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The Cool Horn Player

The Cool Horn Player

By Catocribbin

He had just wanted to give that one last great performance...

It is now July 1985 and it is the hottest day of the year. It is a newly modernized waiting room in a typical modern English provincial main line railway station. It's all very plate-glassy; all very pine-woody, all very plas-ticky, and all very tack-keyee. Boring background elevator music is being played. Art Penny is sitting drinking a coffee and reading a newspaper. He is shaking slightly; he shakes nearly all the time now just as if he has Tourette’s. He is smoking a Lucky Strike Cigarette and waiting for his train. Sat near to him are two well-spoken middle aged, middle English ladies. Both ladies are wearing cool summer dresses, both are schoolteachers, both look very hot, both look very flushed, both look very flustered, both look very worried. They are discussing their plight together. His hearing is still very good and he can hear them.

“I just don't know what we can do now Marion? That wretched man has let us down very badly. They will be all so terribly disappointed...”

“It's not your fault Barbara ... some people are just so thoughtless ... they just don't care about anyone but themselves.”

“I know he's a very famous violinist and all that and that he was going to do it all for nothing ... but it was still very selfish of him to go and just leave us in the lurch like this.” “And he wasn't even going to tell us Barbara ... we just didn't matter at all him to him.”

“Are yoo having musician trouble ladies?” Says Art. The two women turn their heads at the same time to face the man who has just spoken to them. He's neatly bald, medium height and gaunt looking. He looks as if he is in his mid to late sixties. He has a palled complexion, liver spots and a grey goatee beard. His eyes are deeply sunken into his head. He is dressed in a crumpled black suit and black T-shirt. His black shoes are very highly polished - that is a habit that he had acquired in the US army. He had spoken with a pronounced, but gentrified, New York Bronx accent. His face is very deeply lined - almost etched.

“Can you ... can you possibly help us sir?” One of the two ladies hesitantly asks him.

“I couldn’t help but overhear yoo - well I ain’t no concert violinist lady but if a simple trumpet player will suffice? Then maybe I might jus’ be yoor man.”

On the floor beside him there is a battered black suitcase and an equally battered and strangely shaped black case, which obviously holds a trumpet.

The two women cautiously look at each other. They had gone to the station to wait for the expected concert violinist to arrive. When he hadn't been on the expected train or on the following one, the women, now becoming very concerned, had phoned his home - to be brusquely told by his wife that he is playing at the Royal Albert Hall to-day. In 45 minutes 600 schoolgirls will be expectantly waiting in the school hall, hoping to be entertained by a world famous violinist. It was going to be a special end of term treat for them ... before they went off on their summer holidays...

“Are you a professional trumpeter sir?” One of the ladies asks him.

“Call me Art Ma’am. My name's Art Penny an’ yoo can say that I doo play the trumpet a little bit.”

The women come to a quick decision. They are desperate and he seems to be such a nice man - he could just be their savior?

“Art - we had promised the girls a live performance by a famous musician. This very afternoon in actual fact and it's just about to start. Would be ever so grateful if you could help us? How much do you charge? We can't pay very much I'm afraid. Oh, and incidentally, I'm Marion and this is my colleague Barbara. We are both assistant head teachers at the local girl's grammar school.”

Art looks at them sagaciously and then he replies,

“Well it so happens that I do have some little time to kill ladies and as for my imbursement? Consider my performance ter be on the house...”


As they drive to the school in Barbara's car, both women are very quiet and both have worried looks on their faces. Art is sitting in the back of the car with his trumpet case beside him. That never leaves his side. His suitcase is in the trunk. As usual he’s shaking slightly. He is the first to break the silence.

“Look ladies, I jus’ know what yoo are thinking: “Hey, who the hell is this old jerk? Who is this complete stranger who we have only just met by accident at the rail station?” You are now no doubt asking yourselves: “Can he even play the trumpet?” “Maybe we have got ourselves a bum steer, who can't play a single note properly?” “Well ladies, I've been playing the horn all my life. Since I wus a kid I've been nutting else but a trumpet player ladies. Cept when I was a Marine for a time in the Pacific War.”

