Destined to become a great jazz musician like his father until his dreams came crashing down, snuffed by his own insecurities and the key holders of institutions that failed to see his untapped talent.
The nickname stuck, however. Jazzman is how he was forever known. His father had given him the name originally. “My little jazzman,” he used to call him whenever he found the boy with his brown piercing eyes following and mimicking with his tiny hands the old man’s trumpet playing. The imitating became real as soon as the boy could grab and hold the instrument. He played as much out of his own desire as well as a desperate need to get the attention of his father. Miles Davis’s “So What” become a song he played over and over, dedicating endless hours to learning the tempo, the rhythm, the right touch. But those days were long gone after his 16th birthday; the instrument forgotten, collecting dust as time passed.
Occasionally, until not too long ago, he delighted himself in entertaining anyone willing to listen by dusting off the old instrument and playing whatever notes he still managed to recall. To the untrained ear, the sound emitting from the cylindrical brass tube had the power to enthrall and enchant. The reality is that the magic, passion and true talent Jazzman had once possessed had long ago disappeared.
That exact moment had come when he auditioned to enroll in a prestigious music conservatory. Who knows why they didn’t accept him? Perhaps the so-called experts didn’t see his musical talent or maybe they refused to see beyond their own prejudices. Or maybe, just maybe, his nerves got the best of him, rendering his genius. But the reasons do not matter. What matters is that he took them personally. That day after months of playing and anticipation, he rode the bus back from across town crying. His white short leave button-down shirt, which he had so carefully pressed the evening before, ruined by tears and sweat of despair.
What was supposed to be a great day of triumph became a day that marked him more than anything else in his life. Not his father or sister knew about the audition. He had dreamed about that day for a long time. More than anything he had imagined coming home with great news of his glorious achievement, hoping to impress them all, particularly his father. Instead, just like every other day, he came home unnoticed and headed to his small, stuffy room upstairs. By the time he had reached his front steps of the apartment building, he had become resolute. He had already put his disheveled self together, ran straight to his room, and placed his trumpet in its case and shoveled it underneath his bed. That day, the usual trumpet notes coming for his room were forever muted.
The only one that had noticed the sudden change on him days after that faithful day was this sister. She adored him and was probably the only one in his life that had ever understood his sensibility, a feature of his personality that had exulted ever since the passing away of the matriarch of the family. His father saw no difference between the new sulky, morose Jazzman and the otherwise reserved, quite kid of always. The father dismissed his daughter’s concerns and her desperate plead with a brusk, “He just needs to become a man.”
Jazzman too brushed off his sister’s apprehensions and continued to fall deeper into his new self. From that point forward, he rarely found the time to play, becoming enamoured by his life of sorrow — one shared by a crowd of new friends equally lost. They say that they are those that swim against all odds, and those that are carried away by the tide. Jazzman and his new inner circle fell into the latter category, swept by temptations of the street, quick money, and the romanticized notion and lure of drugs.
They became fallen angels to the streets. Their talents wasted along the cracks of sidewalks along their strolls of havoc breaking and vandalizing property for no reason; their potential left behind in the corner store where they used to gather to smoke cigarettes and play arcade games; and their dreams, forgotten alongside the many empty bottles of cheap beer they ended up leaving behind on their little excursions either deep inside the local park, or to their to go place by the train tracks.
His sister never wavered in her perception of “the one to be saved and rescued.” Her love and desire to help Jazzman never crumbled despite the trials and tribulations she endured in her attempts. Through the years, she became adept at getting a hold of him through a combination of lucky guesses, Jazzman’s street associates, and a network of a friend of a friend spreading the word of mouth, “Jazzman, your sister is looking for your bum ass.”
She tried and managed to help him whenever and in any way possible, even if it meant giving him a $20 with the knowledge that he was probably going to spend it to support his many vices. Her support never vacillated. She always reached out to him to give a lending hand, no matter what was transpiring in her own life – juggling personal relationships, dealing with the vicissitudes of life, or struggling to keep up with three jobs while putting herself through nursing school.
How many times did she take him to her place to give him a chance for a warm meal, bath, and bed? Each of the countless times she did, he always ended up leaving without a notice of thank you but always with a valuable to pawn or trade in the streets. The list of items forever lost included their mother’s old fashion Leica M3 camera, an old fashion silver compass the size of a dime, the watch the sister had to inherit from the father, and a rare mint coin that no one in the family knew exactly how it had come into their possession. After initial bursts of anger and promises to never be so foolish to believe him, her heart always gave way. In the process, not only did she lose family heirlooms that had more of an emotional that a monetary value to her, but also lovers and friends who had enough of the drama and shenanigans her brother brought to her life and that of theirs.
Bound to have had happened, the time came when days and weeks passed without a word of his whereabouts. She tapped all of her known resources, talking and visiting every street corner and hellhole to no avail. The winter had come sooner than anyone expected, and already the first snowstorm had been predicted for that first November weekend. With each passing day getting closer to the end of the week, her panic reached new levels. Her heart filled with despair, and a sense of hopeless as she exhausted all her usual tactics without any luck of rescuing him from himself.
With her hopes lingering as that Friday came, she found herself wandering the deserted streets aimlessly as the snow begun making its way down. Her inner compass took her to the East River Park, a place that held memories of childhood games: Jazzman pushing her on the swings, playing tag with the local kids with her brother at her side, and running along the waterfront railings hitting them with a stick as she and her brother laughed with joy and without a worry or care in the world.
That week, Jazzman had begun hearing music in his head again after years of the muses not visiting. By a miracle, he had managed to hold on to his old trumpet. The instrument somehow always founds its way to his hands at some of his darkness and most vulnerable of times. He had not played it for a long time but it had called out to him without reproaches; he found himself playing the most beautiful, soothing melody. He felt the warmth emitting from every molecule of his body with each note. The sounds filled him with joy and ecstasy, transporting him to moments and a dream long gone…
Darkness all around the theatre, the only light focusing on Jazzman at centre stage. All eyeballs on his every move as he poured his soul with each stroke of his fingers. Just as he, the audience, lost in the rhapsody of his notes. The adoration of the audience engulfs him. As he plays the last note of his tune, he hears the immediate, thunderous clapping coming from every corner of the sold-out theatre. He hears his name being shouted with adulation. At first, the calling comes far in the distance, but gradually it becomes louder and closer, “Jazzman, Jazzman…Jazzman!”
He had not been this happy in a long time.
An inch of snow had already fallen and she felt the powder cake crunching underneath her steps. With each stride and tear running down her cold face, the hope of finding Jazzman faded in her heart. Out in the distance, in the furthest bench facing the river front, she spotted a figure sitting motionlessly. She knew immediately that fate had once again taken her back to her brother. She began to rush to the hunched man starting out into the cold, dark frozen river. Her voice grew in strengthen with each quicken step, “Jazzman, Jazzman, Jazzman!”
The figure remained static; her calling, which grew more frantic at each end, unanswered. The distance seemed like miles to her, no matter how fast she ran. Right before reaching him, only four steps from his back, she suddenly stopped and became quiet as if wanting not to interrupt something. Seconds, minutes passed before her arm reached out to his left shoulder to anchor and give her the courage to face him. As she came to face him, she found her brother with his frozen fingers clutching a glass pipe. His lifeless face smiling into the nothingness.