Short Fiction Contest-winning story #44 — “Da Capo al Fine” by J. Lee Strickland

March 4th, 2017

.

.

New Short Fiction Award

Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.

J. Lee Strickland of Gloversville, New York is the winner of the 44th Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on March 4, 2017.

.

.

J. Lee Strickland

.

*

.

 Lee Strickland is a freelance writer and musician living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction and poetry, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixfold, Atticus Review, Mad Scientist Journal, Latchkey Tales, Scarlet Leaf Review, Workers Write!, Pure Slush, Small Farm Journal, and others. He served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 storySouth Million Writers Awards. He is at work on a collection of connected short stories vaguely similar in format to the long-defunct American television series ‘Naked City’ — but without the salacious title.

.

.

_____

.

.

 

.

Da Capo al Fine

by

J. Lee Strickland

.

________

.

 

 

‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ John 1:30

I wake up when the door opens. Instant-awake, alert. I’m staring at the ceiling, at the ornate medallion in its center. Late-night city glow from the windows casts awkward shadows on the plaster. The light clicks on, and I hear a gasp. I feel a sympathetic shot of adrenaline hit my chest. I look toward the door, and there’s a woman there, a stranger. A beauty, too, dressed in a black pants-suit, purse slung over a shoulder, the jacket cut and fitted to her slim waist matador-style. Beneath the jacket, she’s wearing a white blouse with an enormous collar that flares out over her shoulders and breast, like gull wings. Her hair is loose, brown, shoulder-length, streaked with bits of blonde, her face around her dark eyes a mix of fear and puzzlement.

“Who are you?” she says, her hand still on the light switch. “What are you doing here?” Her voice quivers.

I look around. The ceiling looks like my apartment. The door and the windows are in the right place, but nothing else looks like it belongs to me. I’m sprawled on a couch, but it’s not my couch. I push myself to a sitting position. She backs up against the door, grasping the handle. I can feel the alcohol and uppers still battling just beneath my skin, and something else — that purple gel cap the bass player’s girlfriend handed me. What the hell was that? It’s all pulsing around, but it’s a final skirmish, a long way from the exhilarating high of the evening.

I wipe my eyes even though I’m wide awake. “Jesus, I’m sorry, Miss,” I finally blurt out. “I was partying a bit. Guess I overdid it.”

I’ve done the overdone thing before. Elements of fun I call them: booze, pot, coke, smack, uppers, downers, psychedelics. Get just the right combination of elements of fun and, poof, a bit of your life evaporates.

“I must have wandered into the wrong apartment,” I say as I’m looking some more. The layout is identical to mine, even the old plaster moldings that cap the tops of the walls and frame the doorways.

“I swear it was an accident. I meant no harm. I’m a musician. Just finished a gig down at the Circle.” I reach for the handle of my sax case on the floor beside the couch. “Did you leave your door unlocked or something?”

“I never…” she says, but now her eyes are on the case, her hand no longer on the door handle.

“Let me just get out of your way,” I say.

As I’m getting my feet under me she says, “You know how to play that thing?”

I look at her. She’s away from the door. Her arms are crossed in front of her, and she’s looking like she believes me, or like she’s testing me.

I chuckle. “You want to hear something?”

She nods, so I open the case on the coffee table and suck on a reed as I’m putting my axe together. I sit on the edge of the couch and play a ballad, Satin and Silver, a quiet, contemplative piece, because I think it’s late and there might be neighbors, and because it’s a new composition of mine that I’m particularly proud of, and I think mellow might just take some of the edge off a strange situation. I get through it, bringing the tenor in low for a pulsing, heartbeat landing, and we’re just quiet for a minute.

Then she says, “I heard somebody else play that today. He played it better than you.”

“No way.” I shake my head. “I just wrote that two weeks ago. I’ve only played it out once.”

“Here, look,” she says. She pulls a slim, silver rectangle from her purse. It looks like one of those classy cigarette cases women accessorized with in the old film noir movies, but it’s not what you’d expect to see in 1973 New York City. It’s got a black lid and she’s tapping at it, but it doesn’t open. She comes over and sits next to me on the couch and holds the case above my lap, leaning into me a little.

I can’t believe my eyes. The thing is a TV. A little TV that she’s holding in her hand, and it’s in color. The tiny picture is incredible in its detail. I’m looking at this old cat in a wheelchair. He’s bald except for a little fringe of white fuzz, dressed in pajamas and a loose robe. He has a tenor in his hands, same make as mine, looks like, but a lot more age. He starts blowing and he’s playing Satin and Silver. He’s playing it in Ab instead of Bb, and I can see how it makes sense, the notes just falling under his fingers, and I want to grab my sax and feel for myself the way the song was made for that key.

