In Memoriam:John Coltrane From CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN

July 19, 1967

          “This ain’t no shortcut, Zoot”. Tyrone was leaning out the passenger side window, trying to see roadsigns.  “I thought you were born and bred in this area, I thought  you know the backroads of Missouri like you know the chord changes to ‘Round Midnight’.
          Zoot was concentrating on his driving.  A rain was slamming into the windshield so fiercely that the wipers were inadequate to push it aside.  He slowed the Continental to ten miles an hour as its tires geysered water in big fans to either side of the road. 
          “Close the goddam window,” Zoot said testily, “I know where I am.  I just didn’t see the Steelville Road, must have passed bout five miles back.”  He slung the vehicle into a slow turn, so that he was facing in the opposite direction.  A bolt of lightning slashed into the ground nearby and the clap of thunder brought Aaron awake in the backseat.
          “Holy Shit!” he said, blinking.  “That was loud!  We in Lawrence yet?”
          The trio had played a gig in Champagne the previous night, for the university crowd.  Somewhat injudiciously, Zoot had booked another campus gig the next night at the University of Kansas.  They had packed up their stuff after the gig, got into the car and started driving.  Sleeping and driving in turns, they had crossed Illinois and had encountered a furious traffic jam near East St. Louis.  Zoot turned north and crossed the Missippi at Alton, then looped south towards Jefferson City.  A ‘short cut’, he called it. 
          At one oclock in the afternoon it was dark as twilight.  The rain stopped, suddenly, the wind died down.  Tyrone rolled the window up until it was just an open crack at the top.  He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke towards the crack. 
          “We need a PissnGas,” Aaron announced.  He pointed at the gauge.  “You’re almost on empty and I’m almost on full.” 
          “There’s one at the Steelville turnoff, if I can find it.”  Zoot was unusually moody and terse.  He felt stupid booking two gigs so far apart on succeeding nights, but he had a lot of people to support and the money was good.  After all these years, he had learned how to pace himself, but now and then one of his wives called or one of his kids needed school money and he was forced to push himself and his musicians. 
          Aaron leaned forward and put his face near Zoot’s shoulder.  “You’re kinda gloomy, man.  What’s goin’ on?”
          Zoot steered with one hand and rubbed his left-side bursitis with the other.  “I don ‘t know.  It ain’t the weather and it ain’t really the drive, we done this a hundred times.  Somethin’ spooky in the air, I can feel it.”
          “Yeah?  Well what is that thing?”  Tyrone was pointing across a landscape of ripening soybeans, toward the lowering sky in the southwest.
          Zoot braked suddenly and stopped in the middle of the narrow deserted back road.
          “That,” he said emphatically, “Is about to become a twister, it ain’t quite touched the ground yet.”  Transfixed, the three musicians watched the sky writhe as it made jagged blades of dark moisture.  The blades seemed to fence with one another, dancing around a central core of towering black cloud.  Its beauty was at once staggering, menacing and inspiring.  After a few moments, the dueling blades were sucked into this central darkness and they became a single stabbing dagger that connected with the earth.  A skirt of debris rose from its intersection and surrounded its lower trunk with the red-brown and green of wet fields of soybean plants. 
          Zoot gunned the car and started racing down the road as fast as he dared.  The twister reached out towards them with a seemingly personal and purposive malevolence. 
          It knows we’re here, Aaron thought.  It wants us.
          The road was narrow but straight, and Zoot was able to get up to about fifty but the deep puddles in the ruts and potholes slowed the car down as it bounced and shimmied and slid. 
          “Motherfucker’s getting closer,” Tyrone said.  His voice was loud but indistinct in the sudden roaring of wind. 
          Zoot looked for some protective feature in the landscape.  He knew he had only seconds.  They came to a wooden bridge fording a small creek, a deep notch in the otherwise flat terrain.
          Zoot stopped the car and opened the door.  “Come on!”  He bailed out and headed for the side of the bridge, finding a path down towards the creek bed.  Aaron and Tyrone followed, clothes flapping, hats flying. 
          “Down this way!”  Zoot instructed, “get away from the bridge!”
