That Poor Jazz Summer
The old cherry
tree in the backyard was the official “headquarters’ for the seven and eight years old boys known as the Musketeers;
Kingfish/Dickie, Rabbit, and Joey/Bo. Rabbit and Dickie restlessly sat under the tree in the backyard catching their breaths
after a foot race down the red brick alley. “You always beat me no matter what distance we run! I’ll be leading
and you always catch and pass me,” Rabbit panted.
Dickie interrupted his wistful stare at a passing mile long freight train to say, “That’s because
you run fast, but don’t run smart. My Father used to run track and taught my brother and me how to run smart.
If you think I’m fast, you should see my father or my brother run.”
“You have to show me how to run smart.”
“I will, but right now I enjoy beating you
too much. I really enjoy walking better than running. One day I’m going to walk all the way to Canada. Then I’m
going to walk to California and Mexico.”
“Bo says he’s going to ride the train with the hoboes all over the United States. That’s
faster than walking; it’ll take forever to walk. I’m going to get a motor home. When I see something I like, I’ll
get out and look around.”
“I’d still rather walk and see everybody and everything.”
“Let’s get some cherries.”
is just about picked out.”
“There’s a big tree in the yard by that house where the pretty ladies go that has lots of cherries.”
told me to stay away from that house because it’s bad.”
“We’ll be in the yard, not the house.”
The boys went to
the yard next to the brothel. After quickly surveying the scene they dashed across the lawn. Rabbit quickly shimmied up the
tree and looked into a window of the house, “Hey Kingfish, you’ve got to see this!”
Dickie climbed the tree and looked into a room
in the house to see the nude political organizer Callahan with a nubile young woman kneeling in front of him, “What
are they doing?”
don’t think so, he’s smiling.”
“I think it’s starting to hurt, he’s frowning and pulling her hair.” The limb shattered
and Callahan moved to the window to see the boys scrambling to their feet and running from the yard.
The youths felt secure in the sanctuary of the yard next to home. Dickie
breathed a sigh of relief, “We better sit out here under the tree and play with the puppy, if I go in my mother can
tell when I’ve done something wrong.”
“Maybe he didn’t see us. What does that guy do anyway?”
“He’s a Captain or a Chief something;
he had my brother and me passing out some papers for him for the election.”
“I heard one of the ladies say “he was a cheap bastard”
or maybe she was saying Chief. What’s a bastard?’
“I don’t know, but it sounds like something I better not
ask my dad about.”
“I’ll get Joey to ask his brother, Vinnie. Oh, oh! Here comes Callahan’s car!”
his cigarette to the curb and approached smiling, “Hello lads, you dropped your bags. The girls filled them up for you.
That was you in the tree, wasn’t it?”
“Yes Sir, we were picking cherries and the branch broke. We’re sorry, we didn’t mean to
break the branch, it was an accident,” Dickie mumbled bashfully.
“Did you see me?”
“No Sir! Where were you?” cunningly replied Dickie.
“I saw you,
but you weren’t doing anything!” blurted Rabbit.
“I like his answer better, here’s a dollar for your piggy bank. Didn’t you help me out at
the elections?” he reached over with a palmed dollar bill and shook Dickie’s hand.
“Yes Sir. You are a Captain! My brother and
I passed out some papers for you---”
“Indeed you did! And it was a fine job you did. Best two dollars I ever spent.”
“You gave me a dime and my brother a quarter
because you didn’t have any change--”
“An oversight that I’ll correct right now. Here’s another dollar for you and one for your
brother. I like a lad who knows who I am and what to see. Yes, a Precinct Captain is one of my many jobs----”
“I know one
of your other jobs!” interjected Rabbit.
“And just which job is that?”
“You are a Chief cheap bastard!”
Callahan bent over and laughed so hard he had to grab the fence for support, “You must have heard the
girls talking. You’d better learn what to SEE and HEAR like your friend here. Here’s a dollar for
you anyway, it’s best that you don’t say that word around your folks or you’ll be sucking on a soap bar.
I’ll see you later.”
“I’ll see you when you want me to see you,” Dickie cleverly replied.
“Very good, ‘see me when I want
you to see me’! You are a smart young man! I’ll keep my eye on you.”
“What was Callahan laughing about and why was he giving you money?”
asked Daddy Hawkes as he walked to the waiting ride.
“We were doing voices for him and he gave me some money because when Freddie and I passed out some papers
for him, he didn’t have any change. He said the ladies from the house sent us some cherries.”
should be on stage if you can get that cheap ---”
Dickie nudged Rabbit before he blurted the unmentionable word.
