WE WAS FLYIN'

     by Ken Krimstein

Oh, that night, hell yeah, I was there, the only one left who was, but if they was still here they'd tell you too bout that night when Lester and Cozy lit into it and the whole damn Lenox Lounge, I mean the building, stage, dance floor, all the damn pipes and people inside dancing, smoking and carrying on till the whole damn thing she just rips out the ground up there on St. Nicholas, just rips out and flies -- not a long distance mind you -- just two three feet--but it happened, yes it did ... See, I came up from Memphis, not much of a scene down there you know, but in Harlem, well, I knew Jesse Drakes and he caught a gig at this dive uptown. It spread like plague, everyone knew--see there was word on the street Lester Young was gonna show, so we packed five high and four deep and theyís buzzing that Pres is here, Pres coming, the Pres ... Now, Lester, I seen pictures, him cocking that horn out the side of his mouth. Never seen him though, not in the flesh. So Drakes, he gets us in, close by the front, in to see the guy who runs the joint, Tiny Jefferson, and he paid themís that needs to be paid, the liquor flowin' pretty good and the band seriousĖ-they got Cozy Cole up from Mintonís sitting in on drums and everything. See, Iím cutting my teeth on alto, and even though Lester, heís a tenor man, heís got jump, heís got the sound ... So, I got my tie with the Hawaiian beauty on it, new shoes I jes bought down Jewtown--nice two tone, canít see nothing like that Memphis way. Then, the dark whiskey's burning my sweat soaked neck on the way down and the Old Goldís all finished and me bumming Luckyís, and then the waters part just like they did for Moses and I seeís a pork pie hat cleaving that crowd, halos of silver smoke swirling into the lights with flies or mosquitos or some such sparkling around them, and all the cats and all the chicks in their finest just moving back in a real wave and then, yes, sure enough, Lesterís on the stand ... Cozy starts up, sizzling and slapping Ė solo -- bashing away up there like gunshots, and breaking glass -- rest of them guys on the stand, stone, just like theyís feet was nailed to it, while Lester, pretty as you please, he fits that mile thick reed of his into his Selmer, stubs his smoke out ever so thorough like and with the horn jutting right out to the side stomps off a mid-tempo number, Honeysuckle Rose it was. And heís off. I mean, I feel like Iím hearing a phone book being ripped in two by a circus strong man, thatís how heís punching me, and like a whole hen done been thrown into a bubbling vat of oil, that sound sizzles so. But the curves, I see the crunched down hat, the Selmer, the smoke, the sweat, but the curves, thatís all Iím really seeing now. Lester juts one out there, Cozy slaps back one here. Lester climbs a rise real slow then peppers out a blast of buckshot. Cozy throws ice cold water on it with his big Zildjian splash cymbal. Lester stops cold and does a bow and a spin and Cozy stutters up behind him. Itís a chase, a race ... Now, I got that rotgut (all I could afford) whipping pretty good through me, and the hempís pretty thick too, and all I am is a giant pair of ears. Just when I think Honeysuckle Rose ainít never gonna quit, whap -- like theyís crashing right into an immovable object, itís over. But before you can even take it in itís thonk, thonk, and Cozyís off into Taxi War Dance, no messing around at 3 a.m. this night in Harlem. This oneís all charging forward. The people there, they just screaming, screaming. They scared? You bet they are. They want more? Pres, heís bringing it. Then a cocoa lady she just on the stand, right next to Pres, and sheís soaked head to toe in sweat, her arms are, what do you call Ďem, tentacles. Thatís it, and sheís going up and down, all over Lester, his eyes shut tight, she not touching him none. No. Just coaxing, thatís all. Maybe incanting. And man, those phone books is piling up a mile high, he ainít breathed once yet ... No more stops and starts and hairpin turns, this one, Cozyís a crazy cat someone done stepped on his tail hard, heís just pounding them skins hard as he can, hammering, his hands clenched round them sticks like pickaxes. And Lester heís racing somewhere else altogether, itís high up, and just when you think heís gone come down already, he just shoots it up again. The air is thin up there, mighty thin. The crowd, they banging away like Cozy, all whoop and holler. That Selmer, sheís glowing Ė a golden key, those long brown arms with them bangles flashing through the haze like cops and robbers, right there, more more more and then it happened ... It happened. I donít know how, but I feel light all of a sudden, no more weight on my new shoes. My jacket, my good brown one, itís hangin light on my shoulders, and everyone else--itís like weís all down the bottom of Skeeterís Pond and risin up, light and air up there. Ainít no more screaming neither, just Cozy and Pres slapping and punching and growling and going higher. And I swear, I look out the window, and thereís the taxi stand out on St. Nick and 145th and them yellow balloon cars with the checkers on Ďem, the oneís that was sitting right outside that smoky window, well, we looking down on Ďem. Not by much, like I said, but sure as Iím born, a good two three feet and we all silent, all except that drummer and that sax man screaming for us to high heaven and we all know now weís flying and then, just then, when every motherís son and daughter knows it, Lester, he just puts a stop to it like that, just like that. Nest I look out the window, and them taxicabs, they right there along side us again, ground level. And still, nobodyís saying nothing. We all just looking at each other. Then Lester's gone, gone, just like that, off the stage and nuthin but smoke where he was blowing not a minute before. And thatís when I seen him jump in one them taxis not more than nine feet from me, his big black Selmer case following his hat into the back seat and that thing taking off, uptown, deeper into the night. And that cocoa woman, nobody never saw nor heard from her again neither, but I think, hell, I know she done had something to do with it, yes she did cause we was flyin. You can believe me or not.



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