by Steve Day
SYNOPSIS, SAMPLE TEXT AND AUTHOR BIO
“…he includes himself in the world
around him. The important point is that Day is
a real writer.” Barry McRae (Jazz Journal)
Jazz Sextet is a novel for our time. Set in Paris,
London, New York and all the other sad-happy places
where working jazz musicians have to ply their
trade. You do not have to be a jazz-nut to read
this book, though you might find yourself becoming
The focus is on six quite separate individuals
coming together in a working band. Out of these
self-contained short stories grows a complete
novel as troubling as the twist of fate that cracks
humanity. Like the deep vein in jazz music, it
reaches out to touch the vulnerability of the
human condition. The book covers a lot of ground;
jazz with all its myriad methods of improvising
with life, the odd friendship or two, a casual
murder, sad sex, a definition of devotion, the
cheap scent of racism, gender politics and personal
philosophies, the tight grip loneliness can impose
on a single, solitary individual. Jazz Sextet
documents the power of love, wonder and despair.
These separate lives become one life affirming
story. Read it and take your own solos.
Like all novels which turn the reader
as well as the page, the opening lines to Jazz
Sextet indicate the direction in which this book
Drumming and sex resonate. When both are coming
from a true spirit they become beautiful percussion.
What follows is a short synopsis of the six stories
that grow into the complete novel. This book is
about connections, the passing trade of relationships.
As the narrator takes the reader into the performance
space of each individual musician's life it gradually
becomes apparent that there is a bigger story
forming behind what initially seems like a group
of isolated people.
1. The Drummer
Main Character: Billy 'The Kid'
Hughes. A brilliant young English drummer who
will eventually thread his story throughout the
entire novel, he is a small-time hero inhabiting
a world where everyone is more than the sum of
Main Setting: Paris; a club called La Lune Jazz
owned by an American woman, Lena Kane.
Storyline: Billy Hughes is playing
in a band led by Walter Rahman, an American saxophone
player with a reputation for being awkward and
artistic in equal measure. A picture of how the
various individuals who inhabit the activities
of Le Lune emerges as a silent dance to saxophones
and drums, until the murder of Walter Rahman in
the street outside the club. The full reason why
this murder occurred does not get answered until
the last of the six stories.
Incident: Billy Hughes meets
by chance an elderly French woman who looks "like
the actress Jeanne Moreau". The woman is feeding
her poodle crepes in the Luxembourg Gardens. The
dialogue between the young drummer and the older
woman circles around sex and music as if flirting
The Kid was irritated but interested. "You know
"I know great musicians, the genius, Erik Satie,
he who wrote "Trois Gymnopedies", you know the
"Sure I know "Gymnopedies", but Satie was long...."
"Monsieur, Erik Satie died before your mother
had even a virginity to lose", she giggled as
if to herself, "Nevertheless I knew the maestro."
She was enjoying the impression she was making.
"I was a child, Monsieur, don't look so shocked,
I was a child. Rock musicians think the world
only began with Elvis Presley."
"I'm not a Rock musician, I play Jazz." Billy
must have been in a semi-state of shock to come
out with a wimp statement like that, I'm not a
Rock musician, I play Jazz, it sounds like a 'I'm
not red, I'm just dead' lecture to me.
"Now I understand," she said, "I see before me
a truly sophisticated jazzman, we have a tradition
of them here in Paris." At this point the poodle
stared barking and the well creamed elderly woman,
fed the animal yet another crepe. The pink dog
lay on the ground licking the thing, playing with
the food like the hound had hunted it down in
the undergrowth. She continued, "They all came
here, the American jazz artists, Bird and Dizzy,
and of course the one they call Miles. I was once
Miles Davis' lover's lover's lover's lover. I
keep my distance, as you say."
2. The Tenor Sax Player
Main Character: Ben Samuals
is a loner, as well as being a prolific composer
and an extraordinarily gifted saxophone player.
