jazz singer, The

by laurel


Notes: Continues the love affair I'm having with jazz music and the loving foursome. Inspired by Diana Krall's "Live in Paris" CD.

Song lyrics: "'Deed I do" (Walter Hirsch, Fred Rose) "I've got you under my skin" (Cole Porter).

Spoilers: None

Archive: Okay to WWOMB, anyone else just ask first.

Sweat beaded on his upper lip as his turn came up. The room was dim and smoky, just like you'd expect, with neon beer signs above the bar and row upon row of sparkling glasses in various fluted shapes to hold wine and champagne hanging down like crystalline stalactites. It was an unfriendly atmosphere but only to the one in the spotlight and only until he escaped from scrutiny.

The place was empty, due to auditions, but he could sense the bated breath, the expectations of the band. The lone bartender rinsed glasses clean. His hand expertly dried them with a pristine white towel. He thought he could hear the squeak of cotton on glass. The man looked up then turned back to his work. A cigarette stuck out of the corner of his mouth and he puffed on it from time to time. It could have been an affectation, but so could the handle bar moustache. It wasn't on him.

Alex counted out "one, two, three" in a slightly shaky voice, then the pianist, the drummer, guitarist and bass player all struck up the song like those cymbal smashing monkeys they used to sell. Maybe they still do.

"Do I want you? Oh my do I, honey, 'deed I do," he sang tremulously. His voice gathered courage as the bass player smiled, nodded, strummed the strings. The guitarist leaned over his instrument, closing his eyes. The pianist seemed lost in the words, in the gleaming black and white keys that tinkled in the stillness of mid-day, though it was dark inside the bar.

The song was upbeat and joyful and it made Alex smile as he sang. He thought of his lovers and the song took on new life and his limbs loosened up so that he danced a little and hugged the mike in his one hand.

The piano player's hands chased each other over the keys. They were delicate hands, the hands of a watch maker maybe, but the soft hands of the woman playing were deceptively strong. The black bass player's hands were calloused but made beautiful music as he accompanied her. The drummer nodded his head in time to the thumping of his instrument, his shoulder length light brown hair waving like a mermaid's in the sea and shining purplish under the neon light above the stage. Jeff, the only name he could remember, played his guitar like a pro.

The song ended on a raucous note. Alex was amazed that the band played a little club. They should at least be backup to a contemporary jazz artist.

He was breathing hard when he finished. His nerves had been over-run by excitement. He turned to applaud their skills.

"That was great. Let's hear another," Jeff instructed.

"Sure, I'd love to. What do you want to hear next?"

Jeff shrugged. "Your pick this time."

"I've got you under my skin?" he suggested.

"One of my favorites."

He nodded to the rest of the band. Jeff picked up his acoustic guitar and Amy, yes that was her name, he remembered now, began to play a simple arrangement of the jazz classic. Alex didn't care. It was one of his favorites too and singing it with a full orchestral accompaniment, just a piano or even a cappella would have been okay too.

"I've got you under my skin. I've got you deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart you're really a part of me," he sang sincerely.

It was one of those slow, honey-toned, romantic songs that would have been luminous if tangible. The words made his face light up, especially when he thought of Fox, John and Walter. Just thinking of them or hearing their names made him light up. The song made him feel that way too. Like he'd drunk rum punch and it hit him in the guts and flowed into his veins like pure alcohol. He sweated under the lights and the influence of being on stage, the center of attention, the background music just an accessory to his rich, raspy voice. Perspiration was a big part of music too. He felt like Louis Armstrong as he took out a neatly folded handkerchief that Walter had tucked into his jacket pocket. He'd fussed over getting so dressed up. Jeans and a nice shirt would have sufficed, but John insisted on his dressy trousers and Walter had thrust the jacket at him, insisting he wear it. Luckily he'd gotten away before Fox could throw a freaky tie around his neck. Ties made him feel like he was being lynched.

He tucked the white square back into his pocket and shook hands with the band members.

"That was great. Our best audition yet." James Dixon offered his hand while holding on to his bass.

"Thank you. You guys are terrific."

"I think it's unanimous," Jeff declared. "What do you guys say? Do we have a new singer?"

"For sure," Kris agreed. He slammed on the drums with his sticks and tapped out a solo worthy of Gene Krupa.

Amy murmured agreement.

Alex felt like a new member of the rat pack. No, more like Tony Bennett and he wanted to belt out "fly me to the moon". But it was too late, he was already on the moon, he was out there with the moon and stars, somewhere out in space, with his head in the clouds. He was Dean Martin with a real martini in his hand making his head spin. He was the guy that the girl from Ipanema picked from among all the others.

He thanked them all profusely and made bare sense of their work schedule before heading for the door. Jeff shook his head. He'd call the man later and make sure he knew when to show up for rehearsals before they went on stage for the first time. It was obvious everything he said had gone in one ear and out the other.

A hand stopped him on the way out. Alex frowned and was ready to pull out a weapon. Like it or not, it was a violent world and he still had enemies, therefore he still carried a piece, plus the switchblade he'd tucked into his fancy suit jacket.

"Congratulations!"

He was grabbed in a great bear hug as Walter clutched him close. John patted his back and Fox managed a kiss on his cheek.

"What are you guys doing here?"

"I know you said we'd make you nervous but we had to come and see you audition. We were hiding in the shadows," Walter explained.

"Well hide no more. You are sitting front and center when I perform."

"Damn straight," John agreed.

"Let's have a drink to celebrate," Fox suggested.

"I think the bar's closed," Alex replied, sneaking a look at the bartender. He wouldn't look out of place in an old Boston pub. As if overhearing the conversation, the bartender looked up and beckoned them closer. He smiled and slicked his moustache like the villain in a silent movie.

They took stools at the bar and the bartender, who introduced himself as Jim, set up stout glasses in front of them, poured them each a generous splash of Glenfiddich over ice and congratulated Alex on his hiring.

When Walter tried to pay, Jim waved the money away distastefully, saying it was on the house. They thanked him and drank in silence after toasting their lover's success.

Alex's nerves were on edge again. He hoped he could pull it off. He'd never actually performed in front of an audience unless you counted the school choir a million years ago. That thought made him smile. It was a far cry from a smoky club. But then so much of his life was different. He shrugged as he debated with himself. Adventure won out.

The band members packed up their instruments and chatted amiably as they headed out the door. Alex raised his glass to them as they left. The foursome finished their drinks, thanked Jim again and headed for home. Alex couldn't help but sing all the way.
 

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