Saturday September 17, 2022. Millennium Artistic Center: Huntsville, Alabama: 7 PM.
Oren Sager (band bassist): Congratulations kid on getting hired. You beat out a lot of very good pianists. Your hard work paid off, but a lot of it was luck. You and that cat from South Carolina were this close: it's by the grace of God that Blaze picked you.
Mark Sawyer (band pianist): Thank you! Can I ask you a question?
Oren: Sure, you can always come to me.
Mark: What should I expect tonight?
Oren: Blaze is a complete master of the alto saxophone. You'll never catch up to him: I'll never catch up to him. I'll bet you $1,000 that he's in his dressing room practicing right now. He can play any song in any style at any tempo in any key. I know that you are terrified right now. You SHOULD be.
Mark: Uh....I'm kind of speechless.
Oren: There's no way to sugarcoat it: you're going to get your butt kicked tonight. Play your best, and accept the results. When you wake up tomorrow morning, get a notebook and write down a list of things that you need to work on: it's going to be a long list.
Mark: Thank you!
Oren: No problem. Good luck.
The Millennium Artistic Center was an experiment financed by billionaire financier and jazz patroness Sylvia Abakpa. Nothing like it had ever been built before, especially not in Huntsville Alabama. Post-coronavirus pandemic, commercial real estate was very cheap, and AMD Corporation came in, creating thousands of high-paying jobs. Almost overnight, Huntsville was transformed into a high society capital of the world.
The Millennium Artistic Center had four major parts:
- The Joe Segal Fitness Center: a 50,000 square foot fitness atrium with hundreds of fitness machines: ellipticals, bikes, treadmills, weight machines, and rowing machines.
- The Vi Redd Cyber Cafe: a 40,000 square foot space with 500 computer terminals where guests could check email and play games.
- The Ellsworth Wareham Nutrition Center: a state-of-the-art restaurant that specialized in world-renowned vegan cuisine.
- The Charlie Parker Center of the Performing Arts: a 20,000 seat musical auditorium at the center of the Millennium Artistic Center.
Saturday September 17, 2022. Millennium Artistic Center: Huntsville, Alabama: 9 PM.
Blaze Fingers was a regal man of few words. He commanded respect with his perfect posture and his silky baritone voice. His mane of silver hair was cut with military precision. He believed that people paid a lot of hard-earned money to hear him play, and he had to always look like a million dollars.
Mark Sawyer looked out at the audience through the closed curtain. The room was packed: 20,000 people chatted and socialized as they waited for the show to begin. Mark thought to himself "Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?"
Mark had just graduated from the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz in late 2021. Post-Covid, work as a jazz musician was still hard to find, so Mark spent a year travelling and studying. He took his portable keyboard with him, and he sat in with bands in Nairobi, Kenya, Yokohama, Japan, and Florence, Italy. He worked hard building his technique, and tonight was going to be his first true test.
Mark watched as the curtains opened and the band members started to walk out onto the stage. The crowd roared with approval as they saw their heroes appear:
Oren Sager - bass
Maria Cole - trumpet
Andreas Joqim - drums
Mark Sawyer took a deep breath and took his place at the piano trying to look as confident as possible.
Blaze Fingers had more than 50 years of experience as a band leader. By contract, every venue that he took his quintet into provided him with a large private dressing room where he could also practice his horn. He played a 24-karat gold-plated Selmer Reference 54 alto saxophone custom made for him by Henri Selmer Paris. His horn had beautiful hand-engraving on the bell, and the words "Blaze Fingers". To say that Blaze Fingers was obsessed with the alto saxophone would be the understatement of the century.
You could hear a pin drop in the Millennium Artistic Center. The four musicians patiently waited on the stage, as did the audience. The band's base pay was $20,000 per week for this gig: $10,000 went to the headliner, Blaze, and each musician was paid $2,500.
Blaze was a masterful business man. In his contract with major venues, he always pushed them to give him and his band a percentage of the house's gross earnings. He would quickly do the math in his head: 20,000 people in the audience times an average ticket price of $50 would gross $1,000,000. Blazed asked for 10% of the gross. So in total, his band would receive $100,000 + $20,000 for one week of work: $60,000 for Blaze, and $15,000 for each band member. That is the kind of following that Blaze Fingers had earned, and he was incredibly well respected.
There were a lot of musicians in the audience. They had all heard the stories about how much Blaze's band earned, and every musician dreamed of having a career as successful as Blaze's.
From the left side of the stage, Mark saw a shadow from the corner of his eye, and then he heard the audience scream louder than he had ever heard an audience scream in the past. He saw a shining coif of silver hair with a few black streaks impeccably manicured with extra virgin coconut oil enter his peripheral vision.
Blaze started tapping his right foot at an impossibly fast pace somewhere well north of 300 beats per minute. "Donna Lee: F#. Let's go!"