ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the January 3, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] alatefeline, [personal profile] technoshaman, and [personal profile] johnpalmer. It also fills the "angst" square in my 1-1-17 card for the Dark Fantasy Bingo fest. This poem is the free epic for the April 4, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl, based on an audience poll. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"How to Get It Out"


Shiv was bussing tables
after the jazz joint closed for
the night. He wasn't fond of it,
but it was work he could do, and
at least it wasn't pushing papers.

The members of tonight's band,
the River City Flats, were up visiting
Omaha from the River City Blues Club.

Having taken a break after their last set,
they were now fooling around on the stage.

They had five people. Bujune Saint John,
the keyboardist, was the grandfather of
Demondre and Burley, both of whom
played tenor saxophone. Hwan Robertson
played alto saxophone, and Elliot Spicer
had a double bass taller than himself.

They didn't have a drummer,
so Popgun had filled in there,
but he'd already gone to bed.

Shiv wasn't sleepy, and he drifted
closer to the stage so he could listen.

"Your boss says you play sax."

Startled, Shiv looked up to find
Bujune watching him. "I, uh,
I'm learning. Or trying to."

"Why don't you go get your horn,
then come up here and jam
with us?" Bujune invited.

"Uh ..." Shiv looked around for
an excuse, then realized with
a sinking sensation that he had
already cleared all of the tables.

Boss White cleared his throat.
"When a man invites you to jam,
it's rude to refuse," he said.

"But I can hardly play the sax,"
Shiv hissed, feeling desperate.

"Have you been practicin' like
I showed you?" Boss White asked.

"Yeah, but I'm still not good enough
to get on a stage," Shiv protested.
Especially not that one, with the cats
he'd heard playing so sweet all night.
No way would he ever sound that good.

"Club's closed," Boss White said.
"Right now, it's not a stage, it's just
a place to sit. Run go get that horn."

An order was an order, so Shiv
dropped his rag on the nearest table
and jogged up to his apartment to get
his saxophone. He took a few moments
to assemble it, then walked back down.

"I don't know why you want me,"
Shiv said as he climbed onto the stage.
"If you're looking for another musician,
well, I just don't have it in me."

The old man laughed, long gray dreadlocks
swinging. "You got that exactly backwards,
boy," he said. "Music ain't somethin' that
you put in. It's something you let out."

"I don't get it," Shiv said, frowning.

"Music -- especially jazz and blues --
doesn't come from outside you. It comes
from inside you," Bujune said. "What you
got to do is dig around in there until you
find it, and then figure how to get it out."

Shiv thought about what Boss White
had said when giving him the horn.

He thought about how Dymin could get up
on stage and just sing her damn heart out,
like the time she had a bad breakup and
she sounded like she was about to puke up
the broken bits right there on the floorboards,
but it had the whole audience clapping
and crying at the same time.

He thought about how it felt
when he found the one right note.

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said.

"Don't you maybe me," Bujune said.
"Ain't nobody works in a jazz joint
without they had a hard life, and
a happy life makes crappy jazz."

"Can't argue with that one," Shiv admitted.

"All right, then!" Bujune said, clapping
his hands. "You quit draggin' your feet,
sit your ass down, and blow your heart out.
Don't worry about makin' it fancy, just give us
a decent drone and we'll build a tune around it."

Apparently all those breath exercises
about holding a note were about
to be of some actual use.

"Okay," Shiv lied, and sat down.

He rubbed his fingers over the horn,
finding all the little dings and dents.

There weren't as many now as there
used to be. Shiv wasn't doing anything
on purpose, but he swore his superpower
was somehow smoothing out the flaws,
a little at a time. He thought the sax
sounded better, too, but wasn't sure.

"You may be wondering why I asked you
up here, when we got three saxes already,"
Bujune said, giving Shiv an expectant look.

"Yeah," Shiv said. His fingers tapped
at the keys, restless and edgy.

"With two tenors and two altos,
we can put one of each on drone
and let the other play a tune,"
Bujune explained. "Boys,
flip a coin for who goes first."

Demondre and Burley did it,
and Burley wound up on drone.

Shiv tried, he really did, but
the sax squeaked and stuttered
and stubbornly refused to mind.

"I told you I can't do this," he muttered.

He was such a fuckup. Everybody
knew it. Why couldn't they just leave him
on the beat as muscle and be done with it?
At least that was one thing he did well.

"Put your tongue on the reed for a minute,"
Bujune said. "That'll soften it up a bit
and make it easier for you to play."

Shiv did so, carefully. It was sharp.
He'd slit his lip on the thing once,
which had been fun for about
three seconds and then sucked.

To his surprise, the trick worked.
When he blew, the horn gave out
a warm, mellow note just like
it was supposed to do.

"That's good," Bujune said.
"You hold it just like that, and
don't pay us no mind. You
ever hum while you work?"