          The three men slapped through muddy creek bed and found a big rock thirty feet from the bridge.  They crouched under it like little children hanging onto a mother’s skirts. Looking up, Aaron saw the base of the twister lashing back and froth, saw the sky whirling, saw leaves and limbs circling.  The wind howled and he put his face into his arms and held the rock.  His breath was sucked from his body.  He had a moment of panic as he struggled for air.
          The wooden frame of the bridge exploded in the din and boards went up into the sky, disappearing into blackness.  The air came rushing back into Aaron’s lungs, and his breath returned.  He heard voices in the wind, evil genies laughing, mocking, capricious in their power.
          The twister went down the road and across the fields and disappeared back into the sky.
          The musicians climbed back to the road, fearing for the Continental and their musical instruments.
          The car was in the exact center of the road, pointed in the opposite direction in which it had been parked.  Gingerly, Zoot opened the door.  Nothing seemed to have changed.  Tyrone’s cigarette butt still rested at the lip of the ashtray.  The organist reached in and took the cigarette reverently, drew a puff and blew smoke into the still air.  Aaron’s copy of Downbeat Magazine was still open to the record reviews.  On the road, piles of junk lay everywhere, clods of earth, wooden beams, uprooted plants.  Trees were cracked a third the way up their trunks, all of their branches laying on the ground, pointing northeast.
          Zoot shook his arms and hands as if to disperse some unwelcome insect.  “Man, I thought that twister was after me, personally.”
          His voice shook.
          “So did I,” Aaron agreed.  His throat was dry.  His heart was pounding.
          Tyrone nodded.  He wa so thrilled to be alive he was hopping from foot to foot.  “It was saying ‘Tyrone, I’m comin’ to git you’.  I thought I’d open my eyes and be in Oz, with a bunch of little people dancin’ round my feet.”
          Zoot walked to the now topless bridge.  He looked at the steel superstructure, bounced around on it.  “Looks okay.  I ain’t going back forty miles to get across this creek.”
       The men got into the car and Zoot steered it carefully onto, and across, the bridge.    “Still need a Pissngas?”  Zoot inquired mockingly. 
   Aaron checked his clothing.  “Somehow I held my water.  I forgot I had to pee.  Now I got to pee really really bad.”
       “Well shit, get out and pee, we about fifteen minutes from the Steelville turnoff.”
          Aaron went out behind a bush and relieved himself.  He heard the sound of his own stream against a world that had gone supernally silent.  There was no wind, no bird song.  The sky was a weird shade of pink.  As soon as he was finished the rain began to fall again.  The drops were huge, heavy, laden with silt.  Covering his head, Aaron raced back to the car.
          After driving for ten minutes in silence, a black and white road sign appeared.  The warped rectangle shape of the state of Missouri enclosed a number four.  Fifteen yards past this sign there was a green board with white letters and an arrow pointing to the right. Steelville, eight miles, it indicated.  At this one-sided intersection was a little gas station and a tiny grocery store skirted by a wooden plank walkway.   Zoot pulled into the station. He gestured to Aaron to stay in the car.  This part of Missouri wasn’t explicitly segregated,  but it had the taint of old rebellion.  Zoot asked a black attendant to fill the tank, and Tyrone jumped through the rain towards the store, looking for another pack of cigarettes.  Aaron watched the Schlitz Beer sign flicker, rolled the window down to smell the storm -soaked earth.  He knew this country, too.  He had come here for vacations with his family.  They had gone to Bagnell Dam, Lake of the Ozarks, Wildwood Resort.  In a childhood with a paucity of happy memories, this country meant peace, relief, respite, jumping from a pier into the lake, riding horses, mom on her best behavior, dad relaxed and having fun. 
          Zoot chatted with the station attendant about the twister,  informed him that the Willens Creek Bridge was no longer covered.
          “Be damned,” the man said, “twister blew the top the bridge away?  No shit?”
          “No shit, almost blew us away too, turned this here Lincoln Continental hundred eighty degrees backward.”  Zoot’s dialects always reflected his circumstances.  He pronounced “this here” as “thissheer”. 