“Playing the trumpet is my soul, it’s my life, it’s my religion, it’s my obsession, it's what I doo ladies. It's what I live fer ladies an' I can play a mean, cool horn when I want too. So yoo can both relax a little now an' just wait an' see. I won't embarrass yoo too much - I hope. As a kid I once played in one of Dutch Schultz's Joint's in the Bronx ... that was before they whacked him ... back in ... oh …1935...”

“What kind of music do you play Art?” Marion asks.

“Jazz ... mainly West Coast jazz Mam. I'm from New York, but I live on the West Coast ... I'm a jazz trumpeter.”

They still both look very worried...


He slowly walks onto the stage. A lone bent, baleful, bearded, old man in a dark scruffy suit and holding a bent and battered trumpet. He looks like he’s in pain as he walks. Someone had thought to put a carafe and a glass full of water for him on a small table. His audience is 600 very disappointed grammar school girls. They had been promised a virtuoso performance by a world-class concert violinist and instead they have got this tired, tatty old tramp, with an equally tatty old trumpet. A few of them even begin to giggle, as young girls are prone to do. The two assistant head teachers still look very worried and the head teachers face is set like stone. But when he reaches the middle of the stage, he just stands there for a moment before he begins, and he then smiles. His smile is radiant and there is a certain something about him - about the man's inner composure, his eyes, they have somehow changed and the two teachers now knew everything is going to be alright.

“Good afternoon ladies ... my name's Art ... Art Penny and I'm a cool horn man. I'm gonna entertain yoo all for a time. Now just too get all yoo girls in the swing of things an' nicely warmed up. I'm gonna start with a little orchestral jazz.”

“My first tune is my rendering of, Elmer Bernstein's, Staccato's Theme, from the old 1950's TV series, Johnny Staccato, starring, John Cassavetes. It will be followed by another; Bernstein, number, the score from the movie, The Man with the Golden Arm, it starred, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. And for my knockout blow ladies it’s gonna be Henry Mancini's Peter Gun Theme ... agin’... from another old TV series...”

The two assistant head teachers look at each other and both raise their eyebrows a little and gave each other a weak little smile. Then with a trumpet crescendo like a volcano exploding he begins playing...

Someone had once said that Art Penny had sold his soul to the devil. In his case this is perfectly true. He had indeed sold his to the devil ... during the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945...

All the tunes he played have been written for a full instrumental jazz band or at least to be played by a jazz quartet. The way Art plays it doesn't matter that he is a solo horn player. The whole audience, teachers and pupils alike are already captivated by his breathtaking playing. And for the next 90 minutes they are all his...

Now it is, Kurt Weill’s, (Speak Low), Miles Davis, (Kinds of Blue, In a Silent Way and much more), then, Dave Brubeck, (Take five and Blue Rondo a La Turk). Next there’s a medley of; John Coltrane, numbers. Then music by great fringe Jazz musicians they'd never heard of. Then it was the much slower - the almost hypnotic, Johnny Mandel's, I Want to Live, score from the Susan Hayward, film of that name.

And so on ... his performance ends with gentler stuff: Stardust, Laura, and the September Song, all with jazz improvisation. Art plays his trumpet as if he is making love to it and now as Art plays on not a sound can be heard from the usually highly vociferous audience of teenage girls.

Of course now they didn't want him to stop and the girls keep on shouting and clapping for he gives them what they want ... an extra 55 minutes of his life. He had composed it in 1982, but had never played it in public before. He calls it, Separate Realities, and he'd dedicated to a close friend of his who had died a year earlier, the quantum physicist, Hugh Everett III. What; Samuel Taylor Coleridge's, Kubla Khan, did for poetry, so this composition did for music and before he starts he recites the first verse of that poem in his Bronx accent,

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea.”

