Whats in a name?
By David Newcomb
The feeling crept up on Jules that he had become incredibly, indelibly white. Not generic Caucasian, member of the Caucasoid race lacking melanin or melatonin or whatever you called that crap chemical that too much or too little of caused so many problems for so many centuries.
That just wasn't it...Jules "felt" white! This new millennium had no place for yesterdays Oreo. No half Jew hipster wannabe jazzbo 40-something sax wielding ex doper could relate to this Hip Hop Gang banger hate you-hate me society the kids called "hip". Time was you could get a group together of musicians and just the chops mattered-not the color, the hairstyle, none of it.
Jules mused sadly poetic as he slurped the last of his cut-rate cappuccino and left the coffee shop shuffling on a two hole pair of shoes. Under the Williamsburg Bridge, by the projects filled with happy Hasid and Puerto Rican children playing in separate groups- taught to hate and fear each other by their parents...counting out the rhythms of the jump rope games in English, Spanish, and Hebrew/Yiddish-"Hiddish" Jules liked to call it, another New York original dialect.
Past the many subway grates, stores with Spanish names, kosher grocers, into the subway and showing his busker's license to the MTA guy...ah, my favorite spot! Jules reflected as he rushed to set up...a new #4 Selmer reed, a little drama and a mixolydian scale to warm up the fingers.
Jules waxed slow into Round Midnight- hard start, but this was as much practice as work for the meager cash the yuppies would slowly dole out. Monk was a favorite. Midnight gleaned into straight no chaser, then a little Donna Lee for the purists...gotta love Bird, man, oh baby yeah!
Time dragged and flew depending on the tune and the crowd- usually not more than half a dozen would gather between trains, but hey, an audience still rocks compared to the squares who don't know. Jules went from Monk to Miles, from Coltrane to Billie Holliday, some Mercy Mercy Adderley, and 45 minutes of straight instrumental Motown (thank you Maceo Parker!).
Jules worked the 6:30 p.m. yuppies returning from Manhattan, Nuevo Brooklynites donning faux sharkskin and synthetic gator shoes that fell off a truck on Canal street. Thin pickings there, but hey what the hell- its work right?
"Time to wrap up" Jules thought out loud as the crowds grew thinner. "I've got a gig on 48th and 10th tonight; Sweet Daddy O's... anyone going back into the city. $5.00 at the door if you want one of these coupons!" Usually there were no takers, but this time, a small swarthy lady of about 35 came to the front of the crowd. "May I have one, Mr. Jules?"
French accent, the smell of sandalwood and tobacco came from the small lady. "Um, sure, miss, here ya go! Thanks for supporting local jazz, by the way...uh, what did you say your name was?" Jules asked coyly as he passed the coupon over. "I didn't" she stated dryly. Then she simply walked away.
9:00 P.M. Wake from nap, shower, shave, dress...gabardines, the good shoes, vest, nice collared shirt, sans tie. Remembers little lady, picks paisley tie, red tie, no tie...yeah no tie and jacket, definitely jacket... Jules says mutteringly.
He makes his way back on the subway, switches to the A train uptown somewhere in the subterranean depths of the system. Jules gets off near Port Authority, simply for the six blocks or so of urban exercise he wants to open his lungs before the gig.
Sweet Daddy O's- A simple Jazz hole with 15 tables and a faux mahogany bar. Stage is so small the guitarist has to play in classical position and the bass player can't bring his full acoustic upright- has to settle for one o' them pogo stick looking outfits that's about 5 inches wide. House sound system hasn't been updated since Duran Duran was having hits- but ahh, $40.00 per man per night! Screw the atmosphere.
"Bucko, Slim, Dante, Syd...what's up boys?" Jules addresses the band. Dante's Inferno- should have been a 70's Mott the Hoople tribute act with a name like that, but Dante is the leader and a hell of a nice guy so no one tells him what a crappy handle it is.
"Hey, Jules, Sup bro...There's your two square feet, try not to let it cramp you. I flipped the order of Boplicity and So What, try and concentrate on the set list ok?" Dante spouted rhetorically. Dante rattled of nonsensically every night to try and cover stage fright. Everyone has their foibles before the gig. Syd the drummer would tap and scat rhythms incessantly, Jules giggled, Slim the bassist sweated like no tomorrow...Bucko tuned his Gibson and would constantly ask "does the G sound flat? Sharp? Flat?"
Lights dim-first song on the set list is All Blues, Jules has the starring role on tenor. Hears Dante doing that trill on piano and comes right in..."dahhh, da dahhh, de dooo, de dooo, wa wahhh, de wahhh, de wahhh de woooo..." Tough tune, only one sax in the band...Jules has to play the solos of Coltrane AND Cannonball Adderley. Insane tone to sweet tone, gotta love it!
