The case of the Alto Player who lost track of one!
by Chris Quinlan


z 5th June 2000

(disclaimer: this story is new but some of the jokes are old)
My name is Karl Karma; I'm a musical private eye ....... All the dirty jobs in town, well, they're the ones I get called for ..... you know the ones, trying to track down soul in a sea of Yngwie Malmsteen licks .....

The phone call told me to get to the Brunswick st Fitzroy pad in a hurry .... I got there as fast as my be-bop volkswagon would let me ..... the pad was equidistant from the Punters Club and the Evelyn, this cat could have played a Bb blues in his bedroom and scored double scale from both clubs he was that close.

I knocked on the door, acting non-chalant I made sure the knock sped up; "You must be the drummer" the cop said as he opened the door .......

I pulled the matches out of my pocket ..... I lit one then wondered to myself .... "I don't smoke" ..... I put the match back in my pocket cooly ...... The alto player lay on the floor, he had a stab wound to his heart, bullet wounds to his chest and a rope around his neck ..... ....... he was dead.

As the plainclothes cop came up to me, I reached for a piece of gum in my pocket and burnt my hand ....... "lit matches and coat pockets don't mix" I thought to myself ......... as I non-chalantly poured water into my suit, the cop handed me something through the smoke ....... "What is it?" I asked, "It's a metronome with a flat battery" he coughed; I looked at it closely, I felt the back of it .... it was still warm; it had been used recently, but by whom ...... I looked at the dial ....... it read 208 ...... hmmm.... a clue, somebody was trying to play "Bird' .... but in this town, people can only manage an out of tune Parrot ...... new trim lamb might be the jazz flavour of the month but somebody didn't like this guy's chops.

"What was the alto player's name?" The cop found his wallet, he emptied the contents on the coffee table ..... on the purple and orange table fell an out of date musician's union card dating back to the good ol' days of when the pentatonic scale had a blue note and a phrygian mode was the treatment you got when you asked the Missus for a root.

"Ornette Coltrane" ..... hmmm ..... the name sounded familiar ...... Yes ..... there was a band that played at Benoir's Gutter last week ...... that's right ..... I remember ...... "The Harmolodicks" ....... he must have played the gig ..... it all started to add up; Now I knew who to pay a friendly visit too.

As my be-bop volkswagon fired into life with its two working cylinders coughing into action ...... I thought of my entanglement with a strange jazz songtress by the name of Lydia Chromatic ...... she broke my heart once .... leaving a dear Miles letter saying she was scaling new heights with George Russell ...... the man with the golden horn ....... Lydia was like one of those fruit drinks you buy .... you know the ones ........ Bitch Juice ..... only her brand had 25% more bitch .... I never knew why she left me a dear Miles letter ..... my name isn't Miles.

There was a light on, the bitch was in .... so I gave her knockers a bang, I heard the telephone ring so I got off her so she could answer it ......

"Yessss?" she hissed through the holes in the phone "Oh, its you, I told you never to ring me here, I have company ...... Bad Company ....... no, not the band you prick .... it's my ex, ..... he's working on a case right now and your interrupting" ...... she threw me a look as she lit a cigarette, the look hit me in the kisser, I remember the times when she gave me burning kisses, I always wished she could have kissed me without the cigarette .......

"Yes, I know Ornette Coltrane is dead, Lover Lips here just told me ....... If he had only stuck to the pentatonics .... he may be alive right now ..... I know I know ...... "

I wish I could have heard the other side of the conversation, it sounded like everybody was in on the deal except me ...... but why Ornette Coltrane? .....

"OK, sure, Benoir's Gutter in one hour ..... right" ... Lydia Chromatic hung up the phone ..... she sidled up next to me and whispered "We have to meet somebody, but first ...." she smiled coyly as she took my glasses off with her knees ...... "Have you ever heard my version of "I've got you under my skin?" ........ "Not lately, I cooly replied" So I started listening and she started singing, not necessarily in that order.

Jacque Benoir gave a curious look as he sat down next to us at a small table next to the capaccino machine ...... the band was in the midst of a psuedo- intellectual mind numbing improvisation of herculean proportions called ...... "The Eclipse of the Anal Retentive"

.... as they came to grandiose conclusion the lead guitarist Robert Frippant went up to the microphone and said "For some reason, that song always haunts me .." A plainclothes Jazz Policeman yelled back "It should! You fucking killed it!!!"

Jacque Benoir, looking on, turned his head and said to me "Ornette Coltrane, sure I knew him, he was here last week, playing out of tune notes to a Reggae tune" "What were the notes and what was the tune?" I asked .... The stupid cat played a minor 3rd against a major 6th, and a flat 9th to a minor 2nd, what a stupid!" The song man, what was the song!" I pleaded.

As Jacque Benoir leaned over to whisper ..... his eyes rolled heavenward, blood seeped through his white suit and as he lurched forward, he grabbed me by the lapel of my gaudy restaurant musak jazz dinner jacket and said "Quick, ring the city morgue an tell 'em I'm coming!" ...... "Don't you want your friends to know?" I asked ...."I don't have friends" he wheezed " ...... only musicians ..... aaarrrgggghhh ...... Don't shoot the sherrif ...... find his deputeeeeeee ...... no - one ..... no-one ...... no one .... NO ONE!!!