          Hurriedly finishing the transaction to get out of the rain, the attendant took Zoot’s money and rushed back into the shelter of the store. 
          A moment later, Tyrone came walking out, holding a newspaper limply in his hand.  His mouth was hanging open, his eyes had a staring and shocked quality, as if he had just survived a terrible battle.  He opened the passenger’s side , threw the newspaper towards Aaron in the back seat and slumped abruptly on the plush leather, one leg hanging out the door. 
          “You look like you just got terrible news,” Zoot observed with concern.
          Tyrone nodded and pointed towards the newspaper. 
          “Coltrane’s dead,” he said mournfully.  “It’s in the paper.  He died yesterday.”
          There was a stunned silence.   Aaron felt as if he had just taken the first plunge on a roller coaster ride, his stomach went up through his chest.
          “No,” Zoot said.  “No.” 
          Tyrone had the paper folded out to the entertainment section.  It was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  There was a big article about Barbara Streisand, a review of the new James Bond movie,  a review of the Led Zeppelin Concert at Kiel Auditorium.  Down in the far right corner of the page was a two paragraph squib.  ‘Jazz Musician John Coltrane Dies,” it said.  There was sketchy information about the jazz giant succumbing suddenly to liver cancer.
          Aaron put his face in the paper and squeezed himself with it, crumbling it around his cheeks.  “He was forty years old!”  He wailed.  “Forty years old!  What is happening?  Why are jazz musicians dying?  Why Coltrane, of all people, Trane? “
          Desperately, he clawed at Zoot’s shoulder.  “We’re all professional jazz musicians, Zoot.  Is this my future?  Is this Tyrone’s?  Are you going to die on us, too?  Why can’t we survive?  What are we doing to ourselves?”
          Zoot stared straight ahead, seeing nothing.   He reached across his shoulder and patted Aaron’s hand, squeezing it. 
          “You’re just beginning to see what it’s like,” the old musician said.  “It’s dangerous to be a genius.  That’s why I stay in this chitlin circuit groove, play the college campuses, keep my mid-stream profile.  And this is hard enough.  You think Coltrane could be inspired every night?  You think he could get up there and reach down into his guts and deliver a brilliant set five nights a week, be a genius?”
          A core of bitter reflection stained Zoot’s voice.  These were thoughts he generally kept to himself.  As he spoke, his anger grew and his voice scraped with frustration and old pain.
          “You have to use something, like Bird, like Lester, you have to use something to get to that place where you even feel like playing at all, let alone be great.  Then you raise the standard, people turn out and expect to be transformed, to hear an oracular performance, night after night.  I smoke my weed, that’s how I do it.  And I don’t ask too much of myself.  That’s why I’m sixty three and still playing.  I know how much I can give.  Men like Coltrane, they don’t know moderation, they can’t know moderation, they have to keep pushing the limits or the critics jump on their ass, the fickle fans get restless, the talk on the street starts goin’ ‘round, ‘Trane’s lost it, Bird’s lost it, Jackie’s lost it, Prez’s lost it, Bud’s lost it! You have a couple bad nights and all these assholes can’t play a note go talking, he’s lost it, lost it, getting’ tired, man, runnin’ out of steam, his great days are behind him, what a shame, used to be a great musician.”
          Zoot paused for a moment, looking at his sidemen, at his disciples in the mystic art of music.  Then he spat a long gobbet out the window and said, with a lengthy and contemptuous drawl, “Sheee-it!  Son of a fucking bitch!”
          He turned backward to look at Aaron.  Cobra-like, he shifted his body, glancing at Tyrone beside him.  He was seething, indignant.   “That’s why geniuses die.  They have to die!  Ain’t no choice!  Once they get a reputation as a genius, they have to be a geniuse every night.  They use it up!  Then they’re gone!”
          He turned on the engine and drove about a hundred yards down the road.  He pulled onto the shoulder and scrunched the emergency brake with his foot.  He put his large hands in front of his face, then leaned into them and began to weep. 
          It was contagious.  These three friends, of different ages, races, different backgrounds, were not afraid to show their feelings to one another.  The three jazz musicians, on their way to a gig, taking a short cut through the back roads of Missouri, pulled onto the side of the country lane and wept for John Coltrane. 