He is young, Jewish, kind, shy, sensitive and
Main Setting: Totnes, Devon
is Ben's home town. Action also takes place in
a small recording studio in London; Brighton and
other British locations are also used.
Storyline: Ben Sumuals meets
Tomi Lister a guitar player who helps him to make
business connections which result in Ben's music
not only being successful in a jazz context, but
also gaining wider commercial success. The two
men also become lovers. However a woman called
Rosemary, who is a strange, fragile figure with
a haunting presence, will eventually finalise
this second story.
Incident: A key scene in this
story is when Tomi Lister is beaten up after a
gig in Brighton. The incident will have devastating
consequences for Tomi himself and leave a lasting,
awful impression on Ben Samuals:
"Cut your crutch, fucking poofter!" Who knows
what you do in that situation? Tomi went for the
guy who had Leroy. That was when they piled in.
One of them smacked Leroy in both eyes. A couple
of them held the blades on Ben and Charlie, and
the rest took out Tomi as if he were dog. The
one who did the damage was only small, but he
was stocky, a tattooed shaved bonehead. Three
of them held Tomi, pining his arms back. The little
guy just waded into Tomi's face with both fists.
The nose must have broke early because there was
blood everywhere. Within an hour Tomi's face had
swelled up like a purple balloon. The features
had disappeared. His eyes puffed up beyond use,
he was flaky meat. Once the kids had finished
mashing his head they let him drop to the ground.
Then came the worse part, kicking the poor sod
until he spewed up, and then kicking him some
more for spewing up and "making a fucking smell".
Ben told me that the kicking part became the worse
nightmare because it seemed to go on for such
a long time, and they were laughing, trying to
see who could boot the hardest. One swine took
time out to use Tomi's back for trampoline practise,
jumping up and down as if trying to spread it
out flat on the pavement. The final act was the
final act even if the end result did not come
until a little while later. One of the bastards
stamped on Tomi's hands. Tomi laid flat on the
ground with a little brute continually stamping
on the hands, bringing a stud heel down over and
over again until you could see the fingers splayed,
broken and shattered.
3. The Pianist
Main Character: Mercy de Bono
is a Black American female pianist based in New
York. Mercy is a strong individual who has had
to fight her way onto a music scene that does
not immediately open up to women.
Main Setting: New York; Greenwich
Village and the Lower Eastside. Action takes places
in various venues - Mercy's apartment, clubs,
restaurants and Washington Square.
Storyline: This chapter is a
portrait of a female musician determined to be
noticed, both as a woman and as a jazz player.
The story is centred around two parallel actions;
a meeting that occurs between Mercy and Michael
Ashwood, an Afro-American classical musician who
has his own issues to deal with, and the formation
of a new 'electric' band. Neither of these storylines
resolve in ways which seem obvious to Mercy de
Incident: At the beginning of
The Pianist there is a description of Mercy de
Bono's upright piano arriving outside her apartment
in Greenwich Village. It is a slightly humorous
encounter which contrasts with the anguish later
in the story:
"Henry, what the hell are you doing?" She had
not actually seen Mr Horse at this point but he
seemed the mostly likely source for a huge hole
in the front of her home. Henry's head appeared
above the window sill.
"Fixing the piano, baby", and
he bobbed down again out of sight.
"Oh, that's all right then," she said. Mercy
sauntered across the room in the way people do
when they find themselves in these kind of situations.
She looked through the hole to see that the piano
had apparently been delivered that morning and
left on the sidewalk. It was four steps up into
the house and the guys who had brought it had
obviously made no attempt to bring it any further.
Already the front panel was missing.
"What's happened to the.....?"
"Don't worry about it Honey, I thought I'd try
removing a few bits and pieces to see if I could
ease it down the corridor. It didn't work, that's
why we're going for the window." It was then that
Mercy realised Henry Horse was not alone. Taylor
Harrison, Shorty Mitterhoff and Jamie Mohawk were
all present but not quite correct. They looked
as determinedly committed to action as The Horse.
