Chet drops by the jazz café Alto

surprise guest at the Alto café
Amsterdam 88 early May
a halo of blue gingham tables
loaded with Amstel and Grolsch
pincers the stage

glasses chink, there’s chattering,
ashtrays overflow with roaches
dissolving smoke rings melt into fug

my shirt is peppered with pin-prick scorches 

a latecomer asks,
‘is this seat taken?’
I shrug, she sits
she’s okay to look at
we don’t talk
a pianist plays Art Tatum standards
on nicotine ivories
he ends to a trickle of polite applause
deserves more
a trumpet pokes through
dusty velour blackout curtains
a ripple of reverence
and gasps
as we nail a giant,
limping the stage
I smile across the table
the woman ignores me
a stool is found – Chet sits –
hunched against the trumpet weight
his standing days are done
his abscessed legs can’t sustain
his emaciated frame
his horn, always mellow
always melancholic
now croons tears
is he reliving farm boy days
before the demands of fame
and needles making tracks?
Chet sings, “they’re writing songs of love
                     but not for me
                     a lucky star’s above
                     but not for me…”
the words slow slide from his mind
he dries – scatting fills the blanks
as the crowd wills him
to be magical
I’m grasping elusive
twenty year memories
Montmartre nights – by the heel
‘he’s not what he was
but he is, he still is,
that’s alright by me’
the broken falling idol
is cruising yet handing out plenty
they won’t go home hungry
they’ll tell envious friends
they were ‘at the Alto when’
the crowd goes ape
he leaves the stage
my tablemate follows
I guess we were never meant to be.
RIP Chet Baker 13/5/88 outside
Prins Hendrick Hotel, Amsterdam

© coolhermit 2023
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sometimes this world feels like a can of sardines.

lovely poem

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