by Philip J. Malebranche
The following creative essay was written in 2008. It soon appeared, for a time, on the Web site of the Writing Institute at St. John’s University. The venue, from which I borrow the title of this piece, was located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The restaurant at that location is now, unfortunately, defunct. The musicians in this piece are fine local players, of the Jeff King Band. Bryce Sebastian appeared on bass; Abdus Sabor, on percussion; Larry Johnson on drums, and on keyboards, Denton Darius. The leader, Jeff King, is a saxophonist. Among the guest performers, unnamed in the essay, is the extraordinary male vocalist Gregory Porter. He sang, on that occasion, the standard, “Work Song.” I made only minor changes to this writing.
When you look up from your plate of Go Portobello and its succulent mushrooms, caramelized onions and goat cheese that are embedded in a warm baguette like a war-of-choice journalist in the Corps in Anbar Province, the drumsticks are blurring passed the sax fingers trilling. The light in the darkened room bounces off the red-brick wall onto jazzmen lost behind closed eyes and dripping beads of sweat. The keyboardist is praying behind his visor while his fingers dance his entreaty to the sky. Another piano man, skull-capped, sits-in for a few, and his sound fans out like that of a muezzin. Next to him is the bassist, whose time gleams from his left wrist while his right one strikes at thumping strings. He blocks the view, though, during the drummer’s solo, to your dismay. The adjacent congas punctuate the solo and invoke Africa.
The host, wearing a white Oxford button-down shirt under his dreadlocks, slips through the smokeless room, like a theater usher’s flashlight. At the table, past your Heineken, a lone man listens, brushing his foot against the leg of the empty chair opposite him. To your left, close by, women sit, exchange pleasantries with you, and enjoy the ladies night out. Across the room, near the window that gives onto Stuyvesant Ave., a woman appears from a sofa. She scoops from somewhere another microphone to join the singer man for a love song after he breaks rocks on a chain gang for being convicted of a crime. He’s been convicted of a crime. The trombonist pokes the air like Earth, Wind & Fire or Kool and the Gang and steals a chance to adjust the mic for his horn. The sheet music drops from the stand in the air conditioner’s breeze. The King searches for peace and finds it when he sings “Happy Birthday” for his own in the audience, and Autumn Leaves fall. Angelique brings the check, and public assistance puts the money down.
Then you will see Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden paint.