Taylor and his wife Reene ran the drugstore on
the corner. They were the kiss of death to depression,
honest street people, newshounds the pair of them.
If you needed a brief on the Village, Harrison's
drugstore had the information, though they were
wise enough to want to know to whom they were
telling the stories. Shorty was a friend of Henry,
he called himself an artist and probably was at
one time. Jamie occasionally played double bass
with Mercy's Trio when she could not find anyone
else and the moon was in the wrong quarter. Jamie
Mohawk was an okay kind of a guy but he wasn't
someone with whom you would want to take on tour
too often. He dabbled and paddled, these days
that could be such a drag.
"Hey Horse, this is a neat trick, straight through
the hole in the wall, wow! What I don't get is
how you intend we give the piano sufficient height
to get it up in the air so it will drop neatly
through the gap."
4. The Trumpeter
Main Character: Russell Honeyman,
or simply Honeyman, is a Black British trumpeter;
musically he is somewhere between Miles Davis
and the nerve end of Hip-Hop, sexually he is between
the devil and deep blue sea. By the end of the
story he is permanently in a wheel chair, yet
even this outcome does not prevent music and sex
totally consuming him.
Main Setting: A crashed van
at the side of a motorway; Harlow, Essex is Honeyman's
home town. Action takes place at Honeyman's flat,
at various gigs in England as well as La Lune
Jazz in Paris and on a hospital ward in England.
Storyline: This chapter, The
Trumpeter, begins in a series of flashbacks. Honeyman
is trapped in a crashed van on a motorway. While
the trumpeter waits for the emergency services
to arrive the reader discovers the circumstances
which have led up to the crash. One of the key
factors is the relationship between Honeyman and
Mimi O'Sullivan, a journalist. The pair fall into
a short sexual encounter which becomes as dark
a place as it is possible to inhabit between one
man and a woman. Billy Hughes, Ben Samuals and
Mercy de Bono, from the previous chapters, make
appearances within The Trumpeter.
Incident: The excerpt quoted below
is taken from the beginning of the first meeting
between Honeyman and Mimi O'Sullivan. If it seems
like a difficult conversation, what will follow
later is even more so:
"Let's start at the beginning."
"Sure." He took a swig from his bottle of lager,
she did likewise, it was a kind of involuntary
a track on "Porgy & Bess" about the Honeyman."
well I don't think the Gershwins had me personally
"Shit, I thought I was onto something." She thought
a little humour may have helped. Stick to the
line. "Tell me Honeyman, how did you get started?"
"I guess Daddy screwed Mummy, or maybe the other
way round. In those days they used to enjoy each
others company. Know what I mean?"
"Your father is a dentist."
"Yeah, he likes filling holes. So do I."
"Are you going to simply give me sexual innuendo
throughout this conversation? If so, it is going
to make for an extremely boring interview." Honeyman
was looking straight up at Mimi. "Sorry, very
sorry. I'll try to make things more interesting
for you and your readers. Yeah, my father's a
dentist. Did you know that Miles Davis' old man
pulled teeth too? It kind of gave me something
to identify with."
"How far do you take this New Miles label?" This
time she swigged from her bottle and he matched
"We all gotta do our own thing. I ain't no clone,
I don't do it the same way, Davis went through
all that music college shit, I didn't need to,
he'd already done it. Here, in this frigging room,
this is where I study, this is where it comes
together." The next interchange rattled out fast
like guns firing at each other.
"It comes together?"
"Yeah, my prick and pussy."
"Come on Honeyman, what inspires you?"
"My prick and pussy."
"Can't you elucidate a little more."
"Of course, but I always find elucidating too
quickly spoils the fun. Especially for the woman."
I think she must have laughed at this stage which
was probably a mistake. She was also drinking
the beer which was probably another. Mimi O'Sullivan
looked down at the trumpeter laid out on the floor
like a leopard. The image amused her and maintained
her laughter; the idea of a leopard with a trumpet
in its mouth. It was absurd, and so was the situation.
