The Secret History of Jazz

Jim walked west on Bleecker heading to the Cornelia Street Café, where he planned to take in some newfangled jazz he’d heard about from a friend. He considered himself pretty hip, perhaps less so in obsessions of personal taste than in the passion with which he expressed himself. In Jim’s opinion, cool wasn’t about what bands you liked. It was about how compellingly you presented yourself to the world. 

Everybody needs attention and Jim certainly craved that, especially the female kind. The outcomes of recent conquests had been decidedly mixed. A few women had gone home with him the last couple weeks, but none had come back. He was a decent enough looking guy, though prone to outbursts of sanctimony and scorn that rubbed many people the wrong way.

In any case, he was a free agent on this brisk night in the Village. Entering the café, he pulled off his grimy black overcoat, left his beret firmly in place, and settled himself at the bar so as to conveniently monitor the traffic to and from the nearby ladies’ room.

The music began but Jim barely paid attention to it. He was clocking a petite caramel-skinned gal to his right at the bar. Leaning toward her, he announced, “These guys remind me of some of the stuff Billy Bean was doing around here in the fifties.” 

“I don’t know who that is,” she responded, keeping her eyes trained on the stage. Jim patiently explained that Billy Bean was one of the great obscure jazz guitarists of New York in the fifties. Billy Bean was part of the secret history of New York jazz.

The young woman remained unmoved. Her straight bangs somehow functioned like race horse blinders, allowing her to filter out unwelcome stimuli from the sides. Like Jim, she seemed to be by herself. Two songs passed without further conversation between them. Her disengagement was consistent and firm.

Agita began leaking out of Jim. “You know, people come in here every night and sit down and pose, looking at the stage like they know what they’re listening to. Nobody knows and nobody cares, it’s pathetic,” he hissed. “Frankly, I don’t care much either. I just try to educate myself enough to have a real conversation with someone instead of the usual mindless, mail-it-in bullshit.”

As her features hardened, the sharp bangs appeared even steelier, assuming the dissuasiveness of a titanium fortress. Not another word passed her lips. Jim felt his own features pinching with humiliation. There wasn’t much more he could say without making it worse.

“Whatever,” he muttered, sliding off his bar stool. He angled toward the other end of the bar in search mode, ignoring the music along the way.

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