"Yeah, sometimes," Shiv said.

"Think of it that way, then,"
said Bujune. "You keep up
that hum, and we'll do our thing."

So Shiv played the best drone
that he could, which wasn't great,
but got the job done, and he
listened to the band.

Playing the same note for
as long as he had breath was
boring, but he had to admit that
with the deeper tenor drone,
it sounded pretty good.

The other two saxophones
noodled around on top of that.

Elliot plucked his bass, and
he was as steady on the beat
as a drummer, giving the strings
a good thwack that made them
sound almost like percussion.

Bujune's fingers flowed over
the keyboard, the notes light and
airy as thistledown dancing in the wind.

Then the music turned darker,
deeper, like a storm blowing in.

Elliot's base rumbled like thunder,
and Bujune slid down to the low notes
on his keyboard. Demondre somehow
made his horn wail like the wind.

Shiv played the drone, and then
something amazing happened:
it stopped being boring.

He remembered lying in bed
on a hot summer day, way up
in the attic bedroom, hating
everyone and feeling like
he was about to explode.

Feeling like a thundercloud
the moment before the lightning.

That feeling came up and out
through his mouth, and the horn
gave a long, low moan like a tree
in a storm, bending and creaking.

Shiv wasn't doing anything different
that he could tell, but it sure sounded
different, and the cats all grinned
and nodded at him, so he must be
doing something right after all.

He lost himself in the sound
of the drone and the way that
his breathing had to wrap itself
around the music, until he felt
lightheaded and half-stoned.

The music wound its way from
storm to river to ocean waves,
different tides of emotion surging
through the instruments around him.

It was rage and heartache and
a fierce, rebellious joy. The blue notes
gave it a willful air, just that little bit
off true, like musical delinquents.

Shiv's mouth wanted to smile,
and the drone note sweetened
between his lips, even though he
still wasn't doing anything deliberate
to change the sound of it.

At last the music wound down
and the jam session broke up.

Bujune clapped Shiv on the shoulder,
hard enough to rock him in his chair,
but the soft spread hand didn't hurt.

"There now, I knew you had it in you!"
the old man exclaimed with a grin.

The other band members nodded
and shook Shiv's hand and thanked him
for jamming along with them.

Boss White cleared his throat, and
Shiv wondered what the heck
he could be signaling for.

Then Shiv realized, and
mumbled his own thanks.
He still didn't know why they
were so fired up about him,
but he could go through
the motions of manners.

"Go on up to bed, Shiv,
you look about done in,"
Boss White said.

"But I'm supposed to help
load up the van," Shiv said.
He liked roadie work a lot better
than bussing tables, even if he
couldn't lift as much as some of
the other guys could. "Besides,
I'm not even tired anymore."

That was funny. He had been
exhausted before he started playing.

"Yes, you are, even if you can't
feel it right now," said Boss White.
"You need sleep, so git."

"Okay, boss," said Shiv.

He nodded to the band,
who were picking up their stuff
from the stage. Then he went
upstairs to his apartment.

He took apart his saxophone
cleaned it carefully, and then
put it back into its case.

By then he actually did feel sleepy.

Shiv got ready for bed, then
lay on his back and stared up
at the smooth white ceiling.

One hand drifted over
the Microfyne blanket, and
the other curled under his pillow.

In his mind, he could still hear
the soulful sound of his sax.

* * *

Notes:

Burley Saint John -- He is short and fat, with toasty brown skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. He is 19 years old. He is the grandson of Bujune Saint John and the younger brother of Demondre. He lives with his family in a 3-bedroom apartment above the River City Blues Club. Burley plays tenor saxophone for a band called the River City Flats.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Reliable, Good (+2) Durable, Good (+2) Follower, Good (+2) Tenor Saxophone Player
Poor (-2) Out of Shape

Hwan Robertson -- He has golden-fair skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and short black hair. He is average height with a squarish face. He is 24 years old. He lives with his roommate Elliot Spicer in a 2-bedroom apartment above the River City Blues Club. Hwan plays alto saxophone for a band called the River City Flats.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Dexterity, Good (+2) Alto Saxophone Player, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Memory
Poor (-2) Making Plans

Demondre Saint John -- He is tall and thin, with toffee brown skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. He is 21 years old. He is the grandson of Bujune Saint John and the older brother of Burley. He lives with his family in a 3-bedroom apartment above the River City Blues Club. Demondre plays tenor saxophone for a band called the River City Flats.
Qualities: Good (+2) Family Traditions, Good (+2) Intellectual, Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Tall, Good (+2) Tenor Saxophone Player
Poor (-2) Sensitive to Cold

