The smoky, subdued lighting in Tiffany’s Sound Cellar might have been cloned from Freddie’s mood.
The jazz fraternity’s class and encouragement were clustered around him, all sensing that their colleague’s magic had not bridged to his audience. And by instinct, they knew it was time for a private burst of what they had made famous as Tiffany’s Jewels.
Tiffany’s Jewels had birthed as musical duels between old stagers who still thrived on jazz’s spontaneity and creativity to sharpen their skills; duels that attracted young tyros like moths to the footlights. “Duels” had since slurred to “Jewels,” to underscore the sparkling talent that usually erupted. It also alluded to the venue’s legendary Fifth Avenue namesake, and reminded everyone that the next show could outshine the last flop.
But the Jewels had also morphed. One-on-one contests were now interspersed with solo satires of the Great Masters, with tonal changes or rhythmic variations – or by using unlikely instruments. As tonight was about to demonstrate…
Bernie hit the road with a banjo version of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth, but Freddie was unmoved.
Henry’s clarinet drew a few smiles after some jerky, high-volume bars - especially after Joe interrupted: “No kid could sleep through that one, Henry. Was it Brahms’ Lullaby or Brahms‘ ’Alibi?’
But Freddie sat stoney-faced.
Everyone saw the joke after Harry defined his saxophony cacophony as the Severely Bruised (or ‘Black and’) Blue Danube Waltz!
Everyone but Freddie; whose gloom seemed subterranean.
Gradually everybody drifted off...
It was close to dawn as Artie reset the bar stools, when he noticed Eddie still there. He sidled over and quipped: “Hey Freddie, we don’t serve breakfast at Tiffany’s! But why not tell me what’s eating you?”
“Artie, l don’t know where to start…” muttered Freddie.
“Why not ‘start at the very beginning? A very good place to start…’” hummed Artie. “From one of my favourite movies when I was a kid.”
Freddie relaxed, but only slightly: “You’ve never met my older twin brother Frankie. As kids they called us ‘Senior’ and ‘Junior;’ but he can make any instrument talk; even a harmonica!”
“Freddie, nobody outshines you in the jazz scene! Who cares about this Frankie?” protested Artie.
“Normally I don’t,” murmured Freddie, “but I was stupid enough to challenge him to a play-off – on his own turf! He’s making big waves on the club circuit, and show-stopper numbers are his strength.
“I should have known his crowd would miss our riffs, and the swing and syncopation - you know, the whole spontaneity thing - but there I was on stage beside him…
“He invited me to go first, so I gave my trumpet all I could. And man, was I good! I could almost see the dust escaping from stage curtains one number; while in the next I was pulling the crowd in with the softness that only my mute can produce! Who needs words to bring out the feeling? Then it was time to loosen them up with some “wah-wah” effects; so I slipped my plunger over the bell of the trumpet, and they were clapping along – on their feet - for at least thirty minutes!
“Even Senior was applauding. Surely I’d won them over.
“But then he slid onto the piano stool. He pulled the mike down to a comfortable level and smiled into the crowd on the other side of the spotlights: ‘Let’s enjoy a few oldies from Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Then I’ll take it home with a twist – of Mancini; not Martini!’
“Senior caressed those ivories; waking all the memories from those love songs as they wafted around the room. I knew there would be heavy-duty applause; but then he turned from the piano, held up a mouth organ, and introduced his Henry Mancini bracket.
“In no time Charade and Dear Heart had them hooked. And the nostalgia just kept coming, for no matter how good my trumpeting is, it can’t make a sound while I’m breathing in …”
“And Days of Wine and Roses needed no lyrics from Johnny Mercer to drop you into “the Days of My Neuroses?” ventured Artie, trying to lighten the moment.
“Yes,” sighed Freddie, “I realised that he had more talent than me.”
A frown deepened on Artie’s brow. “Was there a moment when you knew you had lost?”
“Absolutely,” groaned Freddie, “it was Once Senior blew Moon – River!”
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