But I don’t. I just listen as the old man plays the song, my song, through to that last long, low, pulsing note. I’m speechless. I feel like I’m lost in some crazy dream. She sets the little TV on the coffee table, lays a hand on my arm and says, “Why don’t you just stay a while.”

.

#

.

Myra held the door as the orderly wheeled the elderly man into the room. She had opened the shades, and morning sunlight streamed in, bouncing off the pastel walls, the neatly made bed, the desk and chairs. The man was bald except for a fringe of white fuzz. He wore pajamas, furry slippers and a loose robe. In his lap he held a large rectangular case of distinctive oxblood leather burnished with use. Myra glanced at the folder she held, but didn’t read it. She preferred the new residents to give her the information they thought was important first. There would be time for the folder later. She loved the old folks she tended, in spite of their infirmities, their complaints, their suffering. They were treasures of experience, and she had learned that they loved it when she acknowledged that.

“What’s in the box, Mr. Hayes?”

“It’s Gil, Miss. Just Gil. I’ve never been a mister.”

“I’m Myra.” She extended her hand. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been missed.” Corny, but it got a smile out of him, and his handshake was firm, his eyes bright and focused on her face. “So, are you going to tell me?”

“It’s my saxophone,” he said and slapped the top of the case.

“Do you know how to play it?” she asked.

“I can’t walk anymore, but I can still play my horn.”

“How old are you, Gil?”

He laughed. “Old enough to wish I had taken better care of myself when I was younger.”

“Well, we’re both only getting older. You going to play me a tune?”

“Sure will.” He opened the case, fingers nimble, and put a reed in his mouth as he assembled the saxophone. “I’m gonna play you a tune that’s paid my bills for the last forty-odd years. Hell, it’ll be paying part of your salary. I think you’ll like it.”

Myra leaned against the door frame and pulled out her phone. She set it to video and aimed as the old man started to play.

.

.

________

.

.

Short Fiction Contest Details

.

.

.

 

 

Share this:

3 comments on “Short Fiction Contest-winning story #44 — “Da Capo al Fine” by J. Lee Strickland”

Comment on this article:

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

In This Issue

Painting of Clifford Brown by Warren Goodson
The 43 poets who contribute to the Summer Collection of jazz poetry communicate their heartfelt passion for the artistry and inspiration found in jazz music, and help readers, in the words of Art Blakey, “wash away the dust of everyday life” – a special gift to share during this restless summer of discontent…and hope.

Interview

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.

Publisher’s Notes

Grant Park, Portland, Sep 16, 2020
On a challenging summer in Portland, the passing of Stanley Crouch, and upcoming opportunities for writers

Great Encounters

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Will Friedwald, author of Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole, writes about the 1940 Lionel Hampton/King Cole Trio RCA Victor recording sessions.

Interview

photo of James Baldwin by Allan Warren
In our interview with Nicholas Buccola, author of The Fire is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America, the author tells the story of the historic 1965 Cambridge Union debate between Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and Buckley, a staunch opponent of the movement and founder in 1955 of the leading conservative publication, National Review. The evening’s debate topic? “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”

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. 14 poets contribute to the first volume of collected poetry.

Poetry

photo by Russell duPont
The second volume of poetry reflecting this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season features the work of 23 poets

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

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.

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin are featured

Poetry

Frits De Jong / CC0
“Nocturne in a Whirling Fan” — a poem by Joel Glickman

Humor

painting of Louis Armstrong by Vakseen
In Dig Wayne's "Iconolast," Louis Armstrong is responsible for saving the lives of every man, woman and child on the ball bearing line at the Radio Flyer wagon factory...

Poetry

photo by John Vachon/Library of Congress
“Climate Change” — Ten poems in sequence by John Stupp

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 #140

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Although he had success as a bandleader in the 1930’s, he is best known for being manager of Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse (where Thelonious Monk was the pianist) during the birth of bebop. Who was 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.

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...

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

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.

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)

“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…

Coming Soon

photo of Erroll Garner by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
The historian and most eminent jazz writer of his generation Dan Morgenstern joins pianist Christian Sands -- the Creative Ambassador of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project -- in a conversation about Garner's historic legacy. Also…an autumn collection of poetry; Will Friedwald, author of Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole is interviewed about the legendary pianist and vocalist; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction, poetry, and lots more in the works...

Contributing writers

Site Archive