And now he begins to play and what they now hear is like the music of the stars. It could have been the music that the mad Pied Piper of Hamelin had once played to those lost doomed children… It is one long movement - at first it is very slow - in the same soothing rhythm as a mother's heartbeat is to her baby in her womb. But its cadence gradually increases throughout - just like Ravel's Boléro, to reach an awe-inspiring crescendo at the finale. And, Time dilates. One minute the hall clock had read 4.00 pm and the next it read 4.55 pm and no time seemed to have passed at all...


Anyone who was lucky enough to have been in that school hall on that stuffy, hot July afternoon in 1983 knew they were in the presence of transcendent genius and they would remember it for the rest of their lives. The head teacher afterwards had used the word: Mephistophelian, to describe his performance.

And none of them could ever forget that last piece; all of the 600 schoolgirls, the 25 teachers, the 10 ancillary helpers. Often it would come to them in their dreams. Many of them would later on try to buy a record of it. But no recording of it existed ... no record company had ever heard of it ... for it had never been recorded and he only played it to the public once ... to them on that stuffy, hot July afternoon in 1983...


But by now anxious parents are gathering outside in their cars and are becoming fidgety and worried. He knows he now has to say his final au revoir to them...

“Well, it’s time to say good night too yoo all; yoo have all been a great audience. I have immeasurably, immensely enjoyed playing too yoo ladies, but I have to go now. See, I've gotta meet an old friend of mine later on too night.”

With that Art Penny winks at them, blows them all a kiss, makes a deep slow bow to his rapturous audience and then he quietly leaves the stage ... during his performance he never shook once...


Marion and Barbara, gushing with thanks, take him to the station. He is just in time to catch his train, (it sometimes happens this way), so their goodbyes are very short. As they thank him yet again, he gets onto the train. Then after kissing them both on the back of their hands, (he has always been a courtly man), he says his farewell to them. He looks happy and he is smiling but there is an underlying sadness about him as well. And they feel his sadness as he departs. Both women have tears in their eyes and both of the normally very reserved ladies hug him. The guard blows a whistle and Art is gone from their lives forever. He had wanted to give that one last great performance and his prayers has been answered...


That night in a nice five star hotel in, London's West End, Art doesn't feel too bad. First he enjoys a good meal in the hotel's very plush restaurant, (the morphine had guaranteed him that). Then he a drinks in the swanky hotel bar. The drinks are very expensive - but Art doesn't mind. He sits at his favourite bar spot - on a bar stool up by the bar. He has several glasses of his favorite poison, Jack Daniels on the rocks and he smokes a, Montecristo Cigar. For that evening he has worn his very best black, Savile Row suit and his favorite Chinese silk tie with the dragon motif. He had bought it in Soho in 1961 and he only wears it rarely, only on very special occasions...

Later on back in his bedroom suite, after smoking his very last, Lucky Strike cigarette and drinking his very last three fingers of, Jack Daniels on the rocks, Art Penny shoots himself in the head with the 45 automatic he's had since WWII. He had to hold it tight to steady it. The gun has a silencer. (He still has mob connections.) He hadn't wanted to disturb the other guests. He's always been a considerate man. He hopes the hotel maid will be okay when she finds him in the morning? It had been a race between the cirrhosis of the liver and the cancer and the cancer had finally won...


Epilogue: July 1985 and it was the hottest day of the year. Jane's future had already been mapped out for her precisely. She was a cleaver girl and when she left grammar school she was then going to go to medical college and then she was going to become a doctor - like both her parents were. She didn't dream of arguing with mummy and daddy's wishes. She had just accepted it all as a fait accompli. But after hearing Art Penny's very last performance, that was never going to happen. Now, more than 30 years on, and she stands before a huge Las Vegas audience of jazz devotees. Jane puts the mouthpiece of her trumpet to her lips and she begins to play. Jane is autistic and she has Asperger's syndrome ... she is also a near genius with a near perfect eidetic memory ... and after all this time she can remember every note of Separate Realities flawlessly ... she had always wanted to give this one great performance and then be a true cool horn player…


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19 Jun, 2017
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