Someone had taken down the lights and when we walked into the jazz joint it was almost black in there. Smudges of candle-flame bobbed on the dark like lily pads on a pond, and the air tasted sweet, heavy with breath and whispering. We grabbed a seat on the first couch we could see when our eyes adjusted. I slid my notebook out of my back pocket and drooped between my two friends, pressed on either side so close that, anytime I shifted, I felt one or the other of them.
After a few minutes, a lady came by to take our orders. Candlelight painted her face young, but when she turned her back I remembered her being somewhat older. It gave me a cold feeling to think about, but I could shake it easy enough since the drinks were awfully good. Beside us a scraggy nine-to-fiver fussed over his two fingers of brandy neat with the distracted air of someone waiting to hear back on an interview. Apparently the nightcap wasn’t doing much to soften his night.
But I wasn’t worrying about anything, and neither of my friends worried. We sat still --- absorbing everything --- and quite passive, lounging like three Keatses “steep'd in honied indolence.” We were feeling young and didn’t remember about having to go in to work the next day. And we wanted to hear music.
Sipping our drinks, we whispered what we imagined to be profundities to each other till the set finally started.
And then it did. And all our talking was over and we could only stare and listen.
Coiled riffs sprung over the scruffy buzz of bass, pinging the room from top to bottom, raising ruckus to the back of the bar. Melodies arched, pointed and shot, crowing greatly before devolving to oozy coos. The bass took a walk, and then broke a sweat, and then ran, headlong, as if crazed. Again and again, those insistent phrases flipped hands like hot potatoes, and every man did his best to keep up. But there was no keeping up now. Taught, tension-dense as a Pollock painting, the mounting cacophony drove ever forward and forward and forward, inevitably on to that orgiastic drum cadenza.
But nobody was watching the drummer now as he hacked away. All eyes were on the slight, dark man holding his electric upright bass. Somewhere from the midst of the chaos he had emerged, clear as a swimmer surfacing from a pool, so that the sight and sound of him riveted the room. I became aware, and I believe everyone else was thinking so in one way or another, that the soul of the music, the spirit of everything we heard, lived in him. He smiled hugely and leaned on his bass, wagging his head to the now labored drum solo.
Once we had seen him, we could not stop seeing him. To have seen him was to have seen everything worth seeing in that dark room.
Later, after the set was over and we were leaving, I looked for the waitress and for the man with his brandy. They were around still, milling, maybe hesitant to leave, but undeniably wrinkled in the raised light like pairs of worn trousers. A finger of brandy still pooled in the warm snifter. Apparently the man had never been all that interested in it. He had been after something different tonight, and the waitress had been after the same thing when she started serving drinks here. I wondered how many nights had gone by since that one remote evening, sometime past, when purest pleasure --- promised by the music --- seemed only too possible. There was no question in my mind now that they came back for him, for their muse, for the ecstasy of his abandon. Propelled by the memory they came, night after night, striving to possess it once more.
Little did they know then that memory (in no less measure than creative power) makes the muse. After all, Mnemosyne engenders just as mightily as Zeus, and the nine are begotten of both.