Eleven-thirty PM at the Blue Tip Lounge, and the place is starting to fill up. The band mucks around the stage, tuning up, joking around, then eventually settles down and begins. After warming up with a ballad, the piano player calls for a mid-tempo blues. The bass player lays down a fat, walking bassline, the drummer presses a roll that rises into a rimshot—Crack!—stopping the chatter in the room. The piano and trumpet fall in with a funky riff. Heads are bobbing, feet are tapping, laughter and the clink of glasses mix with the pumping, rolling groove.
Through the smoky haze a figure stands by the doorway holding a sax case. A thin man, wearing a dark suit, well tailored, but slightly worn. A hat, dark glasses and a chin beard punctuate his gaunt features. Slowly and deliberately, the tenor man makes his way through the crowd to the bar. Casually lighting up a smoke, he gestures to the bartender. Ordering a scotch, he puts his elbow on the bar and surveys the room sourly. The bartender pours the drink and the tenor man swirls the glass before bringing it to his lips. A sharp look of disgust flashes across his face as he takes a sip. Glaring at the bartender, he pushes the offending drink away. Brushing imaginary lint from his lapels, he straightens his tie, adjusts his hat to the perfect angle, picks up his sax case, and proceeds towards the stage. The eyes of the band follow the tenor man as he approaches. The music swings mightily, as the tenor man stands at the side of the stage, taking his horn from its case.
"You late again." says the piano player. "We hit it at eleven."
The tenor player ignores him as he steps to the back of the stage. Fussing with his mouth piece, he adjusts it again and again. With a final brush of his lapels and adjustment to his hat, the tenor man steps forward. The trumpet player is soloing, putting everything he's got into it. The crowd cheers him on as he sprays showers of sparkling notes like paint from Jackson Pollock's brush.
The tenor man mutters to himself, "Look at him, the little prick. Like a dog standing on its hind legs, begging for attention."
Contemptuously, he steps in front of the trumpeter and begins to blow.
Anger flashes across the trumpeter's face, but he steps away, having seen this before. Glancing around the stage, the tenor man looks at each of the players, urging them to step it up. The band lays into the groove harder and the tenor man leans into the microphone and emits a blistering torrent of dissonance shards, like automatic weapon fire. Relentlessly, the tenor man continues to spit out his fury in an unbroken stream, until the piano player signals the band to wrap it up. The song comes crashing to an end with the saxophone trailing to a late finish like a hub cap noisily rolling in circles before rattling to a stop.
The crowd, puzzled, drifts away from the front of the stage. The piano player steps from behind the piano, and approaches the tenor man. Quietly, he speaks.
"Hey, Sy, what was all that? C'mon, these folks just want to have a little fun on Friday night. Let's lay something a little more . . ."
"You can tell that cocksucker with the trumpet, I'll take his ass to school. He don't want to try cuttin' me. I'll . . ."
"OK, OK, you Sy Cotter. Everybody knows you the best. Now let's cool out and just play."
"I played with Basie. I was tourin' with the best when he was still suckin' his mammy's teat."
"Right, I know, Sy. Now let's go."
The piano player sits down and eases into a well-worn standard. He sketches out the tune with a few choice notes, then drifts into an impressionistic reverie before returning to the familiar melody. The trumpet harmonizes with the piano as the drums and bass languidly drop in. The band eyes the tenor man, awaiting his entry, but he stands frozen, his horn poised but silent. With brushes fluttering on the cymbals, the song ends. The band looks around at one another, then at the tenor man, as he stands motionless, gazing over the heads of the crowd. The piano player counts off the next tune, an up-tempo burner. The crowd comes alive again, and the band bears down, generating some smoke. Eyeing the tenor man suspiciously, the trumpet player approaches the microphone. He plays a few short, sharp phrases, then steps away. Still the tenor man stands motionless. The trumpeter looks to the piano player who nods for him to continue. Stepping back to the mic, the trumpeter begins to play, slowly building, until the crowd once again is urging him on. Suddenly, the crowd lurches back. The tenor man has drawn a knife and lunges at the trumpeter, who desperately swings his horn up to ward off the attack. Tables crash and voices scream, as the tenor man stands alone on the stage flashing the knife, yelling,
"I'm SY-fucking-COTTER and I'm the only mother-fucking real musician in this goddamn town! The rest of you cheap-ass hustlers aren't good enough to wipe my ass! Look at the rest of you pathetic motherfuckers! You wouldn't know talent if it pissed in your face! I played with the greats! I am SY COTTER! You got that? When I play . . ."
The bar stool comes down on the tenor man's head, sending him toppling off the stage in a mangled heap on the floor. He lays with his horn still around his broken neck. The bar is silent. Two bouncers come down and, grabbing ankles and wrists, drag the tenor man out the door and onto the sidewalk. A police siren howls as passers-by stop and gawk.
"Geez, who IS that?" asks a bystander.
Dusting off his hands, one of the bouncers says,
"Him? That's nobody, that's who that is."