Monday, November 21, 2011
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Sid played bass in the Hot-Time Swingers in Berlin in the 1930s. Ninteen-year-old Hieronymus Falk, a German with a Black father, played trombone. Chip Jones, Sid's boyhood friend from Baltimore, was the drummer. Here Sid describes a session they played with Louis Armstrong, who had heard about Falk's talent:
"Chip's kit was crisp, clean, and I could feel the lazy old tug of the bass line walk down into its basement and hang up its hat, and I begun to smile. Then the kid come in. He was brash, sharp, bright. And then, real late, Armstrong come in. I was shocked. Ain't no bold brass at all. He just trilled in a breezy, casual way, like he giving some dame a second glance in the street without breaking stride. It was just so calm, so effortlessly itself. Give me a damn chill."
Fifty-two years later, on the way to the airport, Sid's cab driver asks, "Where you off to?"
'"London," I said. "I'm going back to London. I live there." Better not to tell folks your business, I figure. Nor to let them know you're leaving your pad empty. A man's got to be careful these days.
"London?" the cabbie said. "No kidding. I used to live in London. England's alright but the food'll kill you. Whereabouts you live over there?"
I frowned. I ain't got no mind for this damn small talk. Best to shut him up quick. "Not London England," I said. "London Ontario. In Canada."
The cabbie's eyes sort of glazed over. Canada kills any conversation quick, I learned long ago. It's a little trick of mine.'
Ha! I never got tired of Sid's cranky voice. I could tell he was suffering from an old pain -- a mix of sorrow and guilt and shame -- and I stayed glued to his telling right up to the last satisfying word.