A broadside and short story of Thelonious Monk, by Russell duPont

October 8th, 2020

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Mucka, Monk & Me

[Thurs., July 4th. 1963]

by Russell Dupont

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…..“Nah,” Mucka says to the guy in the funny hat, a couple of seats down. “We’re from Massachusetts, an hour or so from here. My friend here….”  He leans back so the guy can look around him to see me….”he wanted to come down, see if we could, you know, the whole jazz thing  . . . . festival …. thing.”

…..Muck will never be called “eloquent” or a guy who can hold his booze; and now, it’s close to midnight, we’re in this bar in Newport, Rhode Island. Cappy’s, I think it’s called, and Muck’s had a couple of beers …. Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m doing the driving. I mean, I’m the one who dragged him down here.

…..It’s the 4th and back on the corner where we hang out no one was around. Teddy and Jimmy were off at some family gathering; Tony was working in his old man’s store; and Frank’s new girlfriend’s had dragged him off to a barbecue at her parents’. It was around three and I was lookin’ for somethin’ to do, so I head down to Kozicki’s Variety Store on the chance somethin’ might be doin’. Muck was just finishing up covering for Leo. The place was pretty much deserted when I walk in and Muck says, ‘Whaddaya feel like doin’ tonight?’ You know. He sounds like that guy in the movie, you know, Marty. So, I say back, ‘I don’t know, Muck. Whaddya you feel like doin’?’ and he gives me, you know, that look a his, and flips me the bird. He starts to say somethin’ and I cut him off.

…..Look, I say, there’s this thing goin’ on down in Rhode Island….that jazz thing they have every year. A big festival sort of thing. I tell him how Lenny and Pumper took off that morning and how maybe we can find them down there.

…..Muck rolls his eyes and says ‘Jazz. I don’t know nuthin’ about jazz. Don’t know if I even like it.’ I tell him ‘so what?’ We drive down. See if we can find the guys. At least, we get to hear some good music. I start sayin’ ‘Cannonball Adderley’, ‘Stan Kenton’, you know? and he’s just shakin’ his head. I’m namin’ names I heard of but Mucka — he just gives me this look.

…..Finally, he takes a deep breath, lets it out in a long sigh. “What the hell,” he says.

…..So, here we are.

…..I had kind of zoned out — I’ve had more than a few myself and when I sort of “come to,” Muck and the other guy are still talkin’. I keep thinkin’ I seen this guy somewhere — ‘Colored’ guy. I mean, he looks cool. Neat. Dressed in a suit; white shirt, tie, shades, this pointy goatee thing and a funny hat — no, whatta you call it… brim — but I’m just too . . . what? buzzed I guess you can call it and I’m distracted by the TV where the local sports’ guy is goin’ over the Sox double-header loss to Cleveland today.

…..So, I hear Muck ask the guy if he’s from around here and the guy gives a small chuckle and takes a sip from the glass he’s been tapping on the bar. Gotta be gin or vodka or, who knows, could be water. Anyway, like I said, he makes this soft, kinda laugh and says he’s originally from North Carolina but now, New York. Muck makes that sound, “unh”, and things get quiet again for a couple of minutes.

…..The TV sports guy is diggin’ for something positive about the Sox losses. At least Yastrzemski had a pretty good day, I guess. Three for four in the second game, a couple of RBIs. Clinton and Geiger, too. All off a Mudcat Grant who sounds like he was almost as bad as Nichols, the Sox pitcher.

…..“You come up here for this jazz thing?” Mucka says.

…..It’s vodka. The bartender has come over — big guy with a beard — and he’s refilling the guy’s glass from a Smirnoff bottle and gives Muck this look. You know, face kinda screwed up in a frown. He gives a little snort, shakes his head and goes back to the TV.

…..The guy nods. “Yeah,” he says and takes a sip.

…..“Yeah,” Muck says, “we tried to get in. But, jeez, only tickets left were somethin’ like five, six bucks.” He polished off his beer in one long swallow and signaled the bartender for a refill. Bartender has that same look on his face as he draws the beer and glances over at me and gives me that “what’s with him” look. I kinda shrug. “What’d you pay to get in?” Muck says.

…..“Free,” the guy says. “Didn’t have to pay. I was workin’.” That’s when it hit me. This guy. What the f… . I couldn’t . . . his name was right on the tip of my tongue.

…..And the guy finishes off his drink, gets up and nods at us. “Gentlemen,” he says, touching the edge of his hat in kind of a salute, sort of. “It’s been a pleasure.” And then to the bartender. “Thanks, Johnny. Probably see you next year.”

…..Bartender gives him a thumbs up. “See you, Monk.”

…..And I let out a long “whoosh” and drop my head onto the bar top. Idiot, I say half out loud and bang my forehead on the bar a couple of times. I give it a few seconds to catch my breath before I tell Mon . . .I mean Muck … that we better head home.

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photo by Mallory1180 / CC BY-SA

Thelonious MonkThelonious Monk in Brussels, 1964

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Russell Dupont is an artist and an author whose artwork is included in a number of public and private collections. He has published two novels, King & Train and Waiting for the Turk; two books of poetry; and two non-fiction chapbooks. His essay, “The Corner,” is included in the anthology Streets of Echoes. His work has been published in various newspapers and literary magazines. He was the founder & publisher of the literary magazine,.the albatross.

Visit his website by clicking here

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Listen to Thelonious Monk play “Nutty,” recorded during the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival, with Frankie Dunlap (drums), Larry Gales (bass), Charlie Rouse (tenor sax) and Pee Wee Russell (clarinet)

 

 

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