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Warmth engulfs the space around me, smothering me in a pillow of velvet. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, and it’s awful! I wasn’t meant to lie around all day! I was made to sing, to breathe, and to hum with the rhythm in my soul. But no—instead I’m stuck in this prison cell all alone.
A sudden noise interrupts my thoughts. Silky-smooth melodies fill the air in a rich tone. Music with that much soul could only belong to Louis Jordan. He taps a rhythm out with his foot and whistles a tune, adding in words where he desires and snapping to the beat. I tremble with excitement from the inside out. It’s been so long since Louis came up to visit me in this dusty attic. I have been lying dormant for too long, and I think it’s time to make music again. Earthquakes jolt me awake, beckoning my soul to return to me to make music once more. His rough hand knocks against the prison door and I am reminded of the King trumpeting, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”
“Selmer, old boy, I think it’s time we enjoyed each other’s company again.” Two clicking sounds followed as he unlocked me from my cell. Light filters into every crevice as Louis’ dark face is reflected into my golden surface. His fingertips barely grace my smooth skin as they caress my body lovingly, and my insides are instantly filled with warmth. Once more we would be reunited; bonded by our passion for jazz. Louis’ hands fully embrace the weight of the brass as I thrust upward high above my case. My neck is attached and my mouth is reconnected to cast my voice to the world. Together our talents combine harmoniously. We play for hours in the stuffy little attic, but neither of us is bothered by it. Louis sways to the music as his fingers slide across my pearly white keys. We are one body and we possess one soul. I feel invincible. Finally Louis sets me down gently, wheezing from exhaustion. He takes a handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes the sweat off of his brow. All the while the broad smile remains on his face as he looks at me proudly. I beam up at him in response with my golden surface.
“We’ve still got it Selmer. It’s gonna be the berries tomorrow night; you’ll see”, Louis enthused with bright eyes.
“Tomorrow night?” I thought to myself, “What could we be doing tomorrow night? We haven’t played together in five years and suddenly we have a gig that’s ‘the berries?’”
Carefully Louis took me apart piece by piece and gently laid me on my velvet pillow before locking me up again to keep me safe. As his footsteps slowly retreated down the stairs, I could do nothing but hope that he would return again tomorrow night. I could hear a night owl calling in the night, but other than that, it was quiet. The darkness pressed closer around me as I slowly drifted back into hibernation to await his return.
I am awoken with a sudden start the following day, but I am unsure what time of day it was. Was Louis keeping his promise? My question is answered when I hear his familiar footfalls mounting the stairs. I quiver with excitement from my neck down to my bell. The footsteps come closer and closer until they stop, right before where I am sitting. I hold my breath, waiting in anticipation of what is in store. Finally I ascend into the air and it feels like I’m falling as he grabs a hold of me; case and all.
His hand comes to a rest, and I know I am hovering above the floor, comfortably clutched in his palm. “Let’s get a wiggle on Selmer. This might be the one chance we’ve been looking for. Trust me this Juice Joint is the Bee’s Knees!” Louis assures me. Gosh I hope he’s right. I don’t want to be locked up in that attic again. And unfortunately, Louis has been wrong before. I don’t understand it, but people look at us differently. Louis is always referred to as “colored”, so maybe it has to do with that. Is it because of our colors? Could it be the fact that my gold shines so brightly or because his skin is darker than other people? I’m not sure. But for some reason people with pale skin don’t always want to hear Louis’ music. I think they’re all wet, but apparently they hold very influential opinions on his ambitions. But obviously, Louis is not very concerned about this, so I suppose I can have a little faith in him. I allow myself to be carried down the stairs for the first time in five years. It feels so good to be free!
It’s hard to tell how much time is passing as I am placed in the passenger side of his Model-T. The ride is smooth and Louis sings the whole way to make the ride go even faster. It feels like only moments before the car slows to a stop and Louis jogs to the passenger side and grabs my case by the handle. I cannot tell exactly where we are, but apparently it’s some sort of speakeasy. Suddenly Louis’ smooth stride is halted as a person stops us at the door. ”What’s that?” he asks, indicating me.
“This here is Selmer, my saxophone.” Louis replies smoothly.
Clearly the man’s interest is piqued because he continues to ask him about me, “Really? What kind of saxophone do you play?”
I can assume the man smiles; I can hear it in his voice. “That’s mighty swell. So…where you off to?”
Louis answers promptly, “To see my doll.”
Almost instantly, there is the sound of a door opening as the man allows us access into the building. Louis enters inside and soon sets me down. He takes in a sharp breath and begins unlocking me from my case. One click…two clicks…free at last! Louis smiles over me with shaking hands. “Here we are Selmer. Let’s make some music tonight.”
I give my silent consent as he once again attaches my neck to my body and connects my mouth to me once more. He wiggles his fingers a few times against my keys to get out the heebie-jeebies, but I know he’s still nervous. “We’ll be fine. Louis”, my keys whisper against his skin, “Everything will be okay.” It seems as if Louis responds well to this as his hands stop trembling. Finally, a white many comes up to us smoking a ciggy and waving us towards the stage entrance. I can’t help but wonder how on Earth Louis managed to get this gig if the Big Cheese was a white man. I’m impressed.