...as his last garlic breath wafted into my crying nostrils, his head hit the table with the same bounce as a lead guitarist's chequebook ....... he was as dead as a Van Halen guitar lick.

..... with Benoir's last breath he gave me the biggest clue ...... The Jazz Police no longer haunted his little back street gutter .... they were after a new venue and a new music ...... all the pieces fitted together now ....... Ornette Coltrane found out and had paid the ultimate price .....

..... I also knew that I might be the next on the Jazz Police hit list, I had to move now and move I did .......

The stairway up to Club de Grevillia was dark and exposed, at the top was Tony Alphabet ...... club bouncer and part time bass player .... he was ready to rumble, he wanted some action, Like a true professional, Lydia went first ..... "Hi Big Boy, our names on the door?" ..... as Alphabet was distracted by Lydia's warm smile and huge tits, I made my move ..... I played a quick reverse paradiddle on his testicles ..... "Hmmmm ... that did the trick!" I proudly thought to myself .......

We moved quickly, we skulked into the club in the disguise of two networking studio musos' sucking up to booking agents .... we fitted right in ....... the murmur of the crowd was louder than the music ..... business cards flapped and wafted in the breeze like irony falling from a Leonard Cohen songbook ......

"Oh yeah, that CD was great ...... and yeah, this one was great too .... and yeah , yeah, terrific, terrific , oh yeah, they're playing great , yeah, oh yeah ...... so cool ....." Lydia was working the room like a keyboard player working a borrowed Korg ..... just what I needed to sneak backstage ..... hmm ..... push past the guitar player section .... they didn't spot me, they were too busy agreeing with Lydia saying that reading music means you lose your soul ....... I quietly sidled past the drummers ...... "Paradiddle man, a fucking reverse paradiddle man, I told you man .... Ratamacue my arse!"

I made the door backstage I sneaked in and hid behind the black curtain next to the toilet ....... I heard a voice ........ it sounded like it was frothing;

"Jazz is dead, we need some new shit man, we need bands that use all the same licks and we need 'em now, we need dudes to play with the same guitar sound and the same strings and the same drumskins and the same drumsticks and the same amps and the same pedals and the same keyboards and the same mikes and the same software, our share of the market has to be 100% ........"

"To do this .... we need the same music .... we only push the same music ...... I want music without a one, that way everyone gets confused ..... divide and conquer man, divide and conquer! ....... no one ..... that way.... nobody nows when the music starts and when the music stops .... it just keeps going around in circles ..... get it? ...... 2...3...4...2...3..4...2..3..4...... Without one, nobody can start without our say so, because we own ONE!"

So that was it! The jazz police in a new suit ....... The new national distributor of ..... ONE .... the first beat, the beat everything bounces off!

If they get control of ONE, they get control of everything! Ornette Coltrane stumbled onto their plan ...... he had a new music ...... free ...... not needing a one ...... the jazz boys in blue found out about it and rubbed him out ...... everyone else left to re-invent the same shit but with a different smell ......

...... some kind of retrograde fusion of former glories bopping around to a beat that was supplicated syncophantically by mealy-mouthed reed pushers and string benders hell bent on rediscovering the lost secret chord progression that went to the grave with Hendrix and Charlie Parker.

The bastards were close and they knew it ..... all they needed was control of ONE and metronomes all locked into the same fascistly monotonous click, unchanging, forever beeping into musician's ears demanding the same beat, the same pulse, and man, if you land on ONE, you have to PAY!

I had to act NOW! ...... no time left ...... I knew he was in the audience up against the pillar next to the bar ....... I spotted him and he spotted me ..... so I pressed the button on my bebop mobile ......... within seconds he burst through the stage door ........

My old buddie ........ CECIL BRAXTON ..... Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton's love child! ........ Together we held up a poster of Keith Jarrett kissing Jack de Johnette; then another of Ian Anderson cuddling Frank Zappa; we sang King Crimson songs as loudly as we could ......

..... the mastermind ...... Deputy Rance Muhumitz of "I can't believe its not an ARTS Grant Inc." turned in horror as he saw his plan unravel before his eyes ...... hearing all of this free-form confusion, musicians in the next room, slowly regained conciousness rekindling the spark of their lost souls and watered down pentatonic ideas ........

The jig was up, Rance Muhumitz dived through the secret back-door and found his way to the Commodore out the back, everyone followed, chasing him like a bad out-take from a Benny Hill show.

Lydia came rushing through the door with a muso hanging off each nipple, ..... "Did you get him, did you get him? ........ she asked frantically .....

"No, sweetcakes, we didn't get him, but the musicians will, they never stop chasing, they'll track him down and demand a discount and an endorsement, his life will be hell ..... he's forgotten what music is all about baby ..... it comes from the soul, babe, not from the wallet, the soul!"

Lydia Chromatic smiled "Geez, I love it when you talk like an acid burn-out muso from the eighties baby ..... kiss me!" ....... so I kissed ....... she didn't have her cigarette this time, just a tongue that could curl around a tonsil as fast as triple tongueing trumpeter, she wanted to play safe ..... I told her to put a sticker on her licker .... I think I had a cigar in my pants she wanted to smoke, but that's another story.

The end .............




  • z