I first noticed him under the overpass when I was still a couple hundred yards away, traipsing
along the single remaining railroad track in a gutted industrial artery, looking for lense fodder
To my right, trees with trunks a good eight inches in diameter thrust their way through sidings abandoned a quarter-century ago, when Conrail
took over former Reading
territory and abandoned or tore up most of the trackage that sustained this city
through the war years. From ahead, airy notes floated through their branches, disjointed scraps of resonance on the wind.
As I approached the bridge's cavernous underside, there indeed was a man playing a saxophone, in a clear packed dirt area among the broken glass, nails, scraps of wood, filthy castoff clothing. We exchanged greetings, after determining that we were no threat to each other (cameras and band instruments are rarely harbingers of thievery).
The musician said that he had just recently acquired this, a baritone saxophone about two-thirds his height and mine. He said he was still learning the scales, still practicing - his alto sax was at home. As for his choice of venue, privacy and good acoustics made the bridge a natural spot. Simple enough, really.
I got him to pose for a picture - coaxed him into an action shot or two. This was necessary, lest I subconsciously chalk the experience up to a misremembered dream.
Walking off down the track, I looked over my shoulder. He was back at the scales, industriously working his way up and down the prodigious range of the instrument. Music without paper.
It wasn't until that moment that the word "jazz" came into my mind, having suddenly found a definition it was comfortable sitting next to.