from issue #2: ‘The Taste, 2000’ by Paul Pax Andrews

THE TASTE, 2000 by PAUL PAX ANDREWS

The best heroin was in Cabramatta, a suburb forty minutes south-west of Sydney. The early-morning trains were full of junkies, mostly sick and hanging out, checking each station and counting the seconds until our collective nightmares would end for a moment, any relief. For just one minute. A rolling sick car of very strange community, huddled, ticket-less. Each of us with our last twenty-five or fifty… Eager to spend it on the only thing that matters. None of us were making eye contact but each is keenly aware of the other. The heroin-dealers were often Vietnamese or Chinese, trying to make a living in their newfound freedoms, yet mostly didn’t use H themselves. That is why the deals were consistent. Sometimes we could get a half a gram for a hundred bucks that would hold us for a day, or twelve hours at least. We’d knock on a garage door and a hand would come out from underneath, take the hundred and subsequently push out a tiny foil wrapped cube of white heroin.

The Liverpool train, 8am.

Blokes with whipper-snippers and stereos or power tools to hock and sell; they carried laptops and phones, turntables and cameras. Chicks with bags of shoplifting, batteries, razors, hair products, cigarette lighters, film, clothes, toys, perfume, anything that we might trade for a few dollars, to finally end up with enough money to stop being sick for a few hours. We have done it all for one minute’s peace, twenty-five or fifty bucks. A junkie starts shoplifting early in the morning, while the punters sleep. Only once or twice a month did we have enough for a half weight or a gram. Then it will be on again, the whole madness of the day from my first moment to my last thought—Heroin twenty-four seven, a dollar at a time, hustling around the Eastern Suburbs Line, the Cross, Central, Cabramatta, Town Hall and Martin Place. We met our dealers everywhere and anywhere anytime, day and night.

More train ticket dodging and cops at Cabramatta Station, everywhere junkies, dealers and chemists. A number of dealers would be there waiting when we stepped out of the railway station. Shop windows are showing grotesque hanging red ducks or fish tanks full of giant crabs. Trays of pork buns. Exotic food restaurants all around us but we don’t stop to look and we’re not hungry, although we hadn’t eaten in days. Asian street dealers everywhere (they would sell a twenty or a fifty but usually tiny amounts). “No. Motherfucker!” We could barely walk, yet at this point and with fifty in our pocket we would go a hundred more miles in our heroin trance, by now we were locked into each step. Get on—get on—get on—get on, get a shot. Through the back streets of Cabramatta, away from the station toward blocks of sixties flats, brown flats, “keep going man.” Nearly there. No cops? (in contrast to the amount of heroin in Cabramatta, there were very few police indeed). Syringes in the garden beds, I could smell heroin now. Heart racing but my legs are failing. If Chan was on we could get a fifty that would hold us for a couple of hours, and we’re nearly there. “You OK baby? Almost there!” Meanwhile I’m hoping, “Please man’. Chan. Be home!”

“Hello?” Number 4 on the intercom (two buttons are missing). “Hello Chan?” The dodgy speaker crackles. “We have friends in town.” (The password.) What is that smell? “Yes?” “Thank god he’s there! Thank God.” “Chan? A fifty thanks.” Yes! I hold my breath ‘till we reach the fourth floor. The smell of the apartment block is sour and damp and the door opened only for a moment. A hand, an eye, some aluminium foil. “Thanks!” We went down one flight and she had the spoon out. Oh my God, heroin, beautiful smack. “Water?” Between my teeth I rip off the cap of the plastic, distilled water bottle. We would have it mixed up and in the fits, ready in one minute or less. On the stairs, right there.

Next began the drama of getting a vein. After three years we were running out of solid veins and sometimes I would miss. Fuck! All hell would break loose and we would need another shot. I am ripping at my belt to remove it. Pumping now, excited, my heart is racing with anticipation but “What is that fucking smell?”

A Cabramatta stairwell; my old belt wrapped tight around my arm, one end held in the mouth to leave two hands free, slapping my forearm. I find a likely spot and try to raise blood, nothing. Again I jab the sharp under my skin and pierce the vein. “Fuck that hurts, motherfuck.” Try the other arm, she’s got hers and sighs, “Mmnnooohh” “You OK, babe?” This time…Yes! “Ohhh!“ I watch the swirl of red shoot into the fit. My belt slips from my mouth as the vein accepts the tiny shot.