Elliot Spicer -- He has pale skin, green eyes, and a sheepdog mop of very curly brown hair that hides half his face. He is 18 years old. He lives with his roommate Hwan Robertson in a 2-bedroom apartment above the River City Blues Club. Elliot belongs to a band called the River City Flats. He plays double bass in jazz and blues. He is also learning acoustic guitar, but so far has only average skill at that.
Qualities: Good (+2) College Student, Good (+2) Hipster, Good (+2) Double Bass Player, Good (+2) Nimble, Good (+2) Soulful
Poor (-2) Family Drama

Bujune Saint John -- He has mahogany skin, brown eyes, and long gray dreadlocks. He is the grandfather of Demondre and Burley Saint John. He lives across the hall from his family in a studio apartment above the River City Blues Club. Bujune belongs to a band called the River City Flats. He can play piano, organ, and synthesizer with equal skill. His poor vision makes it risky for him to drive, so he prefers to ride with someone else or take the bus.
Qualities: Master (+6) Keyboards, Expert (+4) Observant, Expert (+4) Patriarch, Good (+2) Contentment, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Music Store Owner, Good (+2) Teacher
Poor (-2) Driver

* * *

"I've come up with the theory that the music is within. We don't bring it in; it's already there. We have to figure out how to get it out."
-- Howard Roberts

The River City Blues Club is the brown-and-white building in the foreground. The basement car park has 7 regular spaces and 1 ADA space, elevator, fire stairs, and a garbage room. The ground floor features a jazz lobby, planter, bar, jazz club, stage, large lounge, small lounge, women's restroom, men's restroom, ADA dottie, elevator lobby, elevator, fire stairs, kitchen, and storage pantry. The first floor has one studio apartment, a garden feature, fire stairs, elevator, cafe restaurant, dottie, cafe kitchen, and a storage pantry. The second floor contains one studio apartment (home to Bujune), and one large apartment with two master bedrooms and a spare bedroom (home to Burley and Demondre). The third floor has two 2-bedroom apartments (home to Hwan and Elliot). The roof holds tables and chairs, lounges under umbrellas, a roof garden, an arbor of muscadine grapes, elevator, fire stairs, water tanks, and solar panels.

This center of this picture shows the outside of the Blues Moon building with the main floor and two layers of apartments. The smaller building on the right also belongs to the Ebonies & Ivories, used as storage space for artwork and furnishings which can be used in any of the apartments above the jazz joint. Here is the layout of the main floor showing the jazz club and restaurant. The two floors above the club have apartments similar to these. The hallway extends all the way to the back stairs. The central stairwell and elevator is instead a common lounge area. On the lower floor, the front right "open" apartment is a flop room with multiple beds, which can sleep a total of 12 people. The front left "Mies" apartment is furnished normally, but not permanently assigned, used as temporary housing or extra function space as needed. Shiv gets the back left "standard" apartment, with the bathroom protected inside the bedroom. Popgun has the right middle semi-open apartment. On the top floor, Boss White has the back left "standard" apartment, and Lieutenant Brown has the back right semi-open apartment.

The stage is flanked by two bars. This stairwell leads from the jazz club to the apartments. In Shiv's living room, the black-bordered blanket is spread over a large futon. Shiv's bedroom has the bed framed by old windows.

Bussing tables is a basic job at a club or restaurant.

Jazz music is often played by several people in a jazz band. It features a variety of instruments.

Saxophones come in several types. They are popular in jazz. Learn how to play jazz saxophone.

Double bass is large bowed string instrument popular for jazz base. Read about playing it.

Keyboards also have a diversity of styles. Jazz piano may be played on a piano or electric keyboard.

A jam session is an informal gathering where several musicians play together, often improvising. Learn some techniques for jazz improvisation. Here is a basic lesson in improvisation for jazz piano. Set up and try some tips for jamming. Enjoy a lesson in blues jamming for electric guitar. Listen to some pros jam with guitars, keyboard, and saxophone.

One extremely useful technique in horns is playing a good long drone note. As a musical exercise, it's boring but it hones several skills simultaneously including pitch, control, and support. Then when you get into a jam session or band, you can divide out the duplicate horns so that one person plays a drone while the other(s) plays riffs. This adds a great deal of depth and complexity to the music. Also, being willing and able to drone can make you popular because most people want to get onstage and show off. They like a guy who'll just sit there and blow. Since the last thing Shiv wants is limelight, this works out great. Later on, you learn to jam by improvising riffs over someone else's drone. Extensively used in blues, the drone also appears in jazz.

Particularly with new musicians, hearing an expert can create one of two feelings: "I want to play like that and should practice more," or "I could never play like that and should just quit now." Imposter syndrome is when someone feels they don't have a right to be what or where they are. In musicians, it manifests as never feeling good enough, as if they not "real" musicians. (If you play an instrument, you are a real musician. Quality is another question altogether.) There are ways to overcome imposter syndrome.

Music and emotion have a deep connection. Music is what emotions sound like, and it can express feelings that are difficult or impossible to put into words. Read about expressing emotion with a saxophone or a guitar.
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