Slowly Louis saunters on stage, and the room goes silent instantaneously. I look around at all the people sitting around at tables and standing on the dance floor talking. The moment we came out, however, all eyes were on us. A few people actually cheer. Wow…this was not what I was used to. Almost everybody has a drink in their hand, but I haven’t been living under a rock. I know it’s illegal. This whole place is hidden from the law. It kind of adds a bit of excitement, actually. Finally Louis stands straight and tall and before I can even think, we’re playing a jazzy melody. The entire room is watching us as Louis moves to the music. I can see smiles forming. I watch as daring flapper girls begin to drag their boyfriends onto the dance floor. Suddenly, the night is alive, and we are at the center of it. Our music fills the space with sound; joyous and smooth sounds that are pleasing to the ear. Together we are invincible, and we can do anything.
I watch the people as Louis plays. The short bob cuts of the flapper girls bounce with all of their crazy moves. Some of them are thrown into the air—Lindy Hoppers. Others kicked their heels up high to the beat with a lively Charleston. I love watching them. They’re alive with rhythm. They all have jazz in their souls too…it’s amazing how it spreads like a wildfire. The bar tender keeps the energy going as he serves up cocktails and shots to the guests. The sounds of laughter, conversations, and dancing feet permeate the air space.
I peer at Louis out of the corner of my eye. He is exhausted, but he doesn’t stop. His eyes are filled with joy. We’ve never had a chance like this before to shine. I still don’t know how he got this gig, but I’m glad he did. Normally white people do not appreciate Louis simply because he does not look like them. I hate that. It is not fair at all. If only those people knew him as well as I do, I think they would change their minds. And now, people do not care what he looks like; only that he brings out the rhythm in their hearts with the melodies we play together. Nothing stops us for hours upon hours of nothing but jazz tunes. The people cheer, they shout, and they adore us. Whenever Louis looks like he’s about tuckered out, they cheer louder and stomp their feet, begging for the dynamic duo to once again take center stage. And we do.
As time passes by, more and more people begin to stumble over their own feet from the alcohol’s edge in their systems. Some of the dancing couples begin to tire out, and they retreat to their tables to rest. Others see the time and start to grab their coats, heading out the door. Gradually the club begins to empty out until only a few passed out drunks are left. Louis ends the night by playing a sweet jazz song that is slow and reminds me of a lullaby, probably to the sleeping drunks on the floor. His last note rings in the space and echoes for what feels like an eternity. Then there is dead silence for the first time in that club since we arrived only hours ago. Louis pulls out his handkerchief and wipes his entire face off, dripping with perspiration from all of his hard work and dedication to entertain the guests. His hands tremble from over use, and I could feel the newly forming calluses on his fingers. Louis could barely hold me up anymore as his muscles refused to cooperate, and he placed me onto a stool on stage. His breathing came rapid and gasping, but his smile is so radiant that I know it was all worth it.
In that moment, an odd sound came from the dance floor below. It was the sound of a single being, showing his or her appreciation. A single person was slowly clapping—a sign of immense respect for Louis’ abilities he showcased tonight. My gold reflected the person’s image in my depths, and I could instantly tell that she was gorgeous. Her hair was very short and styled in a curly up-do. She had long eyelashes, dark eyes, dark hair, and dark skin. She was young, and had a smile that made it hard to refuse returning it to her. Finally, her lips moved and she spoke directly to Louis with a sparkle in her eye, “That music was the cat’s meow!”
Louis grinned, “Thank you ma’am. And what would your name be?”
“Ella. Ella Fitzgerald.”
“What a beautiful name, miss.” Louis responded politely.
Her pretty eyelashes fluttered as her cheeks turned a rosy color, “Thank you. I actually came up here to ask a favor of you.”
“Anything, Miss Ella.” He replied without hesitation.
“What a gentleman. I came to ask if you could accompany me with your music actually. After hearing you tonight, I think we would make wonderful music together”, Ella explained.
“What is it that you do, miss?” Louis asked curiously.
Louis’ eyes glanced over at me, resting on the stool. His eyes flickered back briefly over to the young woman, “Would you mind singing for me?”
“Not at all. As long as you play something.”
“Of course.” Louis picked me up in his hands and without wavering for even a moment, began to play a jazz tune. Ella is quick on her feet, mounting the stage and snapping her fingers. She sways to the tune and begins to sing nonsense words. She is improvising, but it still sounds amazing. And I always thought that Louis and I would always be a dynamic duo of two bachelors, but the three of us did the impossible. Our sound was something unheard of. Louis and Ella danced around the stage, each displaying their talents with professionalism, and I was along for the ride. It feels like we are making music for hours, but instead it is only minutes.
Ella takes in a deep inhale and beams brightly at the two of us. “That was amazing!” she gushes, “Don’t you see? This could be the next big thing, you and I.”
Louis nods, “I think we make something that’s more than jazz…it’s life…it’s soul…”
“Just think of it!” Ella adds, “Think about how much respect we can earn for black people. No white person will oppose our music. We’re gonna make it somewhere in the world!”
“The two of us?”
“Yes! Yes oh yes! We’re gonna knock their socks off, you’ll see. Here.” Ella hands him a slip of paper with numbers on it, “Call me sometime.”
“Will do miss.” Louis promises.
“What was your name again?”
“Louis…Louis and Ella. Perfect.”
She couldn’t be more right. The “Big Cheese” actually paid him for our performance. The way I saw it—we were just getting started. As we drive away in our Model-T, I am excited for what the future will hold.