He was staring at her, smiling and waiting.
5. The Bass Player
Main Character: Geoff Smith
is aged somewhere around fifty. He is successful
in jazz terms; he has his own home, a family,
just about enough money in the bank to feel safe.
He is a professional, and he has been that way
for a long time.
Main Setting: Geoff Smith's
home in Essex. Action also takes place at other
Essex locations including the beach at Southend-On-Sea
as well as the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
Storyline: Geoff has returned
home after a tour. He is tired, unconfident, beginning
to feel like a "middling man with one great gift",
playing double bass; even his ability to finger
the strings is beginning to sound hollow. This
story is about how Geoff Smith reconnects with
himself, his family and jazz. Billy Hughes and
other characters from the previous chapters merge
into the storyline.
Incident: This particular story
attempts to reveal how hard the "road" can be
for a working jazz musician. Geoff Smith's nickname
for his instrument is The Girlfriend; Debbie his
wife takes on the role Personal Organiser.
Geoff Smith stood in the kitchen of his own home
fidgeting like a first day teenage table clearer
at a burger bar. "Deb, just give me a quick précis
of my work schedule." He saw the disappointment
on her face but then still added the words, "Please,
"Look, most of it you already know, some confirmations
about the Ben Samuals European tour dovetailing
into the Brandeanini Autumn dates, a couple of
one nighters, recording schedules which you've
already got. And Derrick was badgering me last
week. As usual he wants you to sit in on his trad
thing up at the Carpenters Arms on Sunday. Oh
yes, Julius Shaw's people have e-mailed, apparently
Julius is at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival at the
end of next week, plus two London gigs. Chuck
Tee was going to be playing bass but he's ducked
out for some reason. He's rejoining them when
they get to France. They want to know whether
you'll deb the British jobs." She looked at him
carefully and decided to stay with the subject
matter. "They've got a bloody nerve, but you've
got the dates empty on the schedule; the money
is standard, Billy Hughes is on drums. I said
you would be probably up for it, but that you'd
confirm by 5 o'clock our time today. They were
"Fine. I'll do it."
"I almost forgot. Gene has faxed and phoned. Something
about a trio recording he is setting up in Berlin."
"Gene? I was only with him three days ago, he
didn't mention it then."
"I don't know my darling, I've left the details
in the in-tray. It sounded like a one-off using
up some sponsorship cash given to a German label.
I think he was mumbling about the end of next
month. I put the dates down. The usual airfares,
hotel bills and a flat fee. You're free, but it
will butt up close to your recording dates in
London. Okay? Now come and sit down, tell me what's
"Does it show? That there have been own goals?"
"You know, I often feel I don't exist in the same
solar system as everybody else."
"Christ, Geoff, I didn't realise we were into
sci-fi psychology." Debbie regretted the words
as soon as she had said them. "Sorry, it's just
that...., no sorry, please carry on."
6. The Sextet
Main Character: Max Gonzalez
has been the narrator throughout the whole of
Jazz Sextet, the reader only finds out this fact
in the final story. Max is an experienced sax
player, the leader of the Sextet, which also includes
the five other main characters in the book.
Main Setting: La Lune Jazz in
Storyline: This is story belongs
to Max Gonzalez however it also provides the stage
on which to bring to a conclusion all the previous
endings which have not quite ended, including
the identity of who killed Walter Rahman and why.
Jazz Sextet is not a 'who-done-it' murder mystery
even though it contains that element within the
text. The end of this book is like the last bar
of a solo; finality is always relative.
Incident: The last gig at La
Lune Jazz is the literally the last gig this Sextet
will ever play; something else happens after everyone
has packed up and left the club which will make
it impossible for the band to ever play together
again. This short extract comes just before that
final act; it does however reveal clues if you
know what you are looking for:
I sat just for a moment on the edge of the stage.