Jazz Pianist Jessica Williams

An Appreciation of Jessica Williams

Everyone grew up with a unique soundtrack. These are the songs, the music that sustained our adolescent years, the songs that saw us through our high school sufferings and our frazzled romances. This is the music that walked at our sides as we met and married our spouses. And, perhaps, the music that dirged when the marriage ended.

None of us forgets the sound track of our youth, with its slow-dance makeout songs and funky booty-bouncers. It remains the sound track of our lives. There may be additions, new music always comes forth, but the basic rhythm carries our days and soothes our nights. We will always love the music we loved when we were young.

Our world is a motley of generations, and each generation has its youthful soundtrack. My father is still imprinted with Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. They evoke his time in history. Armies were storming the beaches of Normandy, hopes and heartaches were thrown into the fires of war. Spirits were kept buoyant in the face of dread. The music was lively, sentimental and sophisticated. Only real pros could play it, virtuosi of reeds, brass and rhythm. It was vital and inventive and it isn’t going anywhere. New generations simply rediscover it.

We know our sound track,whatever it is: Metallica, Paul Anka, Tupac, The Carpenters, Michael Jackson, The Eagles, Little Richard….it’s ours and ours alone.

It is permanently tattooed into our nervous systems.

The soundtrack of my youth was a little strange. In 1961 there weren’t many kids of fourteen listening to John Coltrane . How many of my peers had a closet full of albums by Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Roland Kirk? How many owned a copy of Charles Mingus’masterwork, “The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady”?

I loved jazz so passionately that there’s no adult counterpart that I can identify. I love my wife that much. It’s no innocent passion, it’s tempered with the woes of life. It’s deep and real but it isn’t the insatiable breathless devotion I knew as a teenager. I was a kid who had musical crushes. My first Art Blakey album tipped me over!

Jazz was everything for me, at fifteen, sixteen. It was the Path of Paths.
I wanted to be a jazz musician, and my ear tuned to this musical elevation. When Ornette Coleman came along in 1965, I was graduating high school, and I didn’t hesitate, I jumped. I left home, ran off to New York with a dream of joining The Ornette Coleman Quartet. I met the man. He was wonderfully generous but I was too young and not good enough to be a member of his band. I didn’t get it, socially, didn’t understand the drugs, racism, the harshness of the jazz life. It was all a romance for me. If I failed, I could go home and attend college. There was no such safety net for Ornette Coleman. He had to grab the world and make it listen!
The sound track of my youth: Coltrane, Miles, Mingus, Jackie Mclean, Tony Williams, Ornette Coleman. I didn’t have many friends. People thought I was crazy.
Along the way I developed a passion for piano music. I loved pianists. I seized upon Bill Evans with a grip like epoxy and listened for hours and hours. The way McCoy Tyner soloed with Coltrane gave me goose bumps. I’d stop the record, go back to the start of the piano solo and play it again and again.
I liked the peaceful manner of Bill Evans. He was never harsh, he played like a very gentle man, and so it was, I understand. I was gravitating towards a more reflective kind of music.

I love pianists. I love the great classical pianists. Glenn Gould, Vladmir Ashkenazy. Chopin transported me. I loved the interpretations of a relative unknown , Abbey Simon. I hated the the narcisissm of the so-called “greats”. How could different pianists play the same music, the same Chopin, with such disparate results? Some sounded musical and tender, towering and strong, while others merely sounded brittle.

About ten years ago, a friend gave me a Jessica Williams album. I loved the music. The CD was “Live at Maybeck”, an outdoor concert in which Jessica played solo. I loved the playing. I wanted more. I played the Maybeck CD again, and yet again.
What happens when an artist’s work enters a person’s life? What intimate process evolves when a relationship is established between artist and participant? There are a few artists whose visions have become like an alternate home for my soul. I’ve listened to John Coltrane for fifty years. I bought my first Coltrane album, “Blue Train” in 1960.

