Open 2022 Vasant Stories - William Kitcher


Jazz, Baseball, and the State of Things
By William Kitcher


1 - London

I've been listening to jazz since about 1935, so I was 13 or 14.First it was Benny Goodman who amazed me, then it was the big bands, Ellington and Basie and Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, all of them.Even my father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, liked that music as well, although he preferred Louis Armstrong and Bennie Moten and the earlier Dixieland stuff.

I went into the Air Force in 1939, spent time in Scotland and on the southern coast of England - Folkestone - before I was shipped out to Burma.

Well, I heard some music in those days, Glenn Miller was everywhere, "Moonlight Serenade" still makes me think of Hong Kong, but we were doing other things, fighting a war mainly, but we had long periods of boredom, and we just tried to have some fun, knowing we could be dead anytime, we drank, played cards, played football and cricket when it wasn't too hot.We listened to music, but it was a passive act and that didn't seem right at the time.

I was de-mobbed out of the Air Force in '46, got a job, traveled between England and America, played my clarinet for fun, and listened to jazz, but it had changed.The big swinging bands had gone. I heard people say they couldn't afford to keep a big band going anymore, so they all had these quartets and quintets, etc.How could they not afford it?The musicians had money, the record companies had a lot of money, there were a lot of venues and a lot of young people returned from the war who wanted to get out and dance or just listen to it live or buy records.

It was the first time I can remember companies lying so unashamedly and obviously.It wasn't like the wartime lies, the propaganda, this was done for business reasons only apparently, but it made no sense to me.How could there not be money to be made having a 15-piece band?

And that made the music not the same, they didn't swing as much.It was all introspective and technical. Music had changed, and it turned into bebop.Well, that was all right when it was Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, but there were a whole lot of other people who to me couldn't even play their instruments.They made noises that I stopped making when I was 14.By the time jazz got around to John Coltrane squawking and honking, it was gone, it was dead. I don't know what anyone saw in that. Sometimes I think that Paul Gonsalves' 27-chorus solo at Newport in '56 was swinging jazz in its death throes.

My father felt the same way, and that was interesting because I remember him comparing it to classical music.He liked the Romantics, but especially people like Debussy and Ravel and Delius and Satie, and he said the same thing about Schoenberg and parts of Stravinsky and Bartok.He couldn't comprehend how anyone could like that kind of atonal noise, let alone prefer it to compositions that had melody.Same thing happened in jazz half a century later.

But it was that time I lost, those years I was in a war while the rest of the world continued on. After the war, I returned to England, and we had rationing for years, we had problems, and we saw the Marshall Plan restore Europe, and we thought, what about us, we won this bloody war, and what are we getting?Roosevelt had said that one of his aims in fighting World War II was to finally get rid of the British Empire.And they did.

And England never did recover, still hasn't .I felt betrayed by my own country; it didn't seem to be fighting for its people, and finally I had to leave and come here.
But about the jazz .I felt betrayed because the greatest jazz in the world was denied to me because I was fighting a war and didn't hear it, and I didn't get to fight for the preservation of that kind of jazz, the best jazz.It all happened without me.

There's a pub at the end of the street I go to sometimes. I usually forget that on Thursday and Sunday evenings they have a jazz combo in there for a couple of hours. I try to like it, but they're honking and squawking and all playing in different keys and tempos, and they're too loud, and they don't know what melody is.The crowd applauds after each solo, but probably only because they think they're supposed to.Some people try to justify this kind of music by saying that jazz developed after the Swing Era.Well, maybe, but it shouldn't have stopped around 1958, which is what these people have done.

I don't think they even have a sense of history of jazz. I took my clarinet in there one Sunday for a jam, and started to play "Sophisticated Lady".The band didn't know it.


2 - New York

I know what you mean .I got out of college in 1956.I had a business degree but after doing it, I realized that's not what I wanted to do. I didn't know what it was that I did want, but I knew that business wasn't it. I hung around New York, listened to a lot of jazz - that's when I met you at that club, on West 43rd, I think - worked in restaurants, drove a cab for a while, went to see the Giants play as much as I could.That's the baseball Giants, not the football Giants.

But then I got an opportunity to travel around the world, as a cook on a boat .I was away for a long time, a couple of years, went to Miami, then through the Caribbean, down the east coast of South America, across the Pacific, and spent a lot of time in Sumatra, Bali, Java, Malaya, Singapore, before it was all ruined by development and overpopulation and corrupt dictators.

Didn't hear much jazz in those days, heard more of the beginnings of rock and roll, Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Presley, but only occasionally .We'd hear records brought by American sailors, that was about it.But I heard even less about baseball.

Well, I got back stateside in September of '59, and I was sitting in a bar in Brooklyn one day, and I overheard these 2 guys talking about baseball, and one was saying that Los Angeles was leading the league, and I thought, things have changed, Los Angeles didn't even have a team when I left.So I said to them, when did L.A. get a team?And they both stared at me as if I was insane, but then I guess they realized I wasn't joking, and they said, have you been out of the country for awhile, and I told them I had, and they told me that the Dodgers had packed up and moved to Los Angeles after the '57 season.

I couldn't believe it.The Dodgers were an institution, they were the community.And these guys told me that it was all money, that even though the Dodgers were making good money in Brooklyn, there was even more to be made in Los Angeles.When it came down to caring about the community, greed won out.

These guys were pretty upset about it, even then after a couple of years.They said they felt betrayed .I didn't really understand what they meant, after all, it was business.And they said no, it wasn't business, it was greed.

And one of them said he hoped an earthquake would make California drop off into the ocean, that would teach them in L.A. and San Francisco.
What about San Francisco, I said.

