Short Fiction Contest-winning story #35: “The Usefulness of the Blues,” by Sam Lieberman

March 15th, 2014

.

.

New Short Fiction Award

Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion,the best original, previously unpublished work.

 

 Sam Lieberman of Rockville, Maryland is the winner of the 35th Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on March 15, 2014.

.

.

_____

.

.

 

.

The Usefulness of the Blues

by

Sam Lieberman

.

___

.

     I’m lonely most nights. It’s part of my job. You can’t be happy if you want to play the blues. But there were some nights that made my misery worth it, where I felt light for once and everything fit together. I’m sure it was the absence of thought that did it. When I think about things, I realize how awful they are. But when I float out of my chains, having known what they were like, the freedom is all the sweeter.

January 8th was such a night. I stepped out at 7 o’clock, the dark had settled in and the dusk winds softened their bite. That night I went down to one of the bars, with more than enough people for my music and me. I camped outside and pulled out my saxophone. The reed pressed my lips and I waited, holding my breath.

I didn’t play right away – that’s the mark of a fool who thinks people will pay to hear someone play. But I knew music wasn’t worth a dime in itself, it’s only good as a sort of a trip to take you away from where you are.

That’s why I never play in the daytime, because in the daytime there’s sun, and plenty of people are happy as long as there’s sun. And there’s no need for a musician where people are happy, just like there’s no need for vacation for people in paradise.

But at night you get sad, especially if you’ve been in one of those bars, because the girls in those bars don’t want to talk when you come, and the drinks don’t go down quite like they’re supposed to.

So eventually you leave when you’ve run out of dignity to lose, and you walk out into the street and hear just the cars, no music – I’m too clever to let you hear that. The scene is depressing, and you don’t want the music to be a part of it. So instead you stumble out to nothing you can hear. And then, there is something faint, something that barely reaches your ear. You strain then to listen and it swells slowly in volume.

While you’re straining and leaning, anxious to hear, you forget where you are, and forget that you’re ugly and miserable and all alone in the night. You can’t think about that, you’re trying too hard to listen to the music that’s just a little too soft.

You lower your guard, and I know when you’ve done it, and that’s when I blow. So I blow as hard as I can into that barely tuned saxophone, and it skyrockets the sound like red fireworks in your head.

And I keep on feeding you that sound, distracting you from yourself until it doesn’t work anymore, and you realize you exist. I can tell when that happens – your eyes stop glowing and your chin lowers back down before you walk away.

So I watch you in silence, no music no more. The music wasn’t important, at least not for its own sake. It existed for a purpose, to get you away, and if it gets you away it’s art all the same.

Anyway, I was there with my saxophone set up, just waiting for someone to step out. But I waited and waited and no one stepped out, so I gave up, wondering what could be keeping all these people inside.

It was a girl inside – I should have known – who was dancing and grinding and keeping the men trapped. I hated those girls who dirty the word, who use their new, blooming bodies to torture poor men.

All the men just stand there, confused and impotent, each hoping she’ll choose him at the end of the night. Of course, she never does, and it hurts every time.

I hated the girls who did that, who seduce and then crush. I focused on that hate, and tended to it, letting it grow. It flowered right away, bursting inside me, but then something happened while I was raising my hate. She strutted right by me, the unattainable goddess of the dim bar. Then, perhaps from too much strutting, the heel on her shoe cracked. She took another step and it snapped off the back.

She fell backwards, her eyes wide and uncomprehending, and I, just by reflex, reached out and found her in my arms.

I noticed in her eyes – those wide, saucer-like windows which had dropped the heavy lidded defenses of seduction they must always bore – that they were clear, like an un-rippled pond out in the park in summertime, when nights aren’t depressing, and days are just plain happy. She was looking at me and I was looking at her, but I wasn’t really looking at her, I was looking through her.

Gone were her defenses, gone was her aggressive sexuality – the kind that pushes you out even while you’re foaming with desire – and all that was left was this little girl who couldn’t be more than 18, just trying to escape, like me.