“Oh… nice… oh, oh, oh, oh! Fuuuck yeh! Oh man. Ahh… So fuckin good. OHH—Ooh, FUUCK…”

Relief, peace. Breathe. The instant rush. Oh beautiful rush. Fuck Yeh! ………”Oh baby, so good! How are you?” Her eyes are closed and she is slumped in her own reprieve, the first release from horror cramps and pains. Relief in all our muscles, from the incessant craving. Beautiful saviour! Heroin peace.

A sense of total disbelief now arises and takes over my thoughts. Where the fuck am I? At last it’s me… Me! Man, at last I can feel me. Paul, beautiful me. How beautiful are you man? “You insane motherfucker. What are you gonna do?” Fuck. You gotta get clean, man. “What the Fuck?” My freed mind now races through the questions and answers. Wishing I could keep my relief for more than just a few fleeting hours, now that I feel so good. Not an insane junkie, just me. Broken me, and I’m OK, at peace now you know, I’m OK. I’m not sick any more, I’m just lost and don’t belong here.

We’d shoot up anywhere, just as soon as we scored; in toilets, on trains, in doorways and parks, gardens, anywhere. We just needed relief, now. Right now! There is no time to be polite, not now. Not here in Cabramatta, not on these stairs… not in this filthy stairwell, littered with swabs and picks and spoons, fits, and water bottles and silver foil, shit every-where… and the smell of filth, stale filth, tobacco mixed with damp carpet filth. We had our hit, right there in amongst it all. This can’t be! What the fuck am I doin’ here in this shit-hole and how did I get here? Why?

“Who the fuck are you?”

Yes… It is what it is, man! Why? Forgive me.

“Please forgive me.”

“There must be a way out, I want out! Anything, I will do anything!”

This is a rude awakening that I face, each time I have a shot. Each time I send the demon away, each time I find peace again. Each shot is my last shot, always, my heartbeat is each shot, nothing between; only numbness or pain, nothing between shots, only… horror. Absolute disbelief and the panic of constant running. A sense of endless racing. Wholeheartedly onward, unstoppable, heroin-fuelled. Relentless. Going nowhere. Nothing between heartbeats, nothing. Nothing that matters.

Only heroin and relief. Occasional relief.

Yet oh, such relief. My whole body would go into dreamy ecstasy as soon as the rush was over; the rush is some ride… The only thing is, once started, I can’t get off. A ride I never wanted to get onto. Ever. Never. Not now and not ever. Why? To waste my life and throw it away, on that first taste. How had I become the person I least wanted to be? Totally broken, insane for sure, sleeping in gardens and doorways, eating with homeless drunks, people just like me, desperate now. Lost. My heart is bankrupt. Empty-hearted, yet I’m doin’ my best. Maybe I wouldn’t be good enough? Self doubt and self-loathing pervades.

Does it matter? Maybe I would be good enough. How? If I couldn’t find the real Paul, I’d never know, not now. Not ever.

“How can I see out of this darkness?”

My first move; change my playground, a geographical. Jason’s death hit me hard. (My twenty-five-year-old nephew had overdosed in a car at Cabramatta.) I was completely depressed and it seemed this was my fate too, an overdose or worse, the continuum of this nightmare until I am in jail. I did not want to live, not now. I didn’t want to die either but how can I escape this quicksand existence? She is so sick too, yet I can’t think of saving her, only myself. How the fuck can I get away from all this? I must leave Sydney, but how?

Each second Thursday we received the dole and on December 27th we each bought two Greyhound tickets, one to Perth and another to Coffs Harbour. After scoring our shot and saying a brief goodbye, I boarded my escape and watched her beautiful face for the last time… I finally got to Western Australia after four days of laying in the aisle, Sydney to Perth. My very last shot was in Adelaide but I was barely able to hold my own weight when I arrived. The bus driver had threatened to throw me off in Eucla on the Nullarbor. Vomiting and cramps, pain, diarrhoea and totally insane. Very ill—so sick. Sad.

