Up at Minton’s by Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988)
The piano teases us with its tripping inconsistency. It clangs and tinkles, lulls us into a shaky sense
of musical comfort, and just when you think it’s time to ease back into your whiskey, it clangs back
to life in a discordant array of minor chords and percussive thumps. The trumpet counters the piano
with its own set-up of howling squalls, only to harmonize with it later, in a slow, blue-tinted duet
that makes me want to cry in my ashtray.
Then the vocals. Her voice is that tragic and irresistible combination of cigarette smoke and smooth,
amber brandy – the kind of voice that speaks of years in white-walled apartments, with only the
most private of sufferings for company. Dreams and desires pulsate with the ooomphah-ooomph of
a double-bass, with the solitary cry of an electric guitar that has been let on the loose for way too
I breathe in the notes, the quavers and rests, and look at you. My heart begins to fall in time with
the erratic scratching of the drums, the dashes, thumps and swings of it all. You appear through the
smoke like a monstrance. We fall into the song, which will become the accompaniment to our lives
from this moment onwards – with all of its cadences, its crashes, and its soaring harmonies.
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