“That cheapskate! Wash those cherries before you eat them
and take some to your grandmother to fix a pie.”
was a political force with his streetwise style of deal making, hand shaking, palm greasing, and most important of all delivering
the vote to control the patronage. It was acknowledged that he had as many deceased and phantom voters as live voters; he
would become a leader in the army that marched to the drum of the Democratic Party and would soon be known as simply, The
Colonel. The Colored vote was critical although office holders were few in 1948, and positions with the City were in the main,
blue collar labor, low level clerical, or janitorial. The Colonel began to systematically place and control workers to build
his ‘grass roots’ organization through the precincts.
Johnny Hawkes’ band was acknowledged as one of the best local small combos working; a mixture of older
players --- Clyde Hutchins and Wally Madison, Hawkes in the middle and the young lions --- Hank Penn, Sonny Wade and El Cubano.
Wally Madison’s station wagon began to sway as he turned from the paved Route 66 to a bumpy road into Cicero. “You
tied the instruments down good, didn’t you Sonny?”
“You always ask that and I always do.”
El Cubano stopped lightly tapping his bongos and
asked, “How do you know about all these back roads Johnny?”
“From playing pickup baseball games; getting out of town safely
was more important than winning the game. I still don’t know how you swung such a good deal Sonny. This is three times
told you I had a connection.”
“You and Hank always have something up. We are going to stop and take a break and eat this food my lady
fixed us and we can talk about this big time connection.”
“There’s a forest preserve about a mile from the gig where
we can take our break.”
“I get nervous just sitting under a tree when there is a bunch of crackers around.”
are some real crackers out here, but this gig is through a village trustee, who’s throwing a shindig at the lodge hall
for his buddy that’s running for mayor. I told you that about ten times Man; everything is cool! The sign says
the preserve is dead ahead.”
was devouring fried chicken as he spoke while still chewing, “Man this is some ‘down’ bird! Your ‘first
lady’ sure can burn! Fine and can burn for days, no wonder you always going straight to the crib. You ever catch
this new cat on keys from Canada?”
“Oscar Peterson? I caught him on my short wave radio. He’s touring with Norman Granz and the Jazz
at the Philharmonic All-Stars. That is really something, getting all the big players, having them tour as an ensemble.”
all of those concerts too! Prez, Dizzy, Bird, Nat Cole, Les Paul, Ella and Art Tatum. Man that’s a gas!”
records like Charlie Parker! I think if he belched near a studio somebody would record that too!” Wally chimed in.
he improvises, he could probably do something with a belch,” joked Hawkes.
“He and Dizzy Gillespie are taking Jazz to a different level with
Latin percussions and Bop. Hard seeing them as friends, Diz is so professional and even Charlie Parker doesn’t know
when or if Charlie Parker will show up for a gig,” laughed Clyde.
“It’s getting harder to find Jazz gigs, most of the Southern
Coloreds that come here like Down Home Blues or that Jumping Jive like Louis Jordan plays,” said Hawkes.
they spend money too. They leave those factories and labor jobs and go out on the town once a week and stop for a drink at
a tavern several times a week,” Clyde agreed.
“The White Jazz players still get most of the big money gigs. They call it Swing or Syncopated
Swing sometimes to separate them from us, but it is our art form and they are making all of the big bread. Guys like
Artie Shaw, the Dorsey’s, Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman,” lamented Hawkes.
“Benny is cool, but he is so structured a
lot of cats think he is too demanding. Now, when he uses those Fletcher Henderson arrangements, you got something to go home
with,” said Wally.
“Steady Teddy Wilson on piano, Charlie Christian on guitar, Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa made that
band. Hamp will make you jump whether you want to or not, he lays it down right. Gene Krupa, that’s a drummer and a
showman! Gets to shaking that hair and hitting that bass drum; really pushes a band!” said Hawkes.
“Some White cats can play. Jimmy Dorsey on
sax, his brother and sparring partner, Tommy on trombone----” added Clyde.
“Right, they are always fighting! Once they got into it right on
stage. I like that singer, Frank Sinatra with them. That’s one White cat that can jam and he’s cool with the Colored
cats,” said Wally. “He does his share of fighting too, with Buddy Rich, the drummer!”
“Him, Jimmy Rushing, Little Jimmie Scott,
Nat Cole and Mr. B, Billy Eckstine those are your male singers and Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah
Vaughn, Carmen Mac Rae and Dinah Washington those are the chicks that can go,” said Hawkes.
“What about Anita O’Day?” asked
There’s a White chick that can jam!” said Hawkes.
“Chris Conner? June Christy? Helen Forrest?” asked Hank.
alright, but you can’t put them in there with those other chicks,” said Hawkes.
“Kate Smith?” joked Hank.
Now you gone crazy!” said Wally.
“You just called Hollywood Hank, a Negro!” laughed Clyde.
“Hell, he acts more Negro than any of us; chasing women, always eating chicken,, talking jive, drinking, smoking
reefer---” laughed Wally.