It began an awesome collection of Coltrane recordings. I wore out copies, I gave away copies. I often entreated some shrinking acquaintance who was dodging the copy of “Meditations” I was thrusting into his reluctant hands. “Here, listen to this, you HAVE to listen to this! It will change your life! Just take it!” He wanted to go back to his apartment, smoke dope and listen to Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin. By my logic, if I loved Coltrane, everyone should love Coltrane. If I was at a party, I’d load a recording like “Ascension” onto the turntable and people would run from the room as if a disease had arrived. Now and then someone would hit me, take the album from the turntable and break it or sail it out the window.

I carried Trane’s records with me across the country. I took them everywhere an aspiring musician could go. They lived with me in Cleveland, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and San Francisco. I listened to them stoned, straight, on acid. I absorbed them, I ate them whole, chewing so much vinyl that my lips turned purple..

Later, the same thing happened as I began to acquire Jessica Williams’ CDs. Jessica has a CD called “Tribute to John Coltrane”. I ordered it from Jessica’s direct-sales website. She even signed it! That CD, with my favorite Coltrane song, “Lonnie’s Lament”, became my everyday soundtrack.

As I began listening to Jessica Williams I began to perceive the details of her genius. Her technique is so abundant, I can only laugh. Such speed, such “touch”, such command of the entire keyboard’s sonority. There aren’t many pianists to compete with the absurd affluence of her chops. Some performers with technical gifts get stuck there, with the technique. They remain performers. They never take the next step towards artistry.

Jessica Williams’ technique is so huge that she’s surpassed that mysterious threshold where a musician becomes able to tell jokes. Wit requires a special ability in music. A witty musician needs virtuosity. How can a player tell the joke without the timing? How can there be humor without first acquiring a universe of knowledge with which to assemble the fable, the short quip, the pun, the turning upside down backwards and forwards of a well known piece of music so that it sweetly mocks itself? It takes years of practice to afford the risk of timing, the risk of flirting with a line or a pun in an odd place, framed in an odd way. It requires confidence and audacity to take a chance, to make a wide leap of musical faith. Only the masters have that much audacity. Only the masters are geniuses of timing. Jessica’s aptitude for surprise keeps us listening intently. Some of her witticisms pass in a second. Whoops, quote from “Grand Canyon Suite” in the midst of a tender ballad. Gone! Two bars. She might play a gorgeous arpeggio from a great old standard. At the end, as the ringing tones of the florid scales vanish into the air, she throws off a little two tone discord, dink! and it fits perfectly, makes a comment on the preceding music as if to say, “so there you are! Ha!”

It’s impossible to write about Jessica Williams without a discussion of Thelonious Monk. Jessica has made no secret of Monk’s influence on her work. It’s an odd juxtaposition. Jessica said during an interview with Terry Gross that the first time she heard Monk, she thought he was wearing boxing gloves.
Monk plays a hammer-handed style that owes little to classical training. It’s a fusion of conventional and purely invented techniques, devised by Thelonious Monk to serve his peculiar childlike madness.

My guess is that a major link between Monk and Jessica Williams is humor. Jessica, with her fleet fingers full of finesse, has so much technique that the piano becomes a complex toy, an object with which to play, as a child plays, building worlds in the imagination.

Monk’s music often sounds like something played by a brilliant and very strong six year old. The melodies are deceptively simple, yet full of tricks and quirks. Some Monk tunes evoke the sensation of almost stumbling over a crack in the sidewalk, then recovering without falling on your face. Monk is devious. He writes to test other musicians, to see if they can cut it, to separate the gold from the lead. The compositions are not so much difficult as subtle. It’s easy to hum a Monk tune, easy to let one of his lines slip into the rhythm of driving or shopping. His songs are like nursery rhymes made up by a man who is both autistic savant and cosmic seer. Monk seemed to live in several worlds simultaneously. The only location where all the worlds converged was in the piano . Monk’s music was so unconventional as to require use of elbows, forearms, crazed crushes of fingers. His right leg flopped like a hooked sturgeon when he played. He was famous for getting up and dancing a little jig while his sidemen solved the labyrinth of his chords. Were it not for the staggering originality of Monk’s ideas, he would never have been recognized, never acquired fans. He was barely functional and spent time in mental wards. Without his wife Nellie’s patient devotion, no one would know the name Thelonious Monk. It would be “What-lonius who?”

