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What shall we call it?: Chapter II

Chapter Two

Ryan Smith, Managing Editor

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He was a god in his own domain. His black hair ran in different directions in front of his eyes, weary of the profound power coming forth from the lanky 17-year-old and his instrument. Tyler didn’t just play the trumpet- no, he blessed it with his supple fingers, made it sing and purr and roar and erupt with an intense musical energy. He wasn’t Miles Davis. He wasn’t Chet Baker. He was Tyler Parker, an artist bringing his own unique musical prowess to the table. His pure creative swagger was enough to melt ice cream. All around him, beyond all of the cigar smoke, beyond all of the termite-eaten wooden tables, parents and ragtag kids watched with equal parts amazement and jealousy.

In the middle of “Pennies from Heaven”, Stella walked into the parlor. Tyler stopped, and people stopped watching him.

“Hey, Stell,” Tyler said. “Glad you got the note that I left you. By any chance, have you perfected the art of making mud pies?”

Stella looked around nervously at her grubby surroundings, her pink lips curled ever so slightly in disgust. “I’m happy to see you, but I want this to go quick. This is the first time I’ve ever skipped school, I’m missing music class, and I don’t know what will happen if my mom finds out that I was gone, especially here…” She faltered.

“Relax, she won’t find out. Care for some Armstrong?” Tyler launched back into his world for a moment, pervading the air with the serenity that is jazz.

Stella couldn’t help but smile, and laugh, and wonder why she hadn’t actually spoken to this old friend in so long, but she was serious about wanting to get this over with. “Why did you want me to come here?,” she asked. Her sharp blue eyes pleaded for urgency. Tyler suddenly became pensive.

“Oh, I know.  This isn’t your kind of music, isn’t it?” He laughed. “If you don’t want to admit that jazz is the best music in the entire world, then I guess that I can compromise.” He zipped to the Steinway grand piano in the back of the room. With his right hand, he began to play “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin, bouncing along jovially with its tinkering. With his left hand, he began to play “Ring of Fire” by none other than Stella’s favorite, Johnny Cash. He matched the tempo and the key of the music, making a wondrous synthesis, happy notes gracing the room in pairs. When he began to speak, he was still playing.

“The things I do for you, Stell, Jesus. Are you happy now?”

She thought for a minute.

“Yes.”

“Why can you only listen to rock music anyway?”

Stella was happy that Tyler couldn’t hear her broken sigh over the notes of the piano.

“I don’t even completely know. Both of my parents used to love jazz. I actually think..I actually think that ‘I Got Rhythm’ was their favorite song. Apparently they danced to this together at their high school prom. Used to sing it all of the time.”

These words tempered Tyler’s happy-go-lucky air of confidence. He was listening intently, leaning in closer over the piano. The song went softer.

“When my dad died, it was kind of like my mom died too,” Stella said. “Shut everything out. No jazz music. She leaves me to myself. And she still finds a way to get mad about everything. I was thinking the other day,  you know what? I feel like the reason that she might be so sad is that she is cutting off what used to calm her down. Jazz music was her pacifier, but she doesn’t listen to it anymore- no, only rock and roll, soothing notes of brass were drowned out with electric shrieks of a guitar.”

Tyler had to cheer her up. He made sure to glance up with the tender look of caring that only a best friend could give. “But Stell, you can’t go wrong with Elvis and Johnny Cash.”

“No,” she said, sniffling, smiling weakly at the floor. “I guess you can’t.”

Tyler looked down at his hands that were still playing the song, seeming to work autonomously. “Stell,” he said tenderly, “do you know why I love music so much?”

She shook her head.

“No rules.”

Stella was surprised. She had repeatedly gone over the finer points of music in class, and it seemed to have nothing but rules. “What about tempo? Key? Intonation?”

Tyler smiled knowingly and shook his head. “Music is only really up to the performer. The creative freedom that every artist is given far surpasses any little marks in a measure. If someone wants to play one note a little louder, or longer, or livelier than is written, then they have the power to do so. If someone wants to play two different songs with two different hands, then they have the power to do so.”

He paused for emphasis.

“If someone wants to reconcile jazz and rock and roll, Gershwin and Johnny Cash, and listen to what makes them happy, then they have the power to do so.” The song stopped and Tyler looked up in triumph. “Because music is a great unifier. Music- I don’t even know what to call it, because it is everything you could ever possibly want it to be. What shall we call it?”

Stella didn’t know what to say. It was such an easy and difficult question.

“Well, that’s part of the reason I wanted to meet up with you today,” Tyler said. “I found this ad for a national band competition, and I thought that maybe you could help me. I think that jazz and rock and roll can pair well together.”

He handed her the flyer, which read:

NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL BAND COMPETITION, 15 AND OLDER ARE WELCOME

GRAND PRIZE: $15,000 AND A CHANCE TO PERFORM IN FRONT OF A LIVE AUDIENCE IN DEALEY PLAZA ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963

“They are holding auditions here at the parlor next week,” Tyler said. “What do you say we form a band?”

Stella already knew how hard this would be. Her mother would kill her if she knew that Stella was in a band that had anything to do with jazz. She would have to go about this in secret, and she didn’t know for how long.

But Stella trusted Tyler, and music was such a big part of her life that she felt that she couldn’t say no. Music was so- oh, what shall we call it?

So, despite herself, Stella said that she was up for the challenge.

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What shall we call it?: Chapter II