Monday March 13, 1950. Cook County Hospital Intensive Care Unit: Chicago, Illinois: 7:37 AM
Doctor Colombiano: Journal entry: Maurice Ellington Fingers Jr.: born 12 noon March 1, 1950. The prognosis is grim. The child is weak, he was born 2 months premature, and his lungs are filled with a mucous-like fluid. He has been on a ventilator since shortly after birth. Half of the doctors on my team think that the child won't survive to see the month of April. We are doing everything that we can to comfort the parents: Maurice and Leticia Fingers.
From the very beginning, the life of Maurice Ellington Fingers Jr. was a battle. He was born with a congenital heart defect, sickle-cell trait, and a host of other illnesses and medical deficiencies that doctors did not yet fully understand. But he was a fighter: he simply would not give up.
Saturday April 1, 1950. Cook County Hospital Intensive Care Unit: Chicago, Illinois: 9:15 AM
Doctor Risa pulled a crisp $20 bill out of her wallet and passed it over to Doctor Picard who had a smug "I told you so" look on his face.
Doctor Colombiano: Mr. and Mrs. Fingers, it is like a miracle occurred. We looked at your son's X-rays this morning, and the fluid in his lungs is gone. He is off of the ventilator. I can't explain how this happened.
Mrs. Leticia Fingers was a deeply spiritual woman. She prayed for her son for almost an hour every night before she went to bed. Doctor Colombiano called her son's recovery a miracle, but she knew the whole truth.
Wednesday April 16, 1958. Racine Avenue, Chicago, Illinois: 3:15 PM
Maurice Fingers Jr. was smaller and slower than all of the other boys. The Racine Avenue Boys were a loosely knit group of neighborhood bullies: they made it their mission to prey on the soft and the weak.
Johnny Lightfoot (leader of the Racine Avenue Boys): How're doing today retard? You're looking weaker than usual. You're mom should have aborted you and put you out of your misery.
Maurice pretended that he hadn't heard the words, but they were tearing him up inside. He wanted to run, but he knew that he could not outrun the Racine Avenue Boys. He just had to sit there and take their abuse.
Johnny Lightfoot: Let's see what the retard has for us today.
Johnny grabbed the backpack from Maurice's back like he owned it. He haphazardly opened the backpack and ceremoniously dumped all of its content onto the ground. He then carefully used his left foot the spread everything as far as he could to give Maurice as much work as possible. The Racine Avenue Boys then walked away as if nothing had happened.
Johnny Lightfoot: See you tomorrow LOSER.
Friday June 19, 1959. Fingers' Family Home: 5:00 PM
Maurice Fingers Sr. was a want-to-be jazz musician. He worked hard trying to learn the piano as a teenager, but he simply couldn't remember the songs. When his wife became pregnant, he was 22 years old. His dream of becoming a jazz musician was over: he had to put food on the table NOW. Maurice Jr. was their only child, but life was a constant struggle, and the Fingers teetered on the brink of abject poverty. The one thing that Maurice could never part with was their rickety old piano. He would never completely give up on his jazz musician dreams by selling the piano.
Maurice Jr. was in the bedroom whistling a tune. Maurice Jr. stayed in the house a lot to avoid the neighborhood bullies. He loved to play his dad's jazz records, and he loved to listen to the radio. He knew his dad's music collection better than his dad did. Maurice Sr. noticed that the whistling had started about a week ago: his son always whistled the same song: "April in Paris" by Count Basie.
Maurice Sr. quietly made his way to the piano, and started playing along to his son's whistling. "He's whistling it in the right key" Maurice Sr. thought.
Saturday June 20, 1959. Fingers' Family Home: 6:12 PM
Maurice Jr. was whistling "April in Paris" again. Maurice Sr. went to the door of the bedroom and looked in to make sure that his son was not listening to the radio, or to one of his records. He went to the piano and played along: "He's whistling it in the right key AGAIN".
Maurice Sr. went to the kitchen where his wife was cooking noodles for dinner.
Maurice Sr.: Leticia, I think that our son has perfect pitch!"
Leticia: What's perfect pitch?