She had found a way too, with the desire of those men, to lose herself, to lose her thoughts, to lose everything that was weighing her down. And I realized then why women wear those heels, though they fuss about the pain. It lifts them up, just enough, and if they walk in them just right, they can feel like they’re weightless, as if they aren’t touching the ground.

Who was I to fault her, for choosing a different method than I? I, who had just said it doesn’t matter what you use? And I saw that she was an artist, helping other men leave too, for when they were wrapped up in desire, they forgot how to think.

I realized all that in the second that I saw her, and in that second I loved her more warmly than I knew I could.

It was only a second, of course. She was good, and righted herself up almost as quickly as she fell. Her eyelids snapped down, her seduction was flipped on, and the wide-eyed girl who wanted to float was hidden from me again.

But I didn’t care. I saw her, I finally got it, and my dry cheeks cracked as I lit the first smile of the winter.

I was done for the night. There was no need for me there, so I tramped back to my room, although my steps were a little less heavy. I wrote a new song when I got back to my room. It was a jaunty little piece, a little sexy, a little sweet.

I don’t play anymore. I have no need to these days. There is something in the air that makes people happier now. I wonder if she still dances, that young girl that I love. I wonder if she still wears heels that are just a little too high.

Maybe she learned her lesson and wears something lower so she’ll never be in the position of having herself revealed to a man. Or maybe she thinks it’s worth it, to get high off the ground, even if, once in a while, you fall right back down.

.

.

___

.

.

Short Fiction Contest Details

.

.

.

Share this:

One comments on “Short Fiction Contest-winning story #35: “The Usefulness of the Blues,” by Sam Lieberman”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

photo by Mel Levine/pinelife, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Lady Day and Prez” by Henry Wolstat

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
A very brief three-dot update…Where I’ve been, and an update on what is coming up on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

Photographer uncredited, but the photo was almost certainly taken by Chuck Stewart. Published by ABC/Impulse! Records.. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“And I’m Not Even Here” – a poem by Connie Johnson

Click here to read more poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Essay

"Lester Leaps In" by Tad Richards
"Jazz and American Poetry," an essay by Tad Richards...In an essay that first appeared in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry in 2005, Tad Richards - a prolific visual artist, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer who has been active for over four decades – writes about the history of the connection of jazz and American poetry.

Interview

photo of Pepper Adams/courtesy of Pepper Adams Estate
Interview with Gary Carner, author of Pepper Adams: Saxophone Trailblazer...The author speaks with Bob Hecht about his book and his decades-long dedication to the genius of Pepper Adams, the stellar baritone saxophonist whose hard-swinging bebop style inspired many of the top-tier modern baritone players.

Click here to read more interviews published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

Three poets and Sketches of Spain

Interview

IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song...The author discusses her book, a rich, emotionally stirring, exceptional work that explores every element of Ella’s legacy in great depth, reminding readers that she was not only a great singing artist, but also a musical visionary and social activist.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

Review

Jason Innocent, on “3”, Abdullah Ibrahim’s latest album... Album reviews are rarely published on Jerry Jazz Musician, but Jason Innocent’s experience with the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s new recording captures the essence of this artist’s creative brilliance.

Short Fiction

Christerajet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #64 — “The Old Casino” by J.B. Marlow...The author's award-winning story takes place over the course of a young man's life, looking at all the women he's loved and how the presence of a derelict building informs those relationships.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Poetry

"Jazz Trio" by Samuel Dixon
A collection of jazz haiku, Vol. 2...The 19 poets included in this collection effectively share their reverence for jazz music and its culture with passion and brevity.

Jazz History Quiz #171

Dick Cavett/via Wikimedia Commons
In addition to being one of the greatest musicians of his generation, this Ohio native was an activist, leading “Jazz and People’s Movement,” a group formed in the late 1960’s who “adopted the tactic of interrupting tapings and broadcasts of television and radio programs (i.e. the shows of Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett [pictured] and Merv Griffin) in protest of the small number of Black musicians employed by networks and recording studios.” Who was he?

Click here to visit the Jazz History Quiz archive

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

An interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 - 1960;  an interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of the 60's Girl Groups;  a new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive