Friday, July 15, 2011

WALK TALL, CANNONBALL

Nat and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
I recently published a story in a chapbook entitled "The Saxophonists' Book of the Dead." (serif of nottingham, 2011.) Nicholas Papaxanthos read the story and asked me yesterday 'where was Cannonball Adderley?' since I'd left him out of the story in my pantheon of legendary saxophonists. I was thinking about this and felt that I needed to remedy this. Who could leave out Cannonball?

And so, today, I have written this story about Cannonball (and his brother Nat.) It also included chess, because chess is a kind of two dimensional jazz.

By the way, Nick's premiere poetry chapbook, Teeth, Untucked (Proper Tales Press) is great -- check out the title poem, it's especially.excellent. You can get it by contacting Stuart Ross at Proper Tales.

And now, thanks to Nick, the story.



WALK TALL, CANNONBALL

We were playing Internet chess.
      “I like jazz,” he said. Rook takes Knight. Check.
      Knight takes Rook.
      “But I didn’t like it when I lost my legs.” Queen takes pawn. Check.
      I didn’t know this guy, but I took the bait. “What happened?” King takes Queen.
“It was the late fifties. A time of great warships. Of colonial powers sawing the world into pieces. Galleons seized the wind in their enormous sails and smashed the sea.”
Bishop to Bishop 5. Double check.
“Powder monkeys ran up from the orlop deck, loaded powder and the gunners shot brilliant saxophonists back and forth at each other, sometimes broadside, sometimes stoving in the galley and toppling the mizzen.” King to King 1.  “It was another time, another world. A world where Cannonball Adderley was a weapon. A time of great
adventure.”
“And you lost your legs?”
      “Early June. A battle over the coast of Hispaniola. Cannonball Adderley smashed across the foredeck and took me down with his blues-inflected post-bop. I woke up a week later in a hospital without legs. I didn’t know what had happened. The morning sun bright, the light breeze rippling through the white curtains. The green scent of trees. The nurse ran a damp cloth across my forehead. She was singing quietly. “Summertime,” she sang. “And the living is easy.”
      “Where am I?” I asked.
      “Shh.” she sang. “Fish are jumping.” She pulled the blankets around me. “The cotton is high.” She walked quietly from the room.
      I slept then, waking for small moments throughout the day, and then as the day faded into night.
      Darkness. Someone beside me began coughing, then asked, “Anyone there?”
      I wasn’t certain of much, but I knew that.
      “Yeah,” I said. “At least some of me. The part that’s left. Don’t know where my legs are. In the ocean, maybe.”
      “Where are we?”
      “Some kind of hospital.”
      “My name’s Julian. They call me Cannonball.”
      “Cannonball? Cannonball Adderley?”
      “Yeah. Cannonball Adderley. Used to eat a lot as a kid. ‘Cannibal’ my friends called me. Over time, it turned into ‘Cannonball.’ So did I. Quite round, in fact.”
      I didn’t know then that he was the one who took off my legs. Anyway, it wasn’t his choice: who would choose to be fired from a cannon? Besides, there were many Cannonballs in that war. Many Cannonball Adderleys. Seas full of dazzling jazz saxophonists, spent and sinking to the sea floor.
      “How are you doing?” I asked.
      “Not good,” he said. “Dizzy. Nauseous. Like I’m going to die. Or just did. And I don’t know where my brother is. Nat. Nat Adderley. You know him?”
      “Of course,” I said. “The soulful brass salve to the incisive rippling edge of your alto.”
      “Yeah, that’s him,” he said. “But I’m worried. I haven’t seen him since we were brought below deck.  They lit him on fire, you know. He burned well. Hot and quick. Me, I was for smashing things. I destroyed rigging, stove in the sides of ships. I crashed through decks of men. And then, I would dance a nimble harmonic filigree, a razor-sharp hummingbird path around the changes of a jazz standard.
      “All our lives, we looked after each other, though he was the younger brother. Spent all our time together ever since we were kids in Tampa. Playing ball on the sidewalk. Riding bikes to the beach. Piano lessons. Sword fighting. Nat and me, buying candy. Chess on the porch with grandpa, cake with grandma. Corner store bullies. Maybe bullying some ourselves.  Pouring gasoline on the creek and lighting it on fire down in the ravine. But music. Always music. Four handed piano. School pep band. Jazz. Women. The church.
      “When I was first fired out the side of a ship, I looked up and there was Nat above the gunwale. Did you know that gunwales are sometimes called saxboards? I should make that the name of a song. So, there I was about to splinter the side of a ship, and I saw my little brother, Nat, watching out for me.  Just like when I went to record with Miles. ‘Cannonball,’ he said. ‘Go get ‘em, Cannonball.’ And I did.
      “But where is my little brother, now? Where are all those Nats, those other Cannonballs, peppering the sides of ships and crumpled amidst the broken bodies of the enemy?”
      The night nurse came in then to change the dressing where my legs once connected to my body. “Nurse, nurse,” Cannonball called. “Nurse.”
      “Cannonball,” she said. “Don’t excite yourself. You need some rest.”
      “But, Nat—where’s Nat?” he said. “I need my brother, the corporeal plushness of his cornet, the deep soulful vitality of his songs. I need to know where Nat is?”
      In my life, both before and after I lost my legs, I have done many things that I have not been proud of.  I have done good things, yes, but I did something then that I often think about, often think about when I listen to the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, or the Miles Davis’s classic Kind of Blue album, the one where Coltrane and Adderley are the perfect healing ballast to Miles’s hurting hipster reticence and introverted only half-aware pain.
      “I am Nat,” I said. “Don’t you recognize me, brother?” I said, “Julian, it’s me. Nat.”
      Bishop to Queen 7. Check. “And what did he do then?” I asked. “Did he believe you?”
      He never said another word. He lay back and died.
      King to Bishop 1.
      “Yes,” he said. “When the nurse left, I reached over and took his wallet from the night table. I only found out then that he was the one who had taken off my legs.
       “But I have been able to live a good life.”
      “Because of what you did?”
      “Because of his legs. I took his legs and I used them. I stuck them on myself and I walked through the cities and I walked through the towns. I walked right into a lawyers’ office in New York City, and I got his royalties. And I walked out to the water and sat down on the pier. And I looked up at the stars and I looked up at the moon.  And I knew that because of Cannonball, everything would be all right.”
      Bishop takes Knight. Checkmate.
   


   

1 comment:

Nicholas Papaxanthos said...

This is great. A tribute to Cannonball, but also what it means to follow in the impossible footsteps of a jazz giant, give a standing ovation without legs. And Nat Adderley’s in there too! Thanks, Gary.