Cognitive Dissonance, my jazz combo, show signs of being on an upward swing, even though we left the audience at the altar last Fall when we almost but not quite played “A Love Supreme.” The show was a victim of unexpected interference from my day job, when my boss Ronnie was thrashed by the competition’s guys. I had to run to see him at the hospital minutes before we were planning to hit the stage. It was mandatory.
Some band members blame the inexplicably awol drummer, who prioritizes a half-week relationship over Cognitive Dissonance’s long-term reputation. Months of practice down the drain. However you frame the situation, our musical reach exceeded our grasp.
After I refund the ticket sales out of my own pocket, it’s ketchup soup and toaster leavings until Spring.
I’m talking about a group of solid players. When and if they show up. Rather than let the band drift apart, we work on a May debut of “My Favorite Things.” It’s still popular music, yet easier to master. At the band meeting I give a warmly encouraging pep talk. Also I remind the drummer and the saxophonist of my day job, and my willingness to personally come after any musician who dares to no-show on the upcoming gig.
They seem encouraged. I assume all will be well after a bit of practice time.
Not long later Ronnie wants me to start training The Kid Who Thinks He’s Grown. He looks twelve to me, but Ronnie says he’s twice that and eager to dirty his hands with work.
Ronnie worries me. As we pile up sins and felonies. as time passes, I’m increasingly less naturally enthusiastic about what we’re into. And why. It seems highly questionable, but one event pulls us into the next. Is the boss trying to make a point? Do I read too far in?
Like it or not, the Kid’s my driver. We go on a quick turn-around run between New Mexico and Illinois. I don’t trust this guy enough yet to tell him the mission, until we’re a minute from performing the main task. The Kid surprises me. When asked to handle the hard part, he doesn’t hesitate. He passes the test. The problem is dispatched, moved underground, and we’re well into the drive home before the sun rises. I even manage to sleep through Oklahoma, which is especially nice after years of being the driver myself on these runs.
In no time it’s May. I’m so excited about “My Favorite Things” that I can’t eat anything the night of the show.
We’re in the Green Room an hour ahead of show-time, checking gear and gadgets for functionality, waiting for the drummer to arrive. A promoter I somewhat know comes in gladhanding us. He says if we kill out there, maybe he can sign us up to open a string of shows for Kenny G. Yeah, that guy. That’s like telling a restaurant cook that you can hook them up with a well-done steak if they play their cards right.
Our sax player tells him to come back when he has a Marsalis who wants us on their playbill. Any Marsalis. I don’t disagree. We’re riding a crest of relative confidence. Ten minutes to go, the world’s greatest virtually unknown drummer is nowhere around. Not answering his phone. Quite possibly in love again.
There’s a record company rep in the audience. Wow.
People joke about which job is my moonlighting, but in seriousness I deliberately try to keep my two lives completely separate. Two clear strands of unrelated activity. Ronnie knows I play, but he’s never caught a show. He’s un-curious. Thank God. Similarly, I keep the music crowd away from the transportation and dirt-work career for their safety. There are only a few idealists left in this world, so it would be nice not to ruin things for them.
Cognitive Dissonance is on the edge of moving to the next level in triumph or breaking up from a critical mass of gathered frustrations. The drummer is flirting with a free trip to New Mexico.
When I peek out the stage’s curtain, there’s The Kid Who Thinks He’s Grown. Whom I pointedly didn’t invite to the show. Whom I realize in that moment needs a new nickname, since he’s finally grown. He’s seated in front, in the good seats with his steady girlfriend. I hustle out to speak to him.
He wishes us luck, asks if we’re ready for the big moment. Says he loves jazz—the first I’ve heard of it. I warn him we will probably go down in flaming infamy again, because the drummer flaked. But there are still five minutes for salvation.
The Kid stands up, says, “I had a feeling this would happen.” He pulls two drumsticks out of his coat. Not even kidding. “I’ve been brushing up at home. Put me in, Coach.” Oh, the confidence this Kid exudes! I’m sayin’.
He appears to know how to hold drumsticks properly. This guy who hasn’t spoken of music before. I should be skeptical, but the pressure is enormous and The Kid has ice in his veins. So yeah, The Kid sits in as our single-gig drummer when we debut “My Favorite Things.”
He really isn’t ready yet. Everyone including the record rep who leaves without speaking to us can tell. We sound mediocre and the next day’s newspaper review singles out The Kid. I can’t really be angry. He tries to help.
The next evening we’re on the way to New Mexico and Cognitive Dissonance is on Day One of the search of a new percussionist. Noise from the trunk is distracting, but the Kid drives on single-mindedly. We’ll find someone with real chops to hold the kit down. Someone ready to win a blue ribbon for good attendance. I put word out all over.
Things go better when I remember not to braid the two strands that together made me me. Brown paper packages tied up with string.
5 thoughts on “The Kid Who Thinks He’s Grown by Todd Mercer”
I like the tone to this and even though the unsaid was obvious, it was very well done throughout!
A controlled and well thought out piece of story telling!
All the very best my friend.
I was involved in music a million years ago–for about five years. I came away amazed that anyone ever finds the stage, let alone plays coherently. I recall stuff of the flavor you well describe happening pretty much full time. Outstanding little look at that changeless world.
Very nice! I have a neighbour who’s a jazz musician & a builder (or is the other way round?!) so a jm & a … (!) seems perfectly plausible. Even more so after your treatment – well done in all senses!
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An interesting and believable slice of life. A certain kind of life. The passing reference to the noise in the trunk was excellent. The MC should be careful or he’ll end up in the trunk one day.
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Superb writing with a really prominent style and tone. Very much evokes the life of being in a band.