There were certain nights when Bud Powell spoke to him. Clearly, cutting through darkness with a uniqueness and a directness that only he could put forth. They were night of sadness – a quiet, lonely tugging, a nostalgia for days gone by, a sadness tinged with peace for its purity, its genuineness. They were nights not when the inchoate depression of failing and lost wanderings nagged at Olin’s thoughts, but nights where a sadness that felt oddly satisfying in its completeness, in its absorption, filled his being with a fullness of emotion. Nights that rippled with memories of past pleasures and movements – where the pleasantries of having simply existed in some place, at some time, coated his body in a quiet solitude; a sadness tinged with satisfaction.

            It seemed to Olin that of all the recorded expressions and tempers he had stacked in his collection, none spoke so clearly on these nights as Bud Powell’s. He would sit in the dark, the restless breeze making the walls creak, the push against the window glass, and Bud would cry out through the years, the splintery notes jumping over the ages and filling the night. There was something always quivering about his music, some tender fallibility that seeped through the notes. He would hammer away, pounding out block chords like laying brick then scatter out across the keyboards in splintering notes and dashing flurries. He would yell and gruff and mumble in the background, his fingers jamming out clusters of notes, toned ideas bursting forth, then pausing, then falling out again all-of-a-sudden. Loud, abrasive, chopping bursts blocked in with his locked hands chording.

            But through it all, leaking bit by bit through the cracks and eventually overwhelming the technique and the runs and the clusters of notes, was a vulnerability and a sadness that was undeniable, unavoidable. It built up song after song – the teetering, the balancing – until it was all you could hear, all that mattered in the music. The abrasions, the harshness of the sound and the odd-timed figures, the energy and bustle gave way, in time, to this heart-wrenching tenderness. A cry out through the tough exterior that bled into the room, that spilled from the speakers and filled the dark night with all the loneliness and struggle of man, all the desperate and delicate holdings of a life. A cry that came straight through the years and reached out in need; need for warmth, for compassion, for some support against the wobbling tightrope, the fragility of time. In a song like “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” the flash and speed abandoned from the start, the song given over to its bare essentials, to the delicate fingering of its sparsity, the trite title is pulled apart and left barren, the notes stretched out and left to linger, alone, trembling against the soft pulses of time. The notes made frail but full, tender. A companion for all time.

listen to Polka Dots and Moonbeams

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