Blaze Fingers Episode 2: The Poetry Man

Blaze Fingers: You are a poet. Listen to the story being told by the band. Add your part to that story. Nothing more, nothing less; we are story tellers.

Mark Sawyer had been a member of the Blaze Fingers Jazz Quintet for 5 weeks, and today marked the first time that Blaze had really held a conversation with him. Blaze Fingers was an extremely focused individual: he did not speak through his words, he spoke through his actions. 

Mark found it odd that Blaze never talked about music, given how much he had mastered the art of music. Today, Blaze had invited Mark to his modest home to discuss his role in the band.  He had survived five intense weeks. He felt lost on the bandstand every night: Blaze demanded a lot of his musicians. Every night the songs were different, and every night the songs were at different tempos and different keys. No matter how much he prepared, he never felt ready. But each night, he showed up for work, and Blaze never fired him, so he figured that he must be doing something right.

Blaze Fingers: I want you to write me a poem.

Mark Sawyer: Right now?

Blaze: Yes, right now.

The Lonely Tree, by Mark Sawyer:

The lonely tree sits alone

Laughing and crying beneath a pale orange moon.

The lonely tree smiles as tiny creatures scurry up and down its sides

never asking for recognition or thanks.

The lonely tree tells thousands of tiny stories as it sheds its leaves every fall,

each leaf representing a cycle of birth and death.

The lonely tree is a poet whose quiet masterpieces touch the hearts of those who are willing to listen.

Mark could not help watching Blaze as he read the poem. He did not know what to expect. Blaze finished reading the poem, and he looked up at Mark. 

Blaze: We are done for today. I'll see you on the bandstand tomorrow night.

Blaze Fingers always maintained a poker face: it was impossible to tell if he was happy or sad. It was impossible to discern whether he approved or disapproved of your actions. But as soon as he put his alto saxophone to his mouth, his demeanor changed, and he started outpouring pure joy and torment from the innermost portions of his soul.

Saturday June 24, 2023. Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC): Saratoga Springs , New York: 6:30 PM

Mark Sawyer now had nine months of development under his belt as a member of the Blaze Fingers Jazz Quintet. He was developing a reliable method and routine for practicing. The band had about 45 core songs in its repertoire, and he would take a deep dive into one song every day: he would go through that song in all twelve keys. 

Blaze Fingers had thousands of songs in his working memory, but he would pick out about 45 songs to focus on each year. The next year, the 45 focus songs would change. A musician in Blaze's band could never truly feel comfortable, because next year, everything would change. However, Mark felt that his routine was the best possible solution to contributing to the band.

Blaze walked up to Mark as he sat at his piano practicing for their 8 PM show. 

Blaze: Do you remember that poem that you wrote a few months ago?

Mark: I do.

Blaze: Here you go.

Mark looked down in amazement. The sheets of paper beneath him held the orchestration for five parts (piano, sax, bass, drums, and trumpet) of a new song: "The Poetry Man's Prayer to a Lonely Tree".  Blaze Fingers always did a sound check with his band an hour before show time.

Blaze: We'll learn this song during the sound check, and we are going to perform it tonight.

Blaze confidently walked away heading back towards his dressing room. Mark looked through the sheet music in awe and admiration of the beauty of the music. It was all written in pen with beautiful penmanship, as would be created by a master calligrapher. He began to play the lines, and each line logically led into a slightly more complex line, and the intensity rose and rose, until the magical end of the piece was reached. He had a very short time to memorize the piece: Blaze did not allow sheet music on the bandstand.

Saturday June 24, 2023. Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC): Saratoga Springs , New York: 7 PM Sound Check

Blaze: Imagine a poet at the base of a lonely tree. She is speaking to the tree saying thank you for all that you do. Your hard work is never recognized. You are never thanked. You are never comforted when it is too cold or too hot outside. But you persist, and you simply do what needs to be done year after year.

It was impossible to tell who Blaze was talking about. Was the message about the members of the audience, or the members of the band? Everything that Blaze said was cryptic: he wanted his band members to think. They expected him to count off the song to rehearse. He simply said those few words and walked away.

Mark played a four bar intro, and each musician began to read the sheet music. The position of Mark's piano gave him a unique view to the backstage area. As they played, he could see Blaze quietly listening to them, and then he disappeared like dust in the wind.

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Piano Jazz Episodes - 1978

Back to: The Saxtalk Unofficial Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland IndexIndexDate RecordedDate AiredGuestIPFS Archive11978-10-08unknownMary Lou Williamslink21978-10-091979-04-01Dr. Billy Taylorlink31978-10-291979-04-29Bobby Shortlink41978-11-051979-05-20Ellis Larkinslink