By: Kaila Allison
It’s the hottest night of the year.
Men wipe sweat from lips with hankies. Women fan themselves with brochures. We are young and in New York. A buddy of Miles’ from Philly is performing with his group, a free-form jazz quartet, in an Aikido dojo at 307 East 92nd. We walk up a narrow staircase and Miles cracks the door slowly – not sure we’ve got the right address. But it is, Sensei greets us and tells us please if we didn’t mind taking our shoes off, this is a dojo after all. A slight Asian man holding a beer comes over, tells us his name’s Ken. We all shake hands. Miles says he’s a buddy of Elliot’s from Philly. Not from Philly but he goes to school there, studies jazz guitar. He says, this is my friend Kaila, she’s a writer. Ken smiles. He has nice teeth and he laughs in the right places. He says there’s sake and beer if you like. I’m a little nervous about being barefoot, what if I picked up a fungus or something. Then I decide to forget about it. Miles and I take a tour of the little studio, we look out a window and see a picnic table decorated in weed memorabilia. That’s psychedelic, Miles says. We sit on a rocky wooden bench and Miles sees this guy behind us with a camera, Pete. Are you a jazz photographer, he asks? Just a bass player with a camera, says Pete. We all laugh. This guy Pete knows his stuff. He has a 1958 Nikon around his neck. Still works, but you gotta wind the film by hand. Miles says, This is my friend Kaila, she’s a great writer. I tell him I go to NYU. Great school, he says, I went to Columbia then Fordam by Lincoln Center. I say I know it. We talk about how brevity is the greatest challenge of writing. Pete says Mark Twain thinks writing is like slitting your wrists and bleeding onto the page. I say I’m more into poetry because it’s brief. Our culture is filled with people in a rush to get on to other things.
Elliot comes waltzing into the room with a rusty old baritone sax and a flute. He’s a looker, Miles says, reminds him of a pirate. Certainly has the right beard. Also has this long Dred wrapped in red ties coming out the back of his black Euro-beanie. He’s dressed in a black tank and sweats and socks. All the musicians have their shoes off, in respect of the dojo. The keyboard guy has a mop of black curls and glasses, looks vaguely Middle Eastern. He faces away from the keyboard and presses his palms together over his heart and closes his eyes, like he’s some sort of monk. The bassist tunes his 5-string and does some licks to warm up. Ken tells us, here we are on this hot night but hopefully we cool it down with some of this jazz. If someone else had said it, it would’ve sounded corny. He sets himself up behind his playbox of percussive toys and the music starts. And boy is it like ecstasy. Like sex. Pure, dirty sex. The room is hot. Men wipe their faces and women fan themselves. They press their beers against their foreheads. Miles slaps his legs and stomps his feet like a loon. He rocks back and forth, shaking the bench. I feel the rhythmic vibrations go through my legs and my chest and my head. It is sex, this music, that’s what it is. Then Elliot fishes through some papers under his chair and reads his sex words and we sway and we yeah and we moan, we are certainly not human we are animals. I close my eyes and feel the heat on my skin, the damp moisture of the room. It smells like beer and rubber. People drink sake out of small mason jars. There are kids and they fall asleep on the floor. The keyboardist takes the tube out of his melodica and bangs it between the legs of the keyboard. The tempo increases, the musicians are at a presto, if they go much faster they might have heart attacks. We might have heart attacks. We are on speed. We are on ecstasy. We are on drugs that we didn’t even know existed. Elliot slaps the keys on his sax without air, he takes a swig from his water bottle, swishes, swallows, then blows into the bottle and makes cooing sounds, like doves.
At intermission I buy Miles two CDs and Elliot’s book because he’s out of cash. He’s grateful. I say, It’s for the art. We talk to the guys and Miles is delirious with pleasure. He says, This is my friend Kaila, she’s a writer and she’s really into bohemian poetry. We talk about the Beats and musical telepathy. I am tired and hungry and thirsty but we stay for the second set. We talk to Ken about the heartbeat of the music. We need the heartbeat, otherwise how can we live, Ken says. He gives a little laugh and flashes his teeth. He stands close to me and I back up a bit. Ken talks about polyrhythms and Africa. Miles says, You guys inspire me. Ken invites us to eat with them after the show. We sit on the floor with couscous, falafel, hummus. It is good. They are gracious and kind people. They can make music out of anything.
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Kaila Allison is a senior at New York University studying Creative Writing and Psychology. She has published fiction and nonfiction in Potluck Mag and Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.
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