Words and Music by John Allee
Now entertain conjecture of a time, maybe it's 1958, maybe it's 1598, maybe it's today. The date's ambiguous, but the locale is definitely seedy: An out-of-the-way jazz club called "We Three Kings," about which the best thing you can say is the piano's in tune and everybody's been vaccinated.
Feste "The Bardfly" Johnson has been holding court at a sit-down gig every Saturday in February (Two shows nightly. During leap year they make up for lost time by playing all the tempos twice as fast.) sharing the elevation with a tight little combo he met when they were all working downtown at Jack's Slacks For Less over on East Cheap Boulevard. Free tailoring with every purchase. "Let Jack take up the slack."
They're like the Swiss Army knife of jazz quintets. All their instruments have multiple uses. The saxophone doubles as a sledgehammer, breaking down all romantics into a rubble of regret and longing. The trumpet is also a pencil sharpener and a fine furniture polish, slick and shiny and reflective. The piano, of course, functions as a .45 caliber Tommy Gun, AKA the Chicago Piano, AKA the annihilator, and in its more crystalline moments, a chandelier. The bass converts to a lectern from which its strict and righteous rhythms are handed down. The drums moonlight as a, well, as a commuter train, carrying the audience from the deep heart of Kansas City blues to the gumbo pot of New Orleans hot jazz to the shimmering uptown pulse of a Harlem nocturne.
The band provides the only heat in the place, with the exception of Miss Nell, the cocktail waitress who, like the instruments, has a dual purpose, but only one of them is consensual.
Old Feste's been working up some tunes cobbled together from various bits of things -- A used hymnal with a "Property of Stratford Unified" stamp on the inside cover, a few scraps of paper of indeterminate origin -- most likely an unpaid utility bill or the back of a "Dear Romeo" letter, or maybe the discarded remnants of a forgotten folio.
The crowd is hushed, which is only the result of their current state of inebriation and will change with the particular alchemical machinations of the resident bar keep who keeps a sharpened halberd mounted above the register and who makes a mean Martini he calls a Sirocco that is one part gin and three parts loneliness -- A drink so dry, you need another one just to wash it down.
The players hit the stage, ready to strut and fret for an hour set, and for one brief candle of a moment everyone's worries, like the rocks in their spirits, will melt into air, into thin air.
© 2019 John Allee/Portuguese Knees Music ASCAP.
Lyrics Reprinted with Permission. All Rights Reserved.