The evening progresses uneventfully. Jules almost forgets the mystery lady and gets deep into the jams- pretending trumpet on "Groovin High", plays over 3 sets of standards with the boys. Halfway through the third set he's deep into the funk "81"by the second Miles Davis quintet- and he smells sandalwood and cherry flavored pipe tobacco...knows she's there. Doesn't look up, the quintessential professional, but he knows she's there.
"Hi. I'm Jules, I recognize you from the subway today," Jules says playing it straight. "Yes Mr. Jules, very nice set" replies the lady. "May I offer you a drink? Can I sit down? There's 20 minutes to the last set" Jules puts on the charm as best as 40 years of hard living has taught him. "Pernod and Absinthe- but ah, of course they don't have those in America yes? How about Tangueray and tonic" says the Lady.
Jules orders for them and sits. Gin for the lady, seltzer for the ex drunk. "May I ask your name?" Jules implores. "You may," she answers coyly. "I will consider giving it to you. But let me ask you, Mr. Jules, will you be so kind of character once I release the name?"
Jules ponders on this and smiles. "What's in a name?" He asks. "You might be surprised, Mr. Jules. You may call me Nita!"
Jules finished the set mechanically and then set back to take in Miss Nita. She was more than beautiful- she was music itself! They sat in Sweet Daddy O's until closing time at 4, and then he walked her to her hotel room and being gentlemanly, gently kissed her cheek and hand and walked a long way towards Brooklyn before attempting to flag a cab.
Nita and Jules were the only thing that mattered the rest of that month. Nita would meet Jules for lunch, sit near him in the subway while he busked his late afternoon buck collection set, and of course at the house gig at Daddy O's she was right by his side. Their relationship was decidedly old fashioned, as Jules did not want to blow it in any manner- he was falling in love with Nita so was taking a square 1940's suitor approach to their relationship.
Nita remained a mystery. No last name was ever given, although Jules asked almost daily. One evening after the gig, Jules packed his sax and turned to Nita and said simply, "Nita darling will you come with me? There are things I want to show you, things that are personal and beautiful to me that ive never shared with another living human being. Will you humor me for the rest of the evening?" "Of course, Jules, anything! How exciting, an adventure!!"
Jules took her throughout the island, showing clubs he had cut his teeth in as a young player, murals of great jazz players, the wing of Bellevue that Charles Mingus had lived in for over 2 years. Around 4 AM he turned to her and stated very clearly "I would like to have breakfast with you, tomorrow, and as many tomorrows as there can be for the two of us..." Jules took Nita in his arms, dipped her back and kissed her passionately on the lips. Nita looked at his eyes and nodded slowly, and they walked to find a cab home.
The next morning, Jules awoke alone. Nita was gone. On the bed where she had slept was a note- no, a letter, written in formal perfect private school girl longhand with a fountain pen...
"My dearest Jules" It began,
"This is not goodbye but simply an explanation. For many weeks I have been infatuated with and even falling in love with you- and by your admissions, you with me. This is the most wonderful time I have ever spent in my 35 years. I do not want it to end, so therefore, it is now my duty to explain who I am and why I have been so secretive.
I was born in Kolkata, India- you folk call it "Calcutta". Mother met and fell in love with an American Jazz musician not unlike you- for reasons I will explain later, my father and mother, could not marry. Father moved us to Paris where I became a citizen and grew up, and he took care of mother and I and sent me to the finest schools. I studied ballet and classical piano, am quite accomplished at both- but I could not have told you any of this up to this point.
Father died incredibly young- but not before creating a body of work that is known throughout the world to this day. Marrying my mother would have been out of the question, for in our culture, women aren't allowed to marry outside our race, caste, religion and country. Father was an American black man- in the 60s this would have been unheard of, and frankly, mother came from a bit of money. We were happy as a family without the paperwork and father always treated us as if all were legitimized. His work kept him out of France for longer and longer periods, until sadly mother read in the papers that father had taken a wife in America just before his death.
We were a secret- a dark secret that father kept out of the newspapers and the Downbeats-I was never sure whether he was ashamed of us or trying to protect us. The long and the short of it is, mother and I have no rights to his library and estate- we have been in court for decades, and it might possibly be turning in our direction soon.
I had to keep this from you darling- for your life is so entrenched in Jazz, I wanted to know that you could love me for who I am, and not for the hyphenated last name that father gave to me so many years ago. Please read this with an open mind- and by the way, you play fathers' music with real talent! It is one of the many reasons I love you so.
I will be in contact shortly- if you still want and love me, for who I am."
Your sweetest love,
*this is a work of fiction- any resemblance of the characters to people either living or dead is simply coincidental and just a creation of the authors imagination. This story was not based on any real people either living or dead.