Monk could be hilarious with a single chord. Just one! Using ten fingers. There might be fourteen or fifteen notes played by those ten fingers but all of them belonged in the comic smash of tones that was Monk’s sly quip. How could a musician as funny as Jessica Williams not fall in love with Monk? Both are clowns of the piano. They approach the piano from opposite ends, but Monk has given Jessica an entire vocabulary from which she can absorb crazy funny quirky and exotic musical remarks. No one can imitate Monk. An astute pianist can be liberated by Monk. He invented a uniquely sonorous dissonance. Monk used his imagination to turn wrong notes into right notes. There were no wrong notes. There were just Monk-Notes and Not-Monk-Notes. Musicians who played too many Not-Monk-Notes soon found themselves playing elsewhere.

Jessica’s palette is larger than the conventional palette of modern jazz. Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, are modern jazz pianists. I know Jessica will be called a “postmodern” pianist but I refuse to plop a decal on her. Trained in classical music at the Peabody Institute, she encompasses the whole of piano literature and borrows from sources in every corner, from John Cage to the pulse of flamenco and the staccato plonks of the Balkan santur.

The length of Jessica’s lines is unusual. They can be so long they seem endless yet always resolve perfectly, after wandering and stretching through a DNA-like weave of notes where each fragment of the entire line is a single chromosome and miraculously the chromosomes fit together by the time Jessica has reached the conclusion of her idea and is moving to the next. Then, another line of equally operatic length may follow. Jessica pulls this length off without ever getting boring.
Her lines are like action films where we wait with our hearts beating quickly until the good guy wins or the odds are overcome. The conclusions are celebrations. The effect is visceral: UH! Rock me in my seat, let my arms and legs twitch with happiness when the mystery is solved!

This isn’t music I listen to. This is music I ingest. This is music that mingles with my bloodstream.

“When I’m playing, I think of NOTHING. The Buddha is EMPTY. I seek TRUTH through emptiness, through honesty without a veil or blinders.”. Jessica Williams

I have twelve CDs by Jessica Williams. That’s not a large number. I’d love to have all of them. I listen to them constantly. I listen to them as I write and work at home. I listen to them in the car. I hardly listen to anything else. Jessica’s music is so rich it’s like a rain forest of exquisite musical plants. It brings me joy, stimulation, awe, relaxation, information and escape to a world ruled by The Queen Of Beauty. What is she doing, I wonder, as she reaches to the very upper keys on the piano and spends sixty four bars tinkling almost beyond the range of human hearing.? The sounds are like bells coming from the clouds of a supernatural realm. Meanwhile, her other hand is playing some ironic or unlikely counterpoint that is so dextrous as to be stunning, impossible, yet there it is, pure musical fact. I can imagine a Hindu deity-poster of Jessica possessing eight arms. In each hand is a piano. A keyboard elephant’s trunk of ivory and ebony tapers gracefully from where her nose should be.

Jessica is both lofty and funky. She is elegant and rooty, the rasp and twist of blues is never far from the surface.

When John Coltrane said, with such stunning simplicity, “I want to be a force for good,” he was expressing the deepest will of anyone attuned to spiritual purpose. I seldom use the word “God”. It’s too vague. “God” becomes an excuse, a crutch, a fantasy, a fleeing from pain, a selfishness.

“Being a force for good” is a more accurate expression of putting my life in the service of a greater power than myself. If I want to be a force for good, if I hold that desire at the center of my heart, I have made a commitment to walking a path of ethics, generosity and compassion. Integrity demands that I make an effort to repair the damage of the lies that I have told, or believed.

There are people who make themselves into living treasures by embracing this desire. Jessica Williams is one of those people. It is our good fortune that she is an individual who devoted countless hours to the practice and study of music. This has enabled her to be the treasure, play the treasure, inspire the treasure in all of us.

Jessica is a force for good.

I have let her become one of the cornerstones of the sound track of my life.


