The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

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JUNE 2022 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: Music

8. March 4, 1955, Broadway just above West 52nd Street

A quintet (sax, trumpet, piano, bass, drums) led by a legendary saxophonist is booked for two nights at a midtown jazz club. The first evening gets off to a bad start when the piano player, who has a long history of alcoholism and mental health problems, tells the sax player, who himself has struggled with heroin addiction, “You ain’t playing shit no more.” While not without some truth—years of hard living have taken their toll on the legend’s musical ability—the horn player isn’t in the mood to take this insult from a pianist whose own playing that night is a shambles. The two men briefly trade curses before the pianist slams down the keyboard lid of his instrument and storms off stage. At this point, the saxophonist begins to intone the absent pianist’s name over and over into the microphone. The other three musicians do their best to keep the tune going, but after a few moments the bass player has also had enough. He walks to the microphone and announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t associate me with any of this. This is not jazz. These are sick people.” One by one, the remaining four musicians leave the stage. Eight days later the saxophonist is dead, felled by a heart attack. As a music critic who was present at the disastrous performance later noted, “the attending physician, basing his judgment on the physical condition of the corpse,” estimated the musician’s age to be between 50 and 60. In fact, he was 34.


(Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Nat Hentoff)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

All Issues