Short Fiction Contest-winning story #27: “The Open Marriage,” by Ben Murray

July 8th, 2011

New Short Fiction Award

     Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.

     Ben Murray of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is the winner of the twenty-seventh Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on July 8, 2011.

Ben Murray

*

     

Ben Murray is an Alberta-based writer and occasional sax player/drummer whose debut volume of poetry, What We’re Left With, was published by Brindle & Glass in 2007. His idols include Keith Jarrett, Dexter Gordon, Miles, Woody Allen, P.K Page, and Ian McEwan. Back in the 80’s, Ben once traded fours with Lew Tabackin, but is pretty sure Lew got the raw end of that particular trade! More recently, Ben got two (count ’em!) hugs from the singer KellyLee Evans after her show at the Edmonton International Jazz Festival. Life is indeed a major chord sometimes.

*

“The Jazz Club, 1953,” by Rene Dickerson

The Open Marriage

by

Ben Murray

_______________________________

ten minutes into sound and I have begun to lean, to lean forward in these shared chairs towards glissando, towards pluck and sizzle and crash. Ellen is a grace note, a cello curve beside me in this dark, lovely, smitten club of jazz.
that I know it’s Ellen’s thigh and hip accompanying mine is a testament to the radii of our ring fingers, the shiny bands there that play so seriously at patience and time.
the sax guy’s finished his bit. he was fierce, his alto breathing, exhuming Dolphy and Jackie Mc. my applauding hands dream of trading fours with his, a mischievous dream because I keep his hands, refuse to trade them back, knowing fully well they’re just ordinary digits without the brain above, all those synapses full of next notes, phrases, pauses. but that doesn’t matter, it’s my crazy-ass dream and his fingers will be enough. enough to put this non-playing buff on stage to blow rings around standards and originals, around these club walls coated in the royal spit and exhale of kings and dukes and counts and birds.
and Ellen, this is my confession to you: my fantasies are not of the flesh, of my mid-century flesh attempting to stop time under the caresses of smooth, unlined hands and fingers harboring secret knowledge of iThis and iThat, iPhone fingers pushing nano-buttons as my eyes water, just watching.
my fantasy, Ellen, is to leave this perfectly fine life we’ve led and run away to the circus, the jazz band circus of tightrope-ing bass strings, crowd tamers, bearded, goateed gents sprouting horns, magicians vanishing, reappearing behind unlocked keys and crashing cymbals, all the happy, sad, rapt clown faces seen in the dim dark, their ears as big as the ceiling speakers hovering precariously above them.
the pianist is soloing now. I imagine your relief. an instrument you recognize. you’ve played one yourself: some Chopin nocturnes, some carols, Eleanor Rigby.
but nothing like this. the same eighty-eight keys, sure, the same chunk of transcendent furniture you’ve sat before, that your legs have slightly parted for.
but look at those fingers, those chords, single note runs running away with harmony and rhythm only to bring it all back next phrase–did you know the Heintzman anchoring our living room was even related to such an animal, even capable of such jumps through hoops?
I want to know, would I love you more if you could play like this black dude channeling McCoy, Keith, and Wynton K? I love you, but I don’t think you’ve ever swung in your life, anticipating, leaning in on that next note, that next breath, one effortless flow springing forth from the there always aware of the here.
no, safe to say you’ve never swung, and nor have I, the closest to it maybe the time we first met, at that high school dance of scotch-taped banners and plastic punch refills, when I walked up to you all brazen-cool as if I’d borrowed John Travolta’s or Jimmy Dean’s jeans for the night, I suddenly this guy who knew what he wanted, whose tongue miraculously un-twisted long enough to ask you to dance–to the Bee Gees’ Night Fever, if memory serves–my voice miraculously stammer-free before a girl for once, my face free of the unasked for, un-applied blush makeup which usually bloomed on cue before the promise of copped feels, kisses and walks around blocks and worlds. I swung, leaning into you. you had to say yes.

yes.
I glance over at you now; the last Gremlin, the last Trans Am have long since left the aromatic, weedy air of the school parking lot three decades ago, left and long since gone back to clockwatching parents nervously recalling their own formative dances. three decades ago and here you are, indulging my love of combos and controlled chaos, the snap of downbeat fingers pointing towards past and future stars.
in my ideal world, your head would be bobbing in time to the music–the horns are back, they’re bringing it back to the head–and your feet would be dancing tap against this great percussive skin of a floor, one more involuntary, polyrhythmic beat of feet,
and in that same ideal world you would lean over to me right now and whisper in my ear how much this piece sounds like an old Horace Silver hard-bop tune, how the drummers’ punctuating press rolls echo Art Blakey’s, how the sax and trumpet guy are standing bell to bell, just like Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham in one of those black and white Francis Wolff Blue Note recording session shots, all the color needed right there in the music spun by semaphoring tonearms, there in the crackle of groove.
you are not visibly moved, Ellen, but you sense my scrutiny and look my way, and there’s that smile I so gratefully see in all kinds of dim and dark, it’s looking my way, that smile you long ago improvised, on the spot, just like that, teeth and lips a flash of song to beat the Bee Gees’.
I smile back and grip your hand in mine, just as the band stops the tune on a rim-shot dime. my arms go up automatically to applaud, and I pull yours up with mine, an awkward, brief push-me pull-you pirouette before I release your hand, and we look at each other and laugh, our laughter drowned out by the percussive claps, the off-beat exhortations, the Yeahs! and Whoops! of the crowd, our own hands now freed to properly strike palm against palm, this communal ritual keeping the beat for the band between songs, you and I and the club counting in the band for their next number, our collective breath caught and held as applause dies, as new notes are born in the hush, in the anticipatory silence of what’s next, what’s new, all the things we are played out for us on tiny, crowded stages, in front of dusty curtains, glints of brass and ivory and cymbal and house-wine smiles caught in the spot-lit dark

we lean, we lean again into the sound.

 

*

Short Fiction Contest Details

 

 

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Poetry

Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. The first volume of this poetry is now published.

Short Fiction

photo FDR Presidential Library & Museum
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #54 — “A Failed Artist’s Paradise” by Nathaniel Neil Whelan

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Interview

A now timely 2002 interview with Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. My hope when I produced this interview was that it would shed some light on this little-known brutal massacre, and help understand the pain and anger so entrenched in the American story. Eighteen years later, that remains my hope. .

Poetry

"Sister" by Warren Goodson
"Shit's About To Go Down" -- a poem by Aurora M. Lewis

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #139

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
This bassist played with (among others) Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole (pictured), Dexter Gordon, James Taylor and Rickie Lee Jones, and was one of the earliest modern jazz tuba soloists. He also turned down offers to join both Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. Who is he?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Frank Morgan, Michel Petrucciani/Charles Lloyd, and Emily Remler are featured

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive