Sunday June 21, 1959. The Fingers Family is driving home from church: 12:30 PM
Maurice Ellington Fingers Sr. was a spiritual man, but he was not deeply religious like his wife Leticia. He would meditate once in a while, but his wife was a devout religious practitioner. To maintain peace within the family, he would go to church every Sunday with his wife and son.
Maurice Sr.: Leticia, our son has a gift, and I think that we need to nurture it.
Leticia: I don’t want our son being no musician. They take drugs; they womanize. We don’t want our son to become a lecherous drug addict.
Maurice Jr. Sat in the back seat soaking in the entire conversation. Nobody took the time to ask him what he wanted to be when he grows up.
Maurice Jr.: Don’t worry Momma. I won’t be a drug addict. I like those songs that they play in church, they remind me of the blues. Maybe I’ll be a church musician.
Maurice Jr. had become obsessed with the blues since his father introduced him to the blues. He found that at night, if he tuned his radio just right, he could catch a Memphis blues station. It wasn’t very clear, but he didn’t care. The sound of the blues was so soothing and comforting to his young soul.
Sunday June 21, 1959. The Fingers’ Family Home: 2 PM
Maurice Sr.: Son, I bought you a gift. You love music; now you need to start learning the history of music. You won’t understand everything, but you can always come and ask me questions.
Maurice Jr. Looked down at the beautiful simplicity of the book’s cover: “Father of the Blues”. He started flipping though the pages and he stumbled upon a name: “W.C. Handy May 29, 1944”. ‘That was a very long time ago, before I born.” thought Maurice Jr.
Maurice Jr.: Thank you Daddy!
Leticia Fingers was an educated woman. She loved to read, she loved to study, and she hated not knowing what a word meant. Her and her husband were poor, but she considered her family to be rich in the things that mattered: they were kind, hard-working and humble people, and that was enough. She could not forget her husband’s words: “We need to nurture his talents”.
What if her husband was right? She had started to learn that often when she ignored her husband’s advise, it turned out in the long run that he was right.
She pulled the Merriam-Webster dictionary down from their small book shelf, and routed her fingers to the letter “P”. She scrolled down, looking for the word until she found it: perfect pitch.
“The ability to correctly name any musical note that you hear or to sing any musical note correctly without help”.
Leticia thought for a moment. A gift like perfect pitch could only come from God. Was her son destined to become a musician? She didn’t like the idea at all. Her dad took her to a jazz club when she turned 18, and she could still remember the strong smell of cigarettes and alcohol as soon as they entered the club. She would never forget the bright red bloodshot eyes of the saxophone player as he stumbled onto the bandstand. But if it was God’s will that her son become a musician, then there was nothing that she could do to stop it. All that she could do is to make sure that her son receives the proper training so that he never ends up like that drunken red-eyed shell of a man that she saw so many years ago. Maybe her son would be the first black man to be the principle saxophonist for a major symphony orchestra.Maybe he could create a decent career for himself far away from the drugs, booze, and women-of-ill-repute that infested the jazz clubs of America.
Thursday June 25, 1959. The Fingers’ Family Home: 7:32 PM
Maurice Jr. didn’t put down the Father of the Blues at all: he read the 350 page book in two days. He carefully read some parts over and over again. This was the moment that Maurice Sr. realized that his son was REALLY serious about becoming a musician. He waited and waited to see if his son would have any questions. Finally, the moment arrived.
Maurice Jr.: Daddy, why do I love the blues so much?
Maurice Sr. thought to himself for a moment: “Should I tell him the truth?”
He decided that he owed it to his son to tell him the truth even though he was really too young to hear it.
Maurice Sr.: Son, when you grow up, you will come to realize that 95% of what exists in the world is bullshit.
Maurice Jr.’s mouth dropped in shock. He had only heard his father curse once before, and that happened when he was extremely angry about something that happened at work.
Maurice Sr.: People put up facades to make you think that they are rich and happy, but its mostly a lie. You are drawn to the blues because the blues is the truth. The blues is how people REALLY feel.
Maurice Jr.’s mind was blown. His mother always said “Maurice Jr., you can always tell the truth because the truth will always set you free”. Now, his dad was telling him that the blues IS the truth.
Saturday April 16, 1960. The Fingers’ Family Home: 8 PM
“Maurice Jr., you can always tell the truth because the truth will always set you free”. His mother’s words from almost a year before haunted him. Maurice Jr. got up from his bed and went to close the bedroom door. For the last two months, he had practiced his saxophone every day.He was completely self-taught. He looked down at his most trusted book: Carl Fischer’s Beginning Saxophone. In the first two weeks, he learned all of the fingerings, and he was able to make a sound on almost all of the notes.He would practice the etudes in the book everyday, and then at night, he would turn on the radio to play along with songs. Some nights, it was country music, other nights, rhythm and blues. But Saturday nights were special: Saturday night were always dedicated to down-home blues from Memphis.
Maurice Jr. Hesitated for a moment: “If the blues is the truth, and the truth will always set you free, then I should be able to play the blues over anything.”
Maurice Jr. never played classical music. He tuned the radio to a public radio station playing the music of Bach. He listened for a second, and then he ran his fingers up and down the saxophone looking for the right notes. Once he found them, he started playing the blues over them: It fit! He tuned to a popular music radio station and it was playing “Theme from a Summer Place” by Percy Faith. Again he tried to play the blues over it: it fit!! He tried again over and over: on county music songs: it fit. Over show tunes: it fit. Over folk music: it fit. Over jazz songs: it fit. The blues fit everywhere. His dad was right: the blues is the