Wir sind sehr stolz, Ihnen heute eine Erzählung von Bill Moody aus seinem Jazz’n Crime Universum präsentieren zu können – sie ist erstmalig in John Harveys bahnbrechender Anthologie „Blue Lightning“ 1998 erschienen, war aber nicht in der deutschen Auswahlausgabe – unverzeihlicherweise. Dieses Versäumnis sei hier dringend nachgeholt – enjoy!
von Bill Moody
Noel Coffey stared out the window of his Hamburg hotel room, listening to the November rain—falling relentlessly since late afternoon—beat erratic rhythms against the glass. Noel watched it wash the streets, blur the neon glow from the restaurant sign across the narrow road, and slash against the window. He tried to put time to the rhythm. Definitely up, some bebop standard, patterns that would give even Thelonious Monk fits. It made Noel think of an opener for tonight. Something up, buoyant, something that would floor everyone.
He sighed and turned away from the dark wet night outside, reluctant to leave the warmth and safety of his room. The German sparseness appealed to him: clean, simple, functional, nothing more than needed and only a short walk to the club.
He dug for cigarettes in his shirt pocket. He lit one and glanced at his horn lying on the bed. The Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone gleamed in the harsh glare of the light that burned from a square over the bed like a baby spotlight. Waiting, expectant but fearful, like some unrequited lover who wonders if the affair might be over.
Noel stared at the horn. He had only to fill it with his breath, touch its keys to bring it to life. He sat down on the bed and cradled the horn, listening in his mind to the music it could play, the music he could play like he had this afternoon. He sat quietly, smoking for a few moments, then took the horn apart and stuffed it into its soft leather case, his hands shaking only slightly as he zipped up the case. He grabbed the half empty bottle of Schnapps off the night stand and took a long pull. It burned his throat and settled like fire in his stomach.
Shit. It had all gone out the window during the rehearsal earlier this afternoon.
The rhythm section hadn’t been near as bad as he’d feared. Earlier that afternoon, after the briefest of introductions, Noel had run them through some standards, a couple of blues lines, not pushing, just being comfortable, blowing easy, laying back, saving it for tonight.
Can’t scare these German dudes Noel thought, remembering Aaron’s parting words.
They know you, man. Noel Coffey is a name, a bad tenor player. They got your records, they remember how it was with the quartet so jus’ be cool, man. You got nothin’ to prove.
But Noel had a lot to prove and despite Aaron’s encouragement, he hadn’t been sure. He’d nodded, hugged Aaron and boarded the night train from Paris, a slow journey that left him far too much time to think.
No, the rhythm section hadn’t been bad. The drummer, stout man with probing eyes had bugged him all during the rehearsal, staring at Noel like he was some kind of freak. What are you looking at? Noel wanted to scream at him. Haven’t you ever seen an ex-junkie? The bassist had just sat on a bar stool, his arm cradled around his instrument, watching Noel warily. Only the pianist was cool, a studious looking cat with thick glasses and a touch like Bill Evans.
“Your work with Miles was very fine,” the pianist had said almost reverently, when they’d spoken briefly on a break.
Yeah so fine he’d only lasted six months. One record though, Noel reminded himself, trying desperately to dredge up confidence. There was no denying that, the vinyl proof of his ability to hold his own with a legend. The other recordings with The Quartet spoke for themselves.
The Quartet. There was the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, but Noel, Calvin, Billy, and Ellis had simply been The Quartet. Four young lions storming onto the jazz scene with youthful exuberance, phenomenal talent, and a healthy respect for the past. They’d headlined clubs and festivals, recorded four albums, and then as is so often the case, their success was over as quickly as it had begun. Each of them had gone his separate way. Where were they all now, Noel wondered.
After two years of scuffling in Europe, Noel had lost track of the others except for bits and pieces of news he got from two month old copies of Downbeat, or when some of the New York guys came over on tour.
