As I continue to post to Lush Stories those stories of mine which I think might be suitable, I’m getting reactions from readers who understandably think the stories have only recently been written and aren’t at all aware that most of them were posted in Ruthie’s Club several years ago. And one such, of course, is How High the Moon from which the above illustration was an early draft of what was finally used.
To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favourite illustrations for one of my stories (though by no means the worst) and I think the black-and-white draft is actually closer to my notion of what the illustration should be than the one finally published.
The story How High the Moon is about a jazz pianist and singer who performs with her trio at a club in Manhattan that is either the Village Vanguard (which I’ve visited many times) or one very similar: perhaps also in or around Greenwich Village. In a way, the musician is based on Sarah Vaughan who played the piano as well as sang, though she is better known perhaps for the rather dull stuff she did later in life. At her best on Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (also known as Lullaby of Birdland) she may well have been as great a jazz singer as Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald. Her version of How High the Moon is probably not her finest moment, but I like the song and it kind of made sense as a title.
Many people think of vocal jazz or even the jazz trio as a kind of lounge music that makes perfect background music for a candle-lit dinner. There is an element of that, even in New York, but the jazz I like is a little bit more gritty, certainly isn’t smooth, and has a range from the free and experimental to the more accessible music that Lynn, my protagonist, is playing, though I imagine something a great deal more challenging than most of Sarah Vaughan’s later songs.
This story is unusual for me as it is the only story I’ve yet written in the present tense, but then I wanted to somehow capture something of the immediacy of a live performance. This is something I tried to do in a very different way in my story Creamfields which is about dancing in the Creamfields dance festival. In that case, the intention was to capture the immediacy and excitement of contemporary dance music. In both stories the real challenge was how to incorporate something to do with sex, and that I think is the weakest aspect of both of them.
To borrow a musical metaphor, there is a rich contrapuntal texture to this story that makes it deeply satisfying at numerous levels. The thematic interweaving of music, present and past emotions and situations, regrets and hopes etc, is brilliantly done, as is your evocation of the scene in which Lynn and her fellow musicians perform.
Obviously, I am hugely gratified to receive any praise but more so perhaps when a reader recognises and appreciates what I was trying to achieve in my story.
On tak0chan’s Lush Stories profile, he mentions his wide ranging taste of music, so I guess it was inevitable that he’d better understand my story better than most other readers.
However, I have no plans to write any more jazz stories, though I may yet write some fiction that deals with the world of live music. What’s for sure is that it won’t much resemble How High the Moon.