Hey man, I got hundreds. Come in and look for yourself.”
With rehearsals and another gig, it’s a couple of days before he can make it. Blue Star is in what once must have been an office building. Old posters on the walls, bins of LPs, stacks of CDs on the floor and all in no apparent order. A monotonous rap band throbs from a sound system somewhere. At the front of the store, sitting at a high desk is a burly bearded guy in thick glasses.
“Where’s the jazz section?” Ray asks.
The guy points toward the back without looking up from the magazine in front of him. There are three rows of bins with a hand painted sign on a stick that says Jazz. Ray sighs and flips through them, scanning titles and names, some Ray never heard of, some bring back memories. In the H section he finds nothing. The last two bins are labeled Misc. Jazz.
Ray thumbs through each, stopping occasionally as he recognizes something. Finally, halfway through the second bin, his fingers stop as he stares at the cover. A young black man, in a blazer and turtleneck sweater, his arms crossed over an alto saxophone, a cigarette in his mouth, the smoke curling up around his eyes, looks at some point left of the camera. Lou’s Blues is the title. On the back is a stick-on label in one corner with a penciled price of $2 and the notation that reads: File Under Jazz.
Ray slips the record out of the sleeve, handling it carefully. There are some scratch marks, but it’s generally in good condition. There’s scant information on the back. Another photo of Harris playing, the rhythm section in the background, but too blurred to recognize anybody. Not even a date—no personnel listing—just the titles of the songs, the record company logo, address but no liner notes. Track three is “D Minor Hues.”
Ray slips the record back in the sleeve and turns to go and almost bumps into a woman standing close by. He hadn’t even heard her come up.
She’s late fifties, early sixties, but still an attractive woman. Slim, dark hair but her eyes hidden behind dark glasses. Her clothes are neat but inexpensive. “Are you going to buy that?” she asks, moving over closer to Ray.
“Yeah, why?” Ray asks, the album clutched in his hand almost protectively.
“I used to know him,” she says, pointing at the cover photo. “The jazz station played something from it the other day. I thought I’d try to find it. I’ve been to half a dozen stores.”
“Me too,” Ray says. “D Minor Hues’. That one?”
She takes off the glasses, closes her eyes for a moment. “Yes, that’s the one.” She pauses opens her eyes and looks right at Ray. “He wrote it for me.” She hums the tune and Ray feels the hair on the back of his neck stiffen.
They both grimace as the rap recording switches to some heavy metal thing.
“Let’s get out of here,” Ray says, almost having to shout over the music.
They find a coffee place on Hollywood Boulevard and sit at an outside table. Ray buys them both coffee but takes the album with him when he goes inside. He comes back with the coffee. The woman has taken off the dark glasses and is facing the street, watching the traffic, the people walking by.
Ray sets the coffee down and puts the album on the table. “So how well did you know Lou Harris,” Ray asks, sitting down.
She turns toward him and sips the coffee. “Very well. We were…together for a few months.” She glances at the album, puts her hand out. “May I?”
Ray says, “Sure.”
She picks it up and stares at the photo of Lou Harris. “Let me buy it from you.” She reaches for her purse, a small, scuffed leather bag. “I’ll give you twenty five dollars.”
Ray’s eyes widen. “I can’t do that. I only paid two dollars.”
“I know but it doesn’t matter. Are you a collector or something? Is that why you bought it?”
Ray smiles. “No. Piano player. I was just intrigued by the tune. Something about it got to me and one thing led to another. It happens like that sometimes. It’s like, I don’t know, an obsession. I called the station, talked to the DJ, and my former teacher. He knew Lou as well.”
She looks up sharply. “Really? Who?”
“Dean Earl,” Ray says.
She nods and smiles. “I’m sorry. I’m Emily, Emily Parker.”
“Ray Fuller.” He didn’t’ know whether to shake hands or not, so he sips his coffee and reaches for his cigarettes. “Do you mind?”
“No, not at all.”
Ray lights his cigarette, inhales and blows the smoke away from their table.
“Look,” she says, “it would mean a lot to me to have this.” She taps long slender fingers on the album.
Ray studies her for a long moment. There’s something missing, something she’s not telling him, but he can’t figure it out. “Tell you what,” he says. “Let me make a tape and you can have it.”
She reaches out and touches his hand. “Thank you. You’re very kind.”
Ray shrugs. “It’s nothing. Really. I was only interested in the tune.”
She smiles, more relaxed now. “It is a haunting tune isn’t it. That’s what Lou called me. Haunting.” She colors slightly then and sighs. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound foolish. It was a long time ago.”
“How did you meet him?” Ray asks. He watches her, drawn to her in a way he can’t explain.
“In a club. I was just bored, driving around and saw the sign that said Jazz. I walked in, heard him play and sat down, ordered a drink and stayed till closing. He came over once, told me it was brave of me, a white woman coming to a black club. I don’t think it’s there anymore. I suppose he was right though. The Watts riots hadn’t been that long ago.”
“And after that?”
“I went every night for the rest of the week. We spent a lot of time together and then he moved in with me until…” Her voice trails off.
“Until he … died.”