Ellis, who had tired of the road, was apparently getting a foothold in Hollywood, writing jingles, scoring for movies and TV. Calvin, gigging around the city, or on the road for whoever paid the tab. Billy was becoming a rock star, the most swinging drummer this side of Art Blakey, playing in a fusion band behind a no talent, gravely voiced singer in jeans, a head band, and a tie-died tee shirt. Noel shook his head and smiled at the thought. Billy would dig the groupies.
Noel shook off the past, went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. He leaned on the sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror as if there were some answer in the once youthful face. He dried off, shrugged into a wrinkled trench coat and grabbed his horn. Time to go.
He pulled the door closed behind him, and walked downstairs to the street. Outside, he glanced up at the dark sky, felt the rain on his face, then ducked around the corner to the club. He paused at the entrance to the Jazzhaus, taking in the paper banner taped to the window with the hastily scrawled lettering.
“LIVE RECORDING—TONIGHT ONLY—NOEL COFFEY”
They might be right, Noel thought as he pushed through the door and made his way to the small bandstand.
He unpacked his horn and laid it carefully on the top of the piano, nodded to the bassist and drummer, who stopped talking when he approached. He got off the stage quickly. They look worried, Noel thought. Did they think I wasn’t going to show up?
He took a seat by himself at the end of the bar and ordered a double Schnapps. He lit another cigarette and looked around the room. It was filling up quickly with people who brought in with them the smell of wet coats and hair as they shook off umbrellas, talked loudly, and glanced toward the bandstand.
The jazz freaks were already taking p the front tables. Pseudo hipsters, nodding their heads, snapping their fingers off the beat to the taped music, their eyes hidden behind dark glasses. We’re hip, their poses said. Noel could feel their glances, their eyes on him, the whispered comments, and feel the air of anticipation.
Noel had never played Germany. Paris, Ronnie Scott’s in London, all over Scandinavia. He’d been well received and there was no doubt the fans were knowledgeable, appreciative. Why else would so many American jazz musicians be here? Noel was simply following in the footsteps of Sidney Bechet, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, the scores of musicians who had found that Europeans dig jazz. Shit, Johnny Griffin and Art Farmer were still living here. But Noel had never been to Germany, so tonight, the fans were out in force to hear, “one of the better young tenor players in jazz.” At least that’s how the press released read.
There was no doubt about it, Noel thought, playing music, jazz, was a strange occupation, and playing it well cost a lot. Noel had paid his dues, and now he was heavily in debt. Jazz had ravaged his body, damaged his soul, and made him an outcast, an exile from his own country, maybe even from himself.
Until today, he’d been straight for nearly two months. No junk, no booze, just practicing every day, eating right, taking long walks, even sitting in a couple of times at one of the Paris after hours spots, trying always, desperately, to recall how he used to sound. That was the hard part. Getting it back slowly. Now, maybe tonight, he was ready. Maybe.
The technicians from the radio station crept around the stage, busily running cables, setting p the remote recording gear. One of them tapped a microphone and walked over to where Noel sat. He smiled at Noel. “It will be good, yes?”
Good for what, Noel wondered. Jesus, he wasn’t ready. He shouldn’t have listened to Aaron. It was humid in the club, and the warmth of the Schnapps burned his throat as he downed another glass. He felt the pain in his gut start again. It wouldn’t go away. It was more than withdrawal. It was … fear. What if he couldn’t play? It always came back to that same question.
He jerked his mind off the thought, let his eyes roam around the club, then settle on a young blonde woman at one of the front tables. She was sitting with another older woman. Bet you’d like to blow Coffey’s horn, huh? He caught her eye and flashed the practiced smile he knew always had the same effect. She smiled back selfconsciously, then quickly averted her eyes, turned away, obviously uncomfortable at being singled out.
Noel felt a hand on his shoulder. “You are ready, yes?” It was Freddie, a former trombonist and the owner of the Jazzhaus. When Noel didn’t answer, Freddie’s eyes went to the glass in Noel’s hand.