PERTH ONCE AGAIN, 2001

I had been away thirty years. My beautiful mother and my twin sister; I had been away so long, yet Sue and Bill had taken me in on Christmas Eve 2000. Beautiful Sue. What a gift. What a talent. (She is a visual artist, a wonderful talent with a great sense of composition, colour and line.) My brother Terry and his wife Ann, my sisters Carol, Jean were supportive through the first months. They just seemed glad to have a brother again. I finally got clean; in Fremantle after twenty days of nightmare, no sleep and mental torture. Eventually I made it to my first NA meeting and attended two hundred ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ meetings during the next six months! My first meeting was on the 31st of January 2001 in South Fremantle. Sometimes attending three meetings a day, I made getting clean my career, for twelve months. Total abstinence, with not even a beer and everyday a meeting or two, sharing my experiences. (One day at a time.) Richard Hamersley and other members of NA in Perth helped me stay clean. I wanted Nat and Gabi back in my life so much, so many tears in those first weeks. I needed to address my spirit, find it again.

Acceptance. Purpose. Find my song. Fremantle is good to me and accepts me as an old friend.

My new birthday was December 28th, 2000. I have a lot of work to do. How can I apologise for ten thousand lies? Yet already my friends are so generous, so gracious. How can I apologise to myself? My life is so good now. I am truly sorry for betraying friendships and family. Make a list of all the things in my life that I am grateful for. “I am fucking glad I have stopped using!” number one! Only about six percent of long-term heroin users survive and that makes me one lucky bastard, that’s for sure.

By Easter 2001, I wanted to play again and started listening to Coltrane once more… It is four or five years since I last played seriously, but I’m listening again—Miles and Bird. I heard the saxophone and the desires came rushing back. Art Pepper’s joy. Cannonball’s style. Bird’s genius. A friend took me to see the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, Ibrahim Ferrer and Rubén González full of music, full of life at eighty years old and wonderful. I wanted to play again, but how? Then Chris, a friend of a friend of a friend said casually, “I’ve got an alto under the bed.” Amazing to think I could have another go. (Big thanks again Chris!) I wanted to sing. I was penniless but this five hundred dollar horn felt like a new Selmer after not playing for so long. I hit the beach, every morning playing to the waves to get my sound back. South Beach; to the mole and back. Took three months before I got a sound that was reminiscent of the old days, but then the swing feel thing didn’t quite seem right, somehow. I just couldn’t feel it! I needed new ground but in the meantime kept working on my sound, loving practising again. In awe of this piece of plumbing and the millions of possibilities, once I breathed into it.

I felt alive and excited when Natty turned me on to St Germain and some other Electronica. I discovered the dance floor and Kruder & Dorfmaster, LTJ Bukem, David Holmes and Plump DJs. Discovering the Club scene, dance. Ambar and Geisha, Metropolis for Drum ‘n’ Bass was really something and I started to dig the Two-step thing. Dub-step. Artful Dodger, the Streets, David Holmes, Roni Size and World House. Nu-jazz with ‘Flanger’ and on to fresh new ground, from Detroit and Germany. Darren Moore turned me on to it when he returned from London and was hip to the drum and bass too. I started playing over the mix with DJ Tasty Beats and DJ Gear, Wax n Sax, around Perth. If I can get up in the mix, this is the tightest rhythm section I could hope for. Consistent audiences too, giving one hundred percent. A rare commodity at a jazz-gig! (In Australia anyway, jazz audiences are so polite and reserved and often seemingly unaffected.) In a dance-club we are there for the music, young and old together, excited, in a place where we can just listen together and bliss out. Total respect. I heard Jamiroquai live; we were seven thousand happy listeners. Dance is one of the truest cultures I have seen in Australia. A sense of coming together, in total abandon, for music. Where had I been my whole life? (Not on the dance-floor, yet.) This is functional music at its best. Tribal in origin, combined with a rare touch of modern community, acceptance and love. World leaders should maybe get together on the dance floor. (At least once)

“Go for it Johnny! Wake up. Find some bliss somewhere. (For all our sakes.) George? Get up and have a boogie.” Ecstasy is only a point of reference, but a valuable reminder of our ability to bliss out.

I started blowing over the mix and realized I was listening to a bran-new direction for my jazz. I had spent my whole life playing long lines, now I need to find the loop. Three notes or four, in a catchy phrase or a lick that I can work rhythmically for five minutes, not allowing myself too much freedom once I locked in. When it worked, I could take the raging room up another five percent with my sound and a little heart. It was sensational working the room… I could play in amongst the people, on the floor… Three notes. I was so excited. By 2001, I wanted a trio, so to hear the Perth locals, especially the younger players, I looked in at the West-Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Monday lunchtime. WAAPA.

When I first heard Dane Alderson and Andrew Fisenden, both were seventeen and inspired me with a sea of rhythms. I wanted to play again for sure! I was hearing this wonderful energy, so I offered them a gig. We never had a rehearsal, ever, but each night the band became tighter and more exciting. Adding two other great youngsters, Ooki Effendi and Simon Phillips we recorded an album ‘Thanksgiving’ (paxrecords is born). I wrote two tunes for the band: ‘Kick’ and the title track which was inspired by Pharoah Sanders and is meant to progress from bliss to horror through ugly beauty, then back again. The band laid down a great feel and we created from there. I just gave them three chords. ‘Kick’ is about freedom and joy, just two contrasting keys. I was playing the five hundred dollar alto and a soprano that Clive had lent me. I was struggling, but it sure felt good. Nearly had a heart attack—they played so phat. (I revisited the wha-wha pedal on some tunes too.) Thank God for Stephen Manassah, who has mixed the album and allowed us to hear fifty or so minutes of that gig and some sensational playing. They gave me their all, those young men. A few months later, James Morrison discovered them (Dane and Andrew) and they joined his band. (Around the world in eighty days.) I owe them, big time. They helped me save me, and they had been listening to the drum and bass too, which turned me on, big-time.

In August Sue introduced me to Richard Hill, a wonderful person who has been a major figure in my life ever since. Ric was born with spinal muscular-atrophy, can move just two fingers and is in a wheelchair. I started caring for him (and his two grandmothers) thirty hours a week. He had never had a support worker before, so we learned together. (A day gig.) I realized acceptance, just for a start. Many gifts have followed.

Tolerance.

Each day a gift. I get to practice ‘leaving my ego at home’ (not easy for me). We celebrate eleven years as a team now, happy years and together we can do anything. I spend thirty hours a week practising my compassion and observing my attitude and intention (as often as possible). Now we both tell our stories to all kinds of groups. He is “The luckiest guy alive” too. Just ask him.

*

from Without A Song © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews

Ebook available @ Smashwords

This excerpt appears in Contrappasso Magazine #2, December 2012
Photography (CC) by Jason Flores @ Flickr

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from issue #2: ‘Dizzy, 1979’ by Paul Pax Andrews

DIZZY, 1979 by PAUL PAX ANDREWS

I was studying jazz full-time and invited to play tenor at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Northside Big Band from Manly. We were invited to Dizzy’s rehearsal; eleven AM, second day at the Festival… Saturday. Entering the room, I was so excited, buzzing, but where is everyone? The place should be packed, what happened to the other guys? Just twelve of us, including the band. Stan Getz sporting his Ray-Bans, standing next to me with arms folded waiting, listening and watching. Then, in one fantastic moment, Dizzy transformed his stark rehearsal space into a glowing cathedral, now with each of us transfixed. Every move, each sound and every whisper; we wanted to hear it. Each prayer. I was standing breathless on the moon in jazz heaven, feeling Dizzy Gillespie’s bliss on earth with Roy Haynes’ white smile and panama hat, it was unbelievable I could reach over and touch him. The sounds of a different drummer as his legendary brushes coaxed a robust solid platform for the rhythm section, swinging so hard. Rufus Reid was sensational with his fat tone and big smile. An Afro-groove goin’ on, he is rocking back and forth and leaning forward away out over the bass, dancing. Dizzy is jiving and joking with Roy, “No! Like this, man! I’m only showing you one more time!” Taking the drumstick and demonstrating on the cymbals (he was hilarious); Roy is laughing his gorgeous grin. Two old buddies happy to be together again, chuckling, giggling. Big Black on conga handed all of us a passport to Africa with John Lewis, modern-jazz piano history. Oh man, this was a beautiful rhythm section. ‘Summertime’ then ‘Manteca’ as if it was the first time they had played them. Dizzy is high on the horn, as high as. Yet what blew me away was his tone, somehow shy or delicate like Miles, but I hadn’t expected that from Dizzy with his big open song. The sweetest cup-mute, so gentle, I will never forget.

“It is the vulnerability in my sound that makes it irresistible,” Miles explained about his mutes.

“Let’s go Diz!” called his crazy skinny manager (wearing a bad loud orange-check jacket) hassling after every song. “You need to rest and eat Diz!” or… “Three hours till the gig, man. Dizzy!” Meanwhile, the legend wasn’t paying no mind but enjoying each moment, ignoring him totally whilst playing a game he had obviously played many times. In his greatness, he could still play life with a childlike freshness. Laughing aloud. Big smiles.

He started into ‘Con Alma’ and the mood returns to serious beauty; such energy, and lyrical beyond my imagination. Roy has picked up the sticks and is driving a freeway. I am so high. We all are. What a song!

Another ten minutes of joy and then, “Dizz!” again. He started to put his horn away and each of us is raving, so excited and alive. The room was in ecstasy now, tripping, high on our own tower, given to us by our all-time hero. Pumping, throbbing. I am speechless, holding my breath, not wanting these moments to end, disbelieving my incredible once in a lifetime luck. This has to be a dream. Then…

Suddenly the room became silent once more, as the familiar intro to Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ lures us. She is blind and John Lewis had led her to the piano, golden retriever at her feet. South American, raven haired, so calm. She is Brazilian, maybe. Then our focus shifted to Him, all of us hoping, waiting to see if Dizzy would play some more. He didn’t disappoint us (but his minder has brow in hand). Trumpet muted, and soft with the assuredness that only a lifetime of playing can deliver. Sensational. She smiles sweetly throughout and delivers Him the most wonderful partner play. As the two sing away, tears well-up inside me and I am overwhelmed, choked in my emotions, just forgetting to breathe sometimes. Heaven for ten minutes more. Heaven on Earth. Where else can it be but in this moment, each new moment. My life changed, right there. Again, I felt a sense of great responsibility to my new life as a musician and wanted to thank Him. Once more Dizzy returned to his trumpet case and started to pack up.

I followed Him to the other end of the room and said something, shaking his welcoming hand. His voice was low and guttural, yet sweet “Ah, Sydney huh, I love Australia, they grow some nice weed there and everyone’s so friendly. Have you had a smoke?” He grinned. “Not in California, so far,” I replied, but not thinking what I am saying. “What? You haven’t had a smoke. We had better fix that.” He unpacked a film container and a little pipe, placed it in my mouth, then offered me a light whilst raving about Monterey. How happy he is to see Roy Haynes again; then he started rolling me a little joint, which he placed in my top pocket after his turn on the pipe. I will never forget his beautiful face. “You’re gonna have a great ol’ time.” I am so high and can’t recall much else (except his hovering manager who had arrived once more to remind Dizzy of his schedule, and who we commandeered to take a photo) but what blew me out, was that he had time for a kid from the other side of the globe. A beautiful caring man. I was soaring for a month after meeting Dizzy! Music has given me so many wonderful gifts; hearing and meeting those incredible sculptures of sounds.

The next day, after our set with the Northside (partying in the green room) when a reporter approached me. Microphone in hand he asked, “You are one of the young musicians from Sydney, Australia. Tell me: it must be a thrill to be here. What was the highlight of the 1979 Monterey Jazz Festival for you?” (Right question, wrong guy!) “Getting high with Dizzy,” I replied, truthfully. “CUT! Cut.” He shouted, waving his arms at his assistant and scorning. We all broke up laughing; I was just a kid but I should have known better. By the time we got home, the story had grown into me making that faux pas on National Television. Monterey was amazing and after an hour with Dizzy I went to Woody Herman’s big band rehearsal where Stan Getz is like practising in the corner right behind Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry who are arm in arm and raving away together, chuckling, all smiles. Gerry Mulligan is reading his charts and Woody, eighty years old, alto in hand is chatting about the set list to Slide Hampton. John Lewis sits at the piano again, noodling and flipping pages. What a band, Sonny’s amazing sound is leading the section singin’ ‘Early Autumn’, with Dizzy blowing over the top. I took two rolls of film on my Praktica and somehow they have survived. (You-tube / paxrecords) My daughter found the negatives and I scanned them. It was wonderful to see some of them again, after thirty years. Dizzy was so happy on that weekend but I suspect he was mostly like that. Beyond that tremendous sound, I will never forget his humanity and grace.

*

from Without A Song © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews

Ebook available @ Smashwords

This excerpt appears in Contrappasso Magazine #2, December 2012
Photography © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews. Reprinted by permission.

from issue #2: ‘New York City, 1978’ by Paul Pax Andrews

NEW YORK CITY, 1978 by PAUL PAX ANDREWS

In New York, the sax-quartet stayed in a fifteen dollar a night dive on Broadway (the Times Square Hotel-Motel) and Forty-First Street. Because of the recently changed U.S. mental health laws, most patients not considered dangerous had been sent back into society, duly medicated and left to their own devices. The top three floors of our Hotel were home to a hundred of these lunatics who constantly rode up and down the elevators or paced the lobby and corridors. Zombies, doped and weird yet mostly they were pleasant and chatty. Whispering. Muttering. Some were very polite and greeted us each time we returned. In the lounge, there would be several people just sitting for a moment then getting up, walking around the room then sitting again, chain-smoking. Beautiful leather Club Sofas and Chesterfields adorned the Art deco, mirrored lobby. The manager suggested that we lock anything valuable in his safe. His face became quizzical when we gave him the baritone saxophone. One afternoon a well-dressed woman took a piss in the elevator right there in front of us. Squatting, while she complained about the old, slow contraption (it was such a dawdling old relic with the cage doors). At first I thought these were just normal New Yorkers.

Australia was a billion miles away and I loved this city with its ‘larger than life’ attitude. Everyone had a hustle. Twenty-four seven, the car horns honking with blinking lights everywhere. I could go for a walk at dawn or midnight yet the same amount of people were on the street, it didn’t seem to matter. Maybe I look obvious, but this hustler taps me on the shoulder, “Hey buddy, tell me, sorry for asking but is that a Praktica thirty five mill, single lens reflex?” He is trying to get his hands on my camera, “I used to have one of those. Do you mind if I take a look? Wow! A great camera huh?” He is relentless. What do you say to someone like that? Some schmuck must have bought that line, occasionally. (His daily hustle). Another street-dealer tried to sell me some hash and I said I didn’t have any bread. “Money! I ain’t seen money for so long, it thinks I’m dead!” he announced, charging off along the footpath.

In Times Square our tenor player Rod, originally from Florida, is freaked out at being in New York, sure we would get mugged and bashed or something terrible would happen to us. He stayed in the hotel-room the whole time, smoking his head off, scared that we might not return safely. I explored as much as I could and had no bother. Well, except Bev the Chinese doctor, she bothered me! So beautiful and she knew all the best places to go. Jazz, love and Autumn in New York… How lucky am I? The sweetest moon-faced girl smile. Black ponytail and the wonderful music. ‘Second Avenue South’ to hear Nat Adderley, then on to the ‘Village’ and ‘Little Italy’, Chinatown, I was having a ball. Mostly people just wanted to talk and listen to my accent and tell me all they knew about Australia (nothing). “Oh Yeh, Australia, sure, near Switzerland? Mountains and shit! Central Europe right?” So confident, yet with no idea.

We were eating outside on the footpath, lox and bagel, when a skinny dude raced from a doorway and picked up a garbage bin to defend himself against a crazy screaming Chinese cook who was wielding a meat cleaver. Right there in front of us, just ten feet away! New York was its own Jackie Chan movie, it was full on. Later that same afternoon and I’m in Washington Square taping the buskers, dealers and freaks on my walkman, when a crazy Mexican guy walks over and asks me to record the band for him on his cassette-tape (my walkman). “Don’t tape over ‘Side B’ man, that’s my guru you know, my main man, not the main man, but my maaaiiiin man! You know what I’m saying?” as he hands me a toke on a fat joint, right there in front of everyone; old women with curlers (also smoking joints), Latinos and Puerto Ricans, Afros everywhere. The ‘Square’ is just alive with artists, musicians and freaks. The odd copper on a horse, shiny white helmet and smiling and talking to the girls. The quintet was awesome. A tenor player sounds like Joe Henderson on ‘Recorda-Me’, a piano on a trolley, conga player swinging, hard. Beautiful drummer with Elvin’s energy, it was serious. Serious street-jazz. Twenty percussionists are having a jam over on the other side of the fountain, creating a plethora of sounds, throbbing. Alive.

It felt good to be amongst it. I relaxed as the people become less scary in their exuberance and open joy. Energy was everywhere. New York seemed alive with music.

After each song, one of the cohorts would come and hustle the audience for money with a hat, while the dealers each had their own rave goin’ on, “What d’y’all want? Boy? Girl? Acid? Guaranteed to get you high my man! What you want? (He looked at me from one eye over the shades, as he passed by) Reefer?” I’d sheepishly buy one joint for a dollar, walking away I could hear “Tight Ass Honky White Mother!” A number of the street corners around Times Square and the Village had a dealer or two. All this happened right next to the cops who were too busy minding their own goddamn business to interfere. Mostly, five dollars or ten would buy me a small bag of deadly red dust; ‘Acapulco Red’ something or other. Upon inspection, the Tally Ho contained only a sprinkling of pot…but fuck it got me high! One time I asked an associate what I was smoking and he replied, “Toledo window-box!”

