Behind the library, between the quad and the band room, the Stoners smoke packs of red Marlboro’s. For all practical purposes, this might as well be no man’s land. Only sand dirt seems to grow and the green soccer field starts 80 yards farther away. I imagine the area remained hidden before the school added the soccer field and a football arena. The area is the perfect place to hide and smoke.
I have never been back there. I only see it when I sprint over to the band room. I doubt I would ever hang out there. It is the end of April and school is winding down. Spring fever grabbed us a few weeks ago. The weekly ski trips to Mammoth ended in March, so we all need something to take our minds off school. Boredom fails to describe the feeling; I guess the warm days make us want to play hooky.
I am late for stage band. As I rush past the Stoners, a girl with punk black hair, torn jeans with a hole in her knee, and a bandanna around her neck carries a bass guitar case toward me. I swear she is Joann Jett come to life. She walks my way with attitude. I switch my trumpet case to my other hand and hold the door open for her. She smells like cigarettes as she slides into the band room.
“You’re late, Mr. Franklyn,” the band director said. Mr. Wells took a note from the mystery girl while I rushed to join the other trumpet players on the podium. I fumbled to pull my trumpet out of the case and set my music folder on the stand. Tom, the lead player, flashed a spazzed face as I sat down on my stool. Settled, I shuffle back and bring my foot up on the rung.
“Please welcome Miss Smith,” Mr. Wells said. Miss Smith? Somehow, I thought her name would be more dramatic.
“She joins us from Del Mar and plays the bass,” he said. “Sit over there by the drums.” He pointed at the guitar section.
Miss Smith found an empty chair in front of the drum set. I never payed much attention to the guitar section until now.
“We’ll pick up from Friday with page four of Birdland,” Mr. Well said. This was one of three songs we were practicing for the Reno Jazz Festival. We sounded pretty good. Three trumpets, two alto saxophones, a baritone sax, three trombones, and a clarinet made up the band. And, at least six guitar players. In fact, you could say we have too many wanna-be rock stars playing bad guitar. No bass guitar players made up the band, but it was anyone’s guess if Miss Smith could play bass; at least she looked like a rock star.
The middle section of Birdland features the trumpets in a syncopated anthem before Tom takes off on a solo. We were playing a jazz fusion arrangement made for a strong trumpet section. Except we kept getting off rhythm and Tom still hadn’t practiced the solo. It’s like we had the hiccups in all the wrong place.
“We’ll go down the line,” said Mr. Wells. Tom played his section. But as lead, there wasn’t much for him to mess up. Then Stan played and managed to mangle up the section. It was clear who was having the most trouble.
Mr. Wells stamped out the rhythm and waited for Stan to follow. He slowed the beats and Stan played each note at a deliberate pace. At full speed he sounded timid, but at least the notes came in the right place.
“Your turn, Mr. Franklyn.” He always called me by my last name. Everyone else was Tom, Stan, Dick or Mary. Except for me; I was Mr. Franklyn.
We played the song enough that I guess I just understood how it went. I tongued out the sixteenth and eighth notes in the correct syncopated pattern. Once I finished, I looked over at Tom. He smiled.
“How are you able to do that?” asked Mr. Wells. I wasn’t sure if he was being complimentary or sarcastic. I didn’t know what to say. It just felt right. “I don’t know,” I said. Mr. Wells stared at me for the longest time like I had a double nose. He broke his gaze by turning his sheet music to the beginning.
“We’ll go from the top,” he said.
Mr. Wells brought up his baton and kicked us off. Birdland starts with the bass guitar dumping out the melody and then the rest of the saxes and brass come in. Our new bass guitar sounded tight. Miss Smith popped the notes in a syncopation we had never heard before. Usually, the guitar section seems a bit too soft. Her bass ringed. Everyone noticed the difference and we got into playing.
Class ended and I hung around taking my time to leave to talk to Miss Smith. But I held back too long and the section leaders got to her first. She walked out with them and I missed my chance. Maybe she’s headed over to the Stoners.
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