Spring 2008

Body and Soul

Wesley Brown

Wesley Brown

Author of the novels “Tragic Magic” (1978), “Darktown Strutters” (1994), and “Push Comes to Shove” (forthcoming). He has also written the plays “Boogie Woogie and Booker T.,” “Life During Wartime,” “A Prophet Among Them,” and “Murderess”; and coedited two anthologies, “Imagining America: Stories from the Promised Land” (with Amy Ling, 1991) and “Visions of America: Personal Narratives from the Promised Land” (with Amy Ling, 1993). From 1979 to 2005, he taught creative writing, American literature, and drama at Rutgers University. He currently teaches literature at Bard College at Simon's Rock.

There was a small group of musicians waiting for Coleman Hawkins when his ship docked in New York City. Coleman had been away in Europe for five years. But with war simmering to a boil, he knew it was time to get himself on the first ship steaming back to the States. The welcoming committee included two of his oldest friends, Benny Carter and Jimmy Harrison. After the glad-handing was out of the way, they started signifying to make him feel at home.

“Hey Bean, you looking as trim as your mustache,” Jimmy said.

Leave it to Jimmy to draw first blood. Something Coleman was known for when they were in the Fletcher Henderson Band together. Nobody had called him Bean since he left the country. Early on, Coleman gained a reputation for having a mean ‘bean’ of a brain that allowed him to do just about anything he wanted on the tenor saxophone. He kept tight-lipped about how good he was, but the name stuck and he answered to it.

“I guess if you got a lot of trim over there in England,” Jimmy said, “you more than likely gonna stay that way yourself.”

He enjoyed the laughter that followed but didn’t join in. That was always his way. Stay close to the mix of what was going on, but don’t get too familiar with it. Laughter continued bouncing around in everyone’s shoulders. And Coleman remembered Jimmy was also called ‘bean,’ but only the kind that went with the word ‘string.’ He was still all arms and legs, his skinny limbs like rubber, connecting him to the trombone when he played.

“So who’s who and what’s what?” Coleman asked.

Heads swiveled toward one another to see if everyone got his drift.

“It didn’t take you long to get down to business,” Benny Carter said.

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