Friday, January 8, 2010


A short story about finding your inner voice.

Words by Keith Giles. Pictures by Jeff Spokes
Copyright 2007, Plastic Animal Studios

By Keith Giles
Art by Jeff Spokes

Smoke dances on the bell of my horn

There’s the smell of patchouli and rosemary in the air

My first teacher told me once,

“You can’t teach someone improvisation,” he said

“Anymore than you can speak a language before you know the words.”

Benny on the stand-up slaps the upbeat

Melvin starts to play a smooth riff on the keys.

Jay taps out a warm groove on the skins

His brushes sound like a windstorm building in the distance

The mouthpiece is cold to my lips

I miss my intro measure and the guys cover for me.

I struggle with what to play..

“It’s like intuition,” my teacher said.

“Like the will of God or a woman’s glance from across the room.”

“You can never be sure until you’re sure,” he said.

“You’ve just got to feel it, boy”

The sweetness is deep, like the bottom of a well. Sometimes you drop the bucket down…”

“You come up dry..”

“But, sometimes, you hear that splash and reel in the sweet water…”

“And it tastes like rain on your tongue.”

Random notes, possibilities, fly across my mind

Something swells in my heart, like a songbird spreading her wings.

I close my eyes.

“It’s all about the context, son,” I hear him whisper.

“But the trick, if there is such a thing, is to never go back to the same well twice.”

He told me about the young Mozart, improvising at the piano before he could climb a tree.

And a young Beethoven, fingers trembling with anticipation, intoxicated with this same burning,

..playing every note before it could diminish in his mind, chasing it down.

“It’s letting go, and it’s being in complete control,” he said.

“Like automatic writing, speaking in tongues, and falling in love.”

Brahms, he told me, carried his Intermezzi around for over two years
Comitting them to paper only under protest

Loving the sense of danger, the high-wire act, the walk along the razor’s edge

This is the opium of my soul, the same elusive spirit Mozart exhaled, the same burn that seared the soul of a young Beethoven, fingers trembling at the keys, eyes closed, head swaying, tears along the corners of his face…

And here I stand…

Who am I?

Not Mozart…

Not Brahms…

No one to you..

No one to them…

But the burning…the seething thing in my spirit…pounding in my chest…filling up my lungs, leaps from my mouth

Into the horn

Moves my fingertips like some invisible spider’s silk

Cries out in the darkness of the night

“You can’t teach improvisation,” he said to me.

“But you can learn it, son”

Benny turns the rhythm around, Jay follows his lead,

I step down the key on a wild eighth note run, swirling the melody like a whirlpool, pulling the connection between us taught, daring them to follow me down.

We slip into a riff that sounds like a Coltrane joint.

Jay reaches down and pulls out a rain stick, he starts pounding it on the floor of the stage, flipping it to let the rain sounds sizzle like gristle on a hot stove

I chop out the notes, swelling the end of each measure like a mournful wail before I relent and set it free.

Benny takes a run on his bass while Jay slips up the beat. He’s down on the three, then the one, then the two.

There ain’t no wrong way to cut it loose,” he would say.

“There ain’t no right way either.”

I start a slow progression along the edge of Benny’s pulsing bass line, then I let out a single wail along the circle of fifths that is just a hair flat, right up until Jay hits the next measure and Benny’s next note catches up with me.

I take that moment to start blazing down the scale like a banshee.

Jay paradiddles now and the momentum builds. Benny scoops and slides his notes until I expect his fingers to start to bleed.

Everyone’s head in the courtyard begins to bounce.

On my last day of class, the old man gave me his horn.

“Miles Davis once played this horn,” he said.

I knew it was probably a lie, but it felt good.

I take a stab at the empty spaces between the staccato rhythm the guys have going.

My notes pierce the sky at random points along the curve, taking flight, riding the updrafts, soaring on wings of color and sadness.

My horn begins to weep between the mesh of drum and bass. Seeping through like rain against a screen door.

I breathe through the instrument that the old man placed in my hands that day.

The day he died.

My teacher…
My Father…
My friend…

I inhale the moonlight, exhale the deep ache of his ghost in me.

I cut it loose.


No comments: