A Jazz Baptism
by Smokey Thang
I was just a young punk kid. Lost, bored, curious, searching. It was years ago,
1961, in what they call the “near north side” of Chicago, just north of the loop.
Walking down a side street late at night…dead quiet…I’m loving the late night and
its magic. I turn a corner onto a busier street. There’s a few taxis cruising by, and
suddenly the jagged edge of a trumpet tears through the night and cuts me deep. It
called out to a part of me that I didn’t know. It was as if I had been shot. I was
I wasn’t sure what was happening. I became instantly excited and followed the
sound to a small bar in the middle of the block. As I entered, the trumpet laid
out and a vibraphonist began soloing. I found the bar, ordered a beer, and perched
on a stool. The bubbly vibes echoed through the air and came down on me like
breaking glass in slow motion. Each note cleansed me, instantly cleaning out the
bile, the anger, all the fear and envy, until I was pure and breathing easy, and being
there so effortlessly. I sat there transfixed, but incredibly excited, as the buttery
creamy sound of a tenor saxophone eased in and covered me with a warm blanket.
It lit a candle inside of me that still burns today. That horn showed me where I lived.
Finally, I was home. I was overwhelmed with joy. I have never been the same since.