“Don’t worry, Fritz, you’ll get your money’s worth,” Noel said, unable to keep the hostility out of his voice.
Freddie shrugged. “Good. I will announce now.” He left Noel at the bar and conferred briefly with the recording technicians, then stepped toward the microphone. Somebody turned off the taped music, and Noel could feel the audience settled down as he ambled toward the stage, brushing by the blonde. He smiled at her again and mounted the stage, and walked over to the pianist, who was waiting expectantly.
Noel thought for a moment, decided to play it safe. “Blues in F,” he whispered. Yes, a medium tempo blues to loosen up, take it easy. He began to snap his fingers for the tempo over Freddie’s introduction.
The applause was brief. The room quieted and suddenly, the only sound was Noel’s snapping fingers. Well, fuck it, let’s get it over with. He counted them in and while the rhythm section played a couple of choruses in front, he clipped the horn on the chain around his neck. He looked down and winked at the blonde and stepped up to the microphone.
Feet planted firmly, he closed his eyes and imagined the hundreds of times he’d been on stage with The Quartet, blocking out everything else from his mind. He put the horn to his lips, tasted the reed, listened to the pianist laying down the changes, the pulse of the bass, the high pitched cymbal of the drummer. It wasn’t Billy Dean or Calvin, or Ellis, but they were there, laying down a smooth rhythmic carpet for Noel to walk on.
He took a breath then his mind suddenly drifted into confusion. He couldn’t focus. What were they playing? A blues? Easy now. Listen. He pressed a key on the horn, gathered some breath and blew, but no sound came out. Nothing. He frowned, tried again but the horn just squeaked in protest. Humidity, that was it. He twisted the mouthpiece. Reed was too damp. He squeezed his eyes shut, tried again, felt droplets of sweat breaking out on his forehead.
This time, only a squawk, then nothing but air escaping his lips. The sound evaporated in the air. He opened his eyes in panic. Not this too. Not this too. Come on, come on. Think.
He stared at the blonde in front. A pained expression crossed her face. She glanced at her friend, put her hand to her mouth. She knows, Noel thought. He scanned the other faces in front of him. They all know. What was wrong with the goddamn horn? He wheeled around, turning his back on the audience. The rhythm section, glancing at each other, started another chorus then stared back at Noel, puzzled and afraid. He felt a wave of nausea sweep over him.
He spun around, facing the audience again. What were they all looking at? He stepped toward the microphone once more, stumbled, nearly fell, then righted himself by grabbing the stand with one hand.
He called over his shoulder to the pianist. “Keep playing, man, keep playing.
Through the haze of smoke, he caught another glimpse of the blonde, leaning forward, frowning at him. Whatta you expect, bitch? Isn’t this what you came for? I can’t do it. That’s right, baby. You’re seeing it live. Noel Coffey, fucking up badly, totally unable to play a simple blues in F, or even get a sound out of his fucking horn. Oh, God, why did I let Aaron talk me into this?
He gripped the horn tightly with both hands, choking it, suddenly wanting to smash it on stage. Man, it was time to go home, to New York or L.A. He made another grab for the microphone as again a wave of nausea and dizziness swept over him. Jesus, he was going throw up. He choked back the bile and stared at the crowd, dropped his hands to his sides in surrender. The horn hung around his neck like a useless appendage. He grabbed for the microphone again with both hands.
He felt himself begin to tremble. A hand touched his shoulder. He wheeled around and found the face of the pianist. When had they stopped playing. He jerked away. The shaking got worse. Then he looked down helplessly as a warm dark stain began to spread over the front of his trousers.
Noel began to cry soundlessly, feeling the tears stream down his face.
He blinked them away and focused on the blonde again. He was half rising out of her chair, one arm outstretched, her face contorted in pain. Noel kept his eyes on her even as he pitched forward off the band stand and crashed into her table.
He fell on his horn. His mind registered breaking glass, cries, chairs scraping and all he could think was, Charlie Parker you motherfucker, this is all your fault.
© 1998 by Bill Moody
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«