They were heaving Honeyman and his wheelchair
up the stairs. He was giving orders like one of
those Emperors in a sedan chair, waving at the
crowd. Hell, you have got to give it to the guy,
he makes it look easy. I know it is not. A few
people come up to me, shake my hand, tell me that
my band is hot poop; yeah, yeah, we have done
our night's work I guess. Geoff taps me on the
shoulder, he has put the girlfriend in wraps,
he will not touch her again until morning. He
asks whether I want to stroll back to the Hotel
de Cluney with him. I reply, I say no. It takes
me a few seconds to remember why I am giving that
answer. Then I see her, Lena Kane, sitting in
the same spot usually occupied by her husband.
Who knows where Pierre has gone? I never get to
find out. Geoff says something I cannot hear,
probably, goodbye, he wanders out of La Lune Jazz.
Gunslinger I think, I chuckle to myself. Geoff
Smith, a regular kind of guy, in normality there
grows a pathetic madness, great bass player though.
I did not see either The Kid or Ben leave the
club. I guess The Kid's in a hurry to taste the
wasted Sylvie. Strange about Ben. The irony is
that he's the only celibate member of the band
yet he is the one dying of Aids. Perhaps that
should read, living with Aids, I doubt it. I look
across at Lena again. She has got a photograph
she wants to show me, so she says. I sit on the
edge of the stage looking at her looking at me.
What am I supposed to do, Baby? Do you expect
old Max to get up and dance? That is what I think,
I say nothing and neither does she. We just sit
there, the late night stragglers all around us,
drifting like flies. Someone show them the exit.
Let us all out of here for God's sake.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Day lives and works just outside of Bristol.
He is a very individual writer whose cut and flow
with words can be cool and invigorating, incisive
and sharp. 'Jazz Sextet', his first novel, is
a wonderfully original piece of writing. Just
as in a film or a play, the book edits personal
lives to the point where they inhabit the same
space revealing a bigger picture which readers
can relate to.
Steve Day has written two books, 'Ornette Coleman:
Music Always' and 'Two Full Ears - Listening to
Improvised Music', both published by Soundworld.
He has also contributed the chapter, 'Free Jazz'
to the influential 'Masters of Jazz Saxophone',
edited by Dave Gelly, published by Miller Freeman
Books. In 1995 he began writing extensively on
jazz and improvised music for Avant magazine.
He has gone on to contribute CD liner notes for
specialist record labels (including Leo, FMP and
Splasch) on behalf of international musicians
such as Anthony Braxton (USA), Antonio Moncada
(Sicily), Carlo Actis Dato (Italy), Keith Tippett
(UK), Frank Gratkowski (Poland) and Mark O'Leary
(Ireland). Steve Day is a published poet and is
currently devising a new song-cycle of impressions
of popular culture. He has been working with people
with profound learning disabilities for many years
and recently won the prestigious University of
the West of England Disability Studies Award for
2004 with respect to his MSc dissertation, 'Cutting
Up Sharks: Disability and Postmodernism.'
Despite Steve Day's background, 'Jazz Sextet'
is not a specialist book. It draws on his knowledge
of the jazz scene to make a deliberate crossover
into a new readership. Jazz Sextet is very much
a novel for our time. The focus is on six quite
separate individuals coming together in a working
band. Out of these self-contained short stories
grows a complete novel as troubling as the twist
of fate that cracks humanity. Like the deep vein
in jazz music, it reaches out to touch the vulnerability
of the human condition. The book covers a lot
of ground; jazz with all its myriad methods of
improvising with life, the odd friendship or two,
a casual murder, sad sex, a definition of devotion,
the cheap scent of racism, gender politics and
personal philosophies, the tight grip loneliness
can impose on a single, solitary individual. Jazz
Sextet documents the power of love, wonder and
despair. These separate lives become one life
affirming story. Read it and take your own solos.