That winter we lived among mice in the Berkshires, in a little cabin set not far from a large white clapboard house that belonged to the owner Betty, who was a widow. Two steps up to the cabin did nothing to keep the mice away. Their constant tweaking and bustle made me feel I was living in an indoor forest. Betty, who was a nice old lady, warned us. “You’ll never be able to keep the mice out. If you can stand them, the place is yours.”
We had come up to the Berkshires figuring we might have to rough it, but had no idea. Van and I had been together about two years then. The summer before we had been married on a beach in
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“What a shame,” people always said whenever they saw the two of them, Jeremy and Jade. What a shame the beauty of the boy had escaped the girl, who had her mother’s small oval face and father’s prominent nose and small dark eyes that were filled with a peculiar, almost unnatural intensity. “Such a shame,” relatives observed unabashedly at family gatherings. The remaining phrase that hung in air unspoken was, ”that she isn’t the beautiful one. “
To herself in the mirror, Jade’s own face and visage seemed fine, just a part of her, not even all that consequential. Didn’t brains and character matter more? She was striking much in the way Zelda Fitzgerald had been—a beauty you could not capture in photographs, more in movement, gesture, articulation. Somewhere, not far from the small, provincial town where Jade lived, where people stared at you if you did not fit a mold, there were people like her who were different and proud of their differences and she looked forward to meeting them one day. In the meantime, she would have to deal with challenges.
Growing up, many of them had to do with her brother, who was two years older. Although Jade garnered high marks in school, not much was made of it so
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She stood in a room at The Met glancing at the painting on the wall, which was of two women kissing. From her vantage point, standing slightly away and to the side, the two women lying together interlocked in bed appeared cushioned awkwardly in space, free-floating yet connected.
The painting was by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, the alcoholic French dwarf artist, and she tried to imagine what it was like living when he did in Paris at the time of the painting, 1892, and what it might have been like for these two prostitutes and others like them who often turned to one another for relief from a world of men then.
Mireille, it was reported, was one of the girls in the brothel in the Rue d’Amboise, when Lautrec was commissioned to create a series of panels about the lives of the girls there, and she was one of his favorites. He visited the salons of the brothels in the Rue des Moulins and Rue d’Amboise many times to study and paint the women, who felt very free to be
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She was born into a family of musicians. Her father had played bass in a jazz band and traveled with Dizzy until an accident had cost him his arm and his career. Getting out of a limousine that had stalled on the highway en route to a gig in Chicago, he opened the car door to get out at the wrong time, just as a truck was passing.
“C’est la vie” he always said about that, as if it meant something. He had to go on, a musician without a limb, without his instrument, because he was a man and had children and a legacy to uphold through them, but inside, where nothing touched him, he felt as torn as his shoulder had been that night. Something had shifted. Only his wife, his gentle, meek and attendant wife who saw him sitting at the edge of their bed each night head bowed counting his blessings, all but one, only she knew what
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Chantal Doolittle wasn’t like anybody else she knew. Who else, for example, would stand transfixed before a record player or stereo, still as stone while listening to music — not merely attending to it — her very cells taking in the song, calculating and absorbing. “That girl is special,” Nana Esther always said.
When she was a kid and Motown was the thing, Chan would sing Marvin Gaye’s tunes to her grandmother in their high ceilinged apartment, where, more often than not it was soul music, the harmonizing voices of The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, drifting in from the surrounding windows and disappearing into the sky that was perennially a washed out gray, as if there was an invisible flag always at half mast, hanging outside heaven. From the time she was five or six, all Chan had to do was hear a song once and she would know it. She knew all the Motown tunes word for word, and sang them right on key, perfectly, which is why Nana Esther dubbed her, “my little songbird.”