Tuesday July 14, 1959. Racine Avenue: 3 PM
Maurice Jr. tried to avoid going outside, but he couldn't spend the entire summer hiding. He looked up at the giant poster affixed to a light pole. It was a handsome black man carrying a shiny piece of metal. Maurice Jr. had seen that shape before, but he wasn't sure what it was. He looked around and saw a pleasant-looking woman wearing a blue dress.
Maurice Jr.: Excuse me ma'am, what is that man holding?
Woman in Blue: Little man, that is a saxophone.
Maurice Jr. had a puzzled look on his face.
Maurice Jr.: A saxophone?
Woman in Blue: Yes, a saxophone. You can ask your parents to show you one at a music store, or at a special kind of store called a pawn shop".
Maurice Jr.: Thank you!
Woman in Blue: You're welcome!
Friday July 17, 1959. Racine Avenue: 11:24 AM
Castellano's Pawn Shop. Maurice Jr. looked up at the massive sign. He had never been inside of a shop before. He took a deep breath, and walked inside.
Bill Castellano: Hey son, are you lost? Do your parents know that you're in a pawn shop?
Maurice Jr. cleared his throat and tried to look as confident as possible. He stretched his thin frame to make himself look a little taller, and he changed his voice to sound more confident, like his dad.
Maurice Jr.: I'm looking for a saxophone.
Bill pointed to his right at a shiny King saxophone sitting on a display stand: "$100".
Maurice Jr. was crushed. His parents could never afford $100.
Saturday July 18, 1959. Fingers' Family Home: 10:30 PM
Leticia Fingers was a woman of routine. At 10 PM, like clockwork, she would head to bed. Her husband would typically stay up at least an hour later watching TV. He was in his comfort chair in front of the TV nodding off: he was pretty much gone.
Maurice Jr. looked at his mother's purse sitting where it always sat: on the small table in the living room. He went to the kitchen and found an old peanut butter jar in the trash: "Perfect!"
Maurice Jr. knew that stealing from his mother's purse was wrong, but he could not forget the image of that powerful man holding a saxophone. He wanted to feel the same way.
Tuesday February 2, 1960. Castellano's Pawn Shop: Chicago: 12 noon.
Maurice Jr.: How much is that case?
Bill Castellano: $25.
Maurice Jr. looked down at his peanut butter jar. He knew that he did not have enough.
Maurice Jr.: Please put it in a paper bag for me.
It had been years since the Racine Avenue Boys started tormenting Maurice Jr., but he was now almost 10 years old, and his saxophone made him powerful.
Johnny Lightfoot: What's in the paper bag retard?
Maurice Jr. didn't say a word. He hauled back with all of his might and hit Johnny in the head with his new saxophone. Blood gushed from Johnny's wound as he collapsed to the ground like a demolished building. The other Racine Avenue Boys looked at each other in complete shock.
Maurice Jr. casually walked away like nothing had happened.
An elderly man sat on his patio applauding.
Elderly man: It's about time that you showed those bullies who's boss! You hit him so blazing fast that he never saw it coming!
Weak. Soft. Slow. Sickly. Those were the adjectives that Maurice Ellington Fingers Jr. ascribed to himself: it was all that he knew. He liked the sound of "blazing fast".
Saturday August 20, 1960. Fingers' Family Home balcony: 8 PM.
Maurice Jr. practiced his saxophone like his life depended on it. He liked to look at the large dent in the bell. A couple of years ago, he had heard a beautiful new music on the radio. His dad called it "the blues". Something about the blues connected with Maurice Jr.'s soul. Each night, he would serenade his neighborhood with a blues concert. Tonight, there was a birthday party going on in an apartment across the street. A group of clowns was on the terrace having a quick smoke while the party blasted inside.
Maurice Jr. ignored the clowns: he was too engrossed with playing his blues. All of a sudden, he heard the sound of someone sobbing. He looked over at the terrace, and it was one of the clowns. He had broken into tears, and he was sobbing like a baby.
Sobbing Clown: Keep playing kid: it's so beautiful!
Maurice Jr. didn't know that clowns always had to put on a happy face. They could never let the world see the pain that they hid deep inside.
Sobbing Clown: What's your name kid!!??
Blaze; Blaze Fingers is my name!