Oh, so you wouldn't have heard about that either, then; the Giants went to San Francisco.

My Giants.The reasons the Dodgers left town were the same for the Giants. Major league baseball gave us the Mets a few years later but it was never the same.How could you cheer for the Mets?

I still see those Giant and Dodger uniforms and think of my youth, and it still sounds odd to me when someone says Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants.
Around 1976, when Toronto was trying to get a major league team, one of the stories going was that the Giants would move to Toronto because of money problems in San Francisco. Wouldn't that have been something, the Toronto Giants?And pretty ironic for me, considering I now live in Toronto.Yeah, I root for the Blue Jays, but it's not the same .Things will never be the same.


3 - Toronto

It's not that I feel old, and it's not that I'm now over 60, and it's not that I wasted a lot of time in my twenties and thirties.It's that I now remember back clearly over 30, 40, and even 50 years.It's 40 years since I left university, it's a lifetime, literally in your case, Terry.

And 50 years ago, I was just a kid, but I was starting to think for myself and be aware of myself. I was aware of Vietnam on TV, and the student protests, and I knew instinctively that Nixon was a lying, paranoid, and dangerous old bastard.And I heard people talking about pollution and noticed no one was doing anything about it.And I figured out that there was no God because I asked Mom how you knew you had a soul, and she told me that you just felt it, and I didn't feel it.

And I retreated from that world because I understood it and yet I was supposedly too young to understand it.So I played baseball endlessly, and imagined I was Roberto Clemente, and I would play by myself, throw the ball up in the air and hit it down the backyards, over the Sneddens' backyard and over the Thompsons' or whoever they were, all the way down to the Whitleys'.And I'd walk down there and hit the ball all the way back, all summer long .There are fences between all those yards now.And when it was too dark to play, I'd play games in my head, and write all the statistics down.

And Dad, you took us camping at Lake Kamineskeg, remember?In that trailer where you and Mom and Susan slept, and Bob and I slept in the tent with the dog.And I remember the smell of the pines, it still takes me back there when I smell pine.The older kids would sit around a bonfire and strum guitars and sing all the hits of the day, the Beatles, Beach Boys, Stones, Kinks, Animals, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the million one-hit wonders.And we listened to the radio, CFRA from Ottawa during the day, but at night, you could pick up stations from all over the States - WBZ Boston, WABC New York, WKBW Buffalo, San Antonio, New Orleans, KMOX St. Louis; they'd start their newscasts - "It's 11 o'clock.Do you know where your children are?"

Because people were rioting in the States in those days, not just anti-war protesters, but urban blacks as well.But it looked as though we'd get through those times and get something positive out of it, that finally we'd have civil rights and women's rights and equal rights.

But Martin Luther King was killed, and then Bobby Kennedy.And then those kids were killed by the National Guard at Kent State in '70, and Nixon was re-elected, and Vietnam and Cambodia continued. And Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, delivering supplies to Nicaragua, which had just been hit by an earthquake.

So by the time I was 13 or 14, I couldn't retreat into a child's world anymore. I was told I had to grow up, that I couldn't be a kid anymore, that I had to start taking responsibility.That I had to start acting like an adult even though I didn't have any of the privileges of being an adult .I had to deal with the world, and it was hard because no one told us how we were supposed to deal with it.

And I feel betrayed by that generation who should have seen the problems coming, and didn't do anything about them. So here I am, all these years later, the same person, and I'm still trying to get people to understand how the world works as I see it.And no-one's listening.Or they're rationalizing. Maybe I should just shut up.

You know, I didn't find out until several years ago that Roberto Clemente's plane didn't have a fully trained crew and had 2 tons of cargo more than it could hold.


4 - New Toronto

Well, Dad, shutting up isn't going to help.And Granddad, I know what you're saying, and I know you put your life on the line against the right-wing, but you're talking about only music.It's not that important in the grand scheme of things. I know you love your Ellington and your Basie, but you can listen to all the CDs you want of them now, and they haven't been usurped by Miles Davis and Coltrane and all those others you hate .There's room for all kinds of music, I mean, I hate this so-called modern rhythm and blues, give me Ray Charles anytime, but it's there .I just don't listen to it if I can help it.

And Uncle Ted, it's just baseball, I can understand how you felt betrayed at the time, and I appreciate that it's all capitalist greed that drives it, but it's not as bad as some other things.Look at what's going on in the Third World or in any of our urban areas .I guess you did mention that.But look at the water, the air, the soil.
And Dad, yeah, don't shut up, but do something as well .You've now become the generation that didn't do anything, the same people that you just said were doing nothing all those years ago.Now I know it's not your fault, you're the tail-end of the baby boom.But you have to do something positive too. I know you write a lot of letters and you belong to a lot of groups, but I don't know if that's working. We've got to figure out a better way.

Anyway, Granddad, Uncle Ted, Dad, can we keep talking about this tomorrow?I've really enjoyed it. I have to go now. I’m going to buy some used CDs and then I'm playing ball.


Do you want to come and watch?


William Kitcher from U.S. has short stories and comedy sketches published and/or produced in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, England, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.S. Recent stories were published in Aphelion, Eunoia Review, Once Upon A Crocodile, Ariel Chart, Litbreak, New Contrast, The Bookends Review, Spank The Carp, Little Old Lady Comedy, Black Petals, and Slippage Lit, and he has stories forthcoming in Fiery Scribe Review, The Metaworker, Close To The Bone, Evening Street Review, Truffle, AntipodeanSF, The MacGuffin, and October Hill Magazine


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