An extract from ‘Far From Standard: A Life in Jazz’ by Jollymont J. Arnold

by Esteban Stanwo

Willow weep for me; so sang the aching heart of Ann Ronell in nineteen thirty-two, a time when the music was so popular that songwriters could reasonably expect their audience to include quite distantly related species. Always a favourite tune of mine, leafing through the working book of any of the bands of my career, one would no doubt have found there pressed into the pages of musical history its skeletal catkin. But let me ask you, have you ever heard a willow weep? Well I have, and believe me you might question the sentiment if you had actually heard the thing.

Nineteen sixty-two brought a freak estivation for me, a riverside burrow beneath our titular trees providing a home for two young lovers snugly wrapped in those lyrical lovely summer dreams. Though an affair of some biographical import after years attempting to erase the grubby finger marks she left all over the personal version of my life story, I shalln’t now confound matters by writing her, from the flitting, careless hands outwards, bodily, whole, into the hard, public copy. Let the narrative skip like a stone over the water: love cools with the earth and come fall I awake to find that those lovely dreams have indeed gone and left me weeping along the stream.

If I may be forgiven a clichéd phrase to navigate this difficult change, let me note that in times of strife both the devout and the damned are apt to turn their worried heads to the heavens. Well, I have always been a true worshipper of Apollo and after a lifetime of offerings my supplications did not go unanswered. With the bursting of an empathetic gathering of clouds he makes a carnival mirror of the water, placing my sorrowful expression as one illusion amongst many. For dramatic effect he calls on Aeolus, a minor deity, who sends gusts through the reeds. Then because those clouds, keeping to the order of being, have to attend to the lower fields, they shake a last few drops and part: and there is my golden lord beaming down upon me as I lift up my hands in which he has placed a golden trumpet; and I blow.

    Willow weep for me

    Willow weep for me

Running it through once for the remembering stirred a low round of applause from the leaves; once more with feeling garnered a chirped encore from an ascending starling; so I decided to join her, taking flight upon another chorus. I do not know to where. I have played Pied-Piper in university towns and I have inscribed love spells upon manuscript paper but only once has my playing rent a tear in the sad silk of Maya’s veil. Too bad there wasn’t a tape recorder running.

    Bend your branches green along the stream that runs to sea

    Listen to my plea

    Listen willow and weep for me

I blew and I tell you the tree wept.

    I loathe the loam that keeps me growing

    To ring in each new year

    And woe the wind that keeps me flowing

    The psithurism in my hair

The voice was at once a rich baritone, the grumbling of raw earth and the rustling of leaves, and quite melancholy too, oh yes. Naturally I looked around me but Apollo had drawn no prankster into the picture book scene. The only signs of life were those being made by the swaying willows, the billowiest of which was looking particularly pained in a mild breeze.

The weir runs on below us but I do not forget my training. This is clearly call and response; but is he really listening?

    Gone my summer dream

    Lovely summer dream

    The sun and sea which spring showers

    Tell to me their budding grieves

    Gone and left me here

    To weep my tears along the stream

    Which effloresce as summer flowers

    And are shed as autumn leaves

    Sad as I can be

    Here me willow and weep for me

But he did not, and I, having received this vision, the unfulfilled promise of communion, felt the more hopelessly alone and could only weep for myself. What trick is this Apollo?

In contemplation of this extraordinary experience I have found mystical and metaphysical angles frustratingly obtuse, but then perhaps truth is not a matter of reflection but rather refraction and I fancy that I can at least make out recognisable forms as I place over here and peer through the lens of the aesthetic.

In purely musical terms the exchange had proven rather poor. The tree had responded neither to the rhythmic, harmonic nor melodic implications of my lines. The iambic plod of his delivery though allowing certain subtleties of phrasing and probably indicative of his ancient nature had certainly swayed rather than swung. Perhaps he was playing ‘out’ or speaking ‘across’ me; if this is the case, then although I am no traditionalist, all I can say is that I was not moved. As an artist I believe that the tree failed to perform.

Anyhow, I present this episode to you as one of the more anomalous events of a life in jazz. I have returned to that tear-strewn stream many times since on the bandstand and perhaps after all when approaching that place I have been listening for, somewhere in the music, the voice of the willow. One cannot so easily forget. But let us move on to nineteen sixty-three, to city life bright through a haze, where voices sing a thousand different songs and where sorrows are drowned in less ostensibly limpid fluids. Let us follow the course upstream and don’t ask Old Man River for answers because he really don’t say nothing.

Esteban Stanwo was born in the industrial garden town of Scunthorpe, studied Philosophy at the University of York, and currently resides in Bristol. He has authored several erotic short stories and is a winner of Poem of the Month in the Official Nintendo magazine. He writes with a Pentel Ultra Fine S570 pen.

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