July, 1967.  Detroit, Michigan

          Three musicians were standing beside the club’s back door, under a canvas awning with scalloped trim. They wore black tuxedoes, replete with cummerbunds, bow ties and shoes polished to mirror perfection.  The tallest of the three, a man in his early sixties, wore a red poppy in his lapel.  The others had white carnations.  A few people stopped to shake their hands and offer words of praise.  Someone laughed a boozy laugh.  When the people had drifted away, the older musician butted his cheroot in the sand of an ashtray.  He stepped off the concrete pad and walked towards his car.
          The other two followed casually, about fifteen seconds apart.  They got into the vehicle and quietly closed the door 
          Soon they were engrossed in the ritual of the pipe: lighting, inhaling, holding their breath, exhaling. It was cozy in the Continental’s plush interior.  Air came through the upholstery’s leather seams, as if the vehicle sighed.  The men were settling down, recharging their nerves for the next set, the last set.  It was one o’clock in the morning.
          BANG!  A sound like a bomb shocked the trio with sudden terror.  Their bodies reacted before their brains registered the sound.  They ducked, and their hands flew to cover their heads.
          The car lurched as a man dove across the hood, holding a pistol in his right hand.  His legs swam wildly as he fought to stop his momentum.  Whatever tactic he had in mind, it wasn’t working.  The car’s sheen and finish turned the hood into a sliding board.
          In the back seat, Aaron Kantro cursed loudly without thinking.  “Jesus fucking Christ!”  He had never before heard a gun shot.  In spite of this fact, he recognized the sound.  It was rounder, weightier, and more final than the sound of a firecracker. 
          The man on the car’s hood waved the pistol frantically.  Slithering to get his balance, he clutched at the windshield wipers and missed.  Gravity and car wax slid him across the polished metal until he landed on the ground.  The pistol fired as he hit the gravel.  The bullet penetrated a tire with a loud hiss.
          The man sprang up and disappeared among the ordered rows of vehicles in the parking lot.
          Zoot Prestige held a finger to his mouth and moved quietly to the floor of the passenger seat.  The musicians were already breaking the law.  Zoot didn’t want to be a witness.  Zoot didn’t want questions.  Zoot didn’t want any dealings with the Poe-Leece! 
          Aaron scrunched onto the floor of the back seat until his arm rested on the hump of the drive shaft.  Tyrone, on the other side, was hoping to disappear via the flawed logic of an ostrich.  He was pulling his little pork-pie hat over his eyes.
          A voice shouted, “I’LL KILL YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” 
          Two more shots were fired from the opposite corner of the lot.  Two ovoid muzzle flashes lit up the windshields of Cadillacs and Thunderbirds.  A man’s face appeared, pressed to the window of Zoot’s car.  His cheek was distorted against the glass, with an eye like a panicked horse.  His breath steamed the window only inches from Zoot’s face.  With a slight turn to the right, Zoot became a virtual nose-to-nose mirror image of the man with the gun. 
          The enraged shooter didn’t see the human being an inch from his face.  He raised a snubby revolver over the top of the vehicle, fired twice without aiming, and ran to cover behind a black Eldorado.  The wind had changed.  The shots were barely audible.
          “Sheee-it!” Zoot grumbled, “I hope nobody messes up my short.  I paid three hundred bucks for this custom paint job.”  The immaculately polished car was long and sleek as a submarine.
          A voice shouted, “HEY LOOK HE’S OVER THERE!” 
          Bang bang bang! Flashes lit up the musician’s faces.  Guns were all over the place.  Aaron looked at Tyrone.  The pianist had twitched and spilled a pipe full of burning marijuana into his lap.  He brushed and patted frantically to prevent embers from smoldering through his pants.  Thrusting his hands into his pockets he made a basket to prevent sparks from spreading onto the seat.  Aaron produced a handkerchief and helped contain the disaster.  Tyrone was feeling little stings of fire burning their way into his palms.  He was tossing the embers back and forth as he jumped and wriggled all over the tiny space behind the driver’s seat.  When the young musicians’ eyes met they realized that Tyrone had forgotten to exhale. 
          They began to giggle.  Tyrone managed to empty his lungs without breaking into a hacking cough.  The bodies of both men were convulsed with terrified hilarity.