Just being in New York was like living twice as fast, while constant sounds and endless thunderous, hustling droning energy kept me awake. Saturday night; it’s three a.m. and I am on a heavily graffitied subway train travelling back to the hotel, from way out in Queens… Bev lived out there somewhere, near Corona. “Y’all must be from out of town. Nobody rides this subway out here at night,” one of the only other travellers warned me. I had no fear so I just enjoyed myself. Out every night and had a ball. One time I got off ‘Uptown’ and climbed the stairs to the street, took one look around, then straight back down again to the train. I remember a few black dudes, wearing big hats. Too big, hats.

Next day on Broadway, I saw Sweeney Todd, with Angela Lansbury. That was something else. Now I was scared. Scared to death; during the opening scene, when the siren sounds a foggy blackout. I discovered Stephen Sondheim while in New York and he’s been another great love of mine ever since, one of my favourite songwriters; ‘Joanna’, ‘Pretty Women’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Harm You’, ‘By the Sea’. Such great songs.

(In 1986, I played alto and bass clarinet in the pit orchestra for the Sydney Theatre Company’s productions of ‘Company’, ‘Sunday in the Park with George’, ‘Into the Woods’. Kevin Hunt and I still want to do a jazz-Sondheim album, one day.)

Each Monday night at the Village Vanguard, I heard the Thad Jones, Mel Lewis Orchestra, I was transfixed each time. What a band! I had heard Basie, Ellington, Buddy Rich’s big band and Woody Herman’s but this was so different, fresh, modern with unbelievable virtuosity. Such masterful arrangements; I was in big band heaven hearing the great Dick Oatts on alto, Ralph Lalama on tenor, Thad on cornet is so sweet with Mel Lewis on drums, playing ‘Consummation’ and those other great songs from their repertoire. Jim McNeely played piano. Jerry Dodgion on lead soprano (that’s what gave the sax-section its individual sound), musos everywhere, barely room for an audience with all of us crowded in together. Fifteen dollars cover charge, for each set. A one drink minimum. Jam-packed. New York heaven. (I had only dreamed.)

Tuesday night; Charlie Rouse sextet at ‘Sweet Basil’s’, with George Mraz on bass, Roswell Rudd on trombone (he has always been a favourite of mine). Once again, it was a twenty-dollar minimum for each set. Sensational to be hearing Monk’s tenor, live. Each time I came away with a new sense of unimaginable inspiration coupled with, ‘how can I ever be good enough to be an improviser?’ Feeling insecure yet possessed. Obsessed. Joyous. Nervous.

Each part of my being was committed to taking this energy back home. Three weeks in New York had changed my life, seriously. It was a great, no, the greatest honour to be an improvising musician and to take risks and to practice, right there with an audience, night after night. Giving freely, fresh ideas, expressing oneself to whoever might be listening; an ongoing, never ending search for something we only find when we find it. If we find it. In the moment. A great responsibility, from a wonderful history. I was impassioned, in love with the music but a new struggle had begun again. How could I possibly belong to any part of this wonderment? What could be my role?

from Without A Song © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews

Ebook available @ Smashwords

This excerpt appears in Contrappasso Magazine #2, December 2012
Photography (CC) by Derzsi Elekes Andor @ Wikimedia Commons

Contrappasso contributors: Paul Pax Andrews

Issue 2 of Contrappasso contains a series of excerpts from Without A Song, the new memoir by Australian jazz musician Paul Pax Andrews. The memoir is available @ Smashwords.

Bio: Paul Pax Andrews settled in Perth in 2001. An internationally acclaimed saxophonist and educator, he first appeared on the Sydney jazz scene in 1977. He studied jazz at the Sydney Conservatorium and saxophones with Howie Smith, Col Loughnan, Joe Allard and Roger Frampton.  His performances include the Monterey Jazz Festival, Expo ’86 Japan, The World Saxophone Congress Chicago, and six years with the Australian Saxophone Quartet.

Here’s Paul and the Paxassembly live in Fremantle, Western Australia.

Paul Pax Andrews, soprano saxophone; Sam Graham, trumpet; Steve Elkins, keyboards; Toby Anning, drums; Phil Waldron, bass; Pranjal Bora, tabla; Tony Monaco, vdj; Basil Psanoudakis, turntables; Alex Borthwick, guitar.