“Yes, no well before that.” She closes her eyes again and for a moment is lost in the memory. She blinks then and looks at Ray. “He was murdered you know.”
Ray leans back in his chair. “Yes, Dean told me. Did you know him too?”
She shakes her head. “I must have but I can’t recall his face. Was he playing that night?”
“Yes,” Ray says. “It was Dean who found him in the alley. It was never solved?”
“No,” Emily says. She puts the dark glasses on again and looks away, watching a teenager roll by on a skateboard.
“Maybe his wife was the cause,” she says.
“His wife? Did you tell the police?”
“No, I couldn’t. I just … left. I couldn’t face it when I heard.”
“It didn’t matter. Lou was gone and the police weren’t that interested. A black jazz musician, a former heroin user, shot in the alley behind a seedy club. Who would care?”
Ray stubs out his cigarette, drinks off the rest of his coffee and looks at Emily. “You,” Ray says.
“It doesn’t matter now. It’s almost forty years ago.”
Ray’s mind is swirling with questions. He wants to know everything now, the whole story, but he holds back. “Yeah, I guess.”
Emily glances at her watch. “So how do I contact you, for the album I mean.”
Ray is jolted out of his musing. “Oh give me a couple of days. I have to find someone with a turntable to record it. I don’t have one.” He takes out a pen and turns the coffee receipt over to write down her number.
“No,” she says. “It’s better if I call you.”
“Whatever,” Ray says, writing his number. “Or,” he says, looking at her, “I’m playing Friday night, a solo gig in Santa Monica. Maybe you could come by? I can give it to you then.”
She smiles, hesitates a moment. “Yes, that would be nice. I’d like that.”
Ray tells her the name of the club. They both get to their feet. “Okay then. See you Friday. I start at eight.”
“I look forward to it. Thank you for the coffee.”
Ray watches her walk away till she’s lost among other people.”
Spooky, man, really spooky, Ray mumbles to himself.
At Bob Burns Friday night Ray is cruising through the first set when Emily Parker walks in. She takes a seat at one of the stools around the piano bar, orders a drink and smiles at Ray. The place is pretty full, people jostling for a place, most of the tables full.
He looks at Emily and goes into “D Minor Hues,” sees her expression change, her eyes take on a faraway look, then settling on the album resting on top of the piano in front of Ray. He plays it slow, like the record. It’s under his fingers now after two days of playing it over and over. He lets the last chord ring for a few moments and looks up. Several people are captivated, and applaud for the first time .
Emily smiles warmly at Ray and nods as he stands up. He slides the album across the piano to her and walks around till he’s beside her. “Glad you could make it,” he says. “It’s all yours.” He taps his finger on the album.
“So am I,” she says. “That was lovely. It’s how Lou might have played it.”
He feels a surge of pleasure sweep over him. Now he knows almost everything. “Be right back,” he says. “Gotta make a phone call.”
Ray walks to the back and dials the pay phone by the restrooms.
“Dean, it’s Ray Fuller.”
“What’s up, Ray. You caught me nodding off in front of the tv.”
“The girlfriend of Lou Harris. Was her name Emily Parker?” Ray waits impatiently for Dean’s answer, looking back toward the piano bar, but he can’t see Emily.
“Man,” Dean says, so long ago, but, yeah, I think that’s right. How did you—”
“Thanks, Dean. I gotta go.” Ray hangs up and walks quickly back to the bar, but Emily Parker is gone, and so is the record. In its place is a folded piece of paper propped on the keyboard, a note in neat careful handwriting. Ray goes outside, looks up and down the street but there’s no sign of Emily Parker. He thinks of checking the small parking lot but he doesn’t know if she came by car.
He lights a cigarette and reads the note.
I guess you’ve figured it out by now. Lou was going back to his wife and I couldn’t
allow that. It was the only way. Don’t try to find me. I’ll remember you though for your kindness.
Ray stands numbly, reading the note over several times. Of course it was her. Lou Harris wouldn’t have gone outside by himself with Emily there. She must have gone out the front, circled around to the alley, come up to Lou, pleaded her case maybe one last time before she slipped the gun out of her purse, pushed it against Lou’s chest, like she was going to kiss him and shot him instead. The too little pops Dean said he’d heard. She would have been gone before anybody came out. Was that how it went down?
Ray feels sick suddenly. His hand shakes, holding the note, realizing what he’s done. He slips the note in his pocket and goes back inside and sits down at the piano. What should he do? Take the note to the police? How would he make anybody understand?
“Hey piano man?” A husky guy at the bar with a blonde on his arm looks at Ray. “What was the name of that last tune you played?”
Ray looks up. “What?”
“That song you played, just before the break. What’s the name of it?”
“D Minor Hues,” Ray says, knowing he’ll never play it again.
Quelle: „A Merry Band of Murderers: An Original Mystery Anthology of Songs and Stories“ Claudia Bishop (Editor), Don Bruns (Editor).
Bill Moody beim Unionsverlag
Bill Moody: Biography by AllAboutJazz
Porträtfoto Bill Moody (Michael Oreal)
Bill Moody: »Jazz Fiction: It Don’t Mean a Thing – If It Ain’t Got That Swing«