Of course, there was nothing little about Chantal, but, being her grandmother’s one and only, she was “a little one” to her. Chantal was tall, big for her age, and when she developed as a young woman, busty too. She stood out even before she opened her mouth, due to her attitude. Her nana had taught her to be “confident as a man,” and she had seemingly […] Continue reading »
Club Havana was known for hosting decent Afro-Cuban jazz bands. There was dancing Thursdays through Sundays, and Sunday afternoons, the management handed out free cigars. Hector became close to the house band, whose rhythm section inspired him. He thought the drummer Manny was off the charts. Completely bald, he wore leather bands that cinched his pump wrists as if to keep his hands from flying off his body whenever he played fast and furious. A skinny, short guy played bongos, and a drunk worked the tumbadoras. Jorge, Carlos and Javier, all dapper guys, played horns. As if to distinguish themselves, one wore a mustache; another, a hat; and the other, wire rimmed glasses. Additionally, there was a young Julliard graduate on piano, a white-haired Cubano on flute, and a sax player who looked exactly like Lester Young. One afternoon, before their gig, Manny and Hector got to talking, and Hector started messing around on the tumbadoras, imitating what he had so often seen and heard. Manny raised his eyebrows and cocked his head. He liked this kid, and his sound was good.
“Why don’t you come hang with us this weekend. A few of us like to jam at Columbus Circle. Come along and let’s see how you work those congas in a group.”
Over the course of the summer, Hector hung out in the park. It was there he met […] Continue reading »
1. Savoy Blues
Mercies would have put blues on the menu if it could, but that was a province of the kitchen, where I worked four and a half months too many. I heard actual blues music and caught a gust of air conditioning whenever I snuck through the dining area early in my shift to use the guest bathroom before customers arrived, passing the line of booths next to the orange and black walls on which hung colorful modern paintings of jazz musicians and the […] Continue reading »
The publication of Arya Jenkins’ “Broad Street” is the fourth in a series of short stories she has been commissioned to write for Jerry Jazz Musician. For information about her column, please see our September 12 “Letter From the Publisher.”
For Ms. Jenkins’ introduction to her work, read “Coming to Jazz.”
The day I moved into Broad Street, the roiling waters of the Long Island Sound burst over sea walls along the Connecticut coast from New Haven to Greenwich, flooding Bridgeport so badly, a poor, emotionally disturbed man actually drowned in a sewer. At Seaside Park, water rushed across two parking lots, swirled around a few skimpy trees and headed straight for the historic set of row houses that included my basement apartment. It was early December as I arrived, two knapsacks in tow, only to find my new landlady Rosie and my neighbor Alice knee-deep in galoshes in muck, hauling out my furniture.
A week earlier, Alice had lured me with, “There’s a vacancy next door and it’s yours. Everybody’s an artist here. You belong.” I had felt that the studio with its cozy rooms […] Continue reading »
The publication of Arya Jenkins’ “Epistrophy” is the third in a series of short stories she has been commissioned to write for Jerry Jazz Musician. For information about her column, please see our September 12 “Letter From the Publisher.” For Ms. Jenkins’ introduction to her work, read “Coming to Jazz.”
Disenchanted leaves fell early through the trees the summer I left my life for an ashram. The path to the ashram snaked into the woods not far from Tanglewood and reminded me less of where I had been than where I was going with its rotund emphasis on kindness and formality-Within a year I would be studying Buddhism in a monastery and teaching English at Cornell in Ithaca.
I was attempting to put a punto finale to the moneyed nonsense in which I’d lived too long in Fairfield County, and wanted to quell my fulminating instinct, my destructive fires and find some kind of peace and stability, even at the expense of boredom–which may have been expecting too much.
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My friend Carl lived in a house full of ghosts with an evil sonofabitch brother who stole his shit, I mean all of it. But Carl himself, man, Carl was good as gold. He would give you the shirt off his back–everything, and did.
I moved in with my ex-old lady across the street from him in the late 80s when I was drying out and desperate for change. Marcy took me in, even after I had been such a dick. She knew it was the booze made me sleep around, and even though she kicked my drunken ass out on the curb, she took me in once she saw I was sober and clean. By then, she was already shacked up with a polite, fat, slob who was everything I wasn’t or would ever be.
Homestead Avenue, where we lived, was a pleasant street in a nice section of Fairfield called Black Rock, near the water. At the time, people were starting to navigate to the hood, although since then real estate prices have dropped due to the many storms–there have been too many storms in the area, man. But because of Black Rock’s proximity to the sound, which is like the sea, artists and strange people gravitate there.
I noticed Carl right off the bat. You couldn’t help but see him sitting on his porch with his supersized feet, head and limbs, a Franken monster. So I crossed the street one day to meet my neighbor, who looked a sorry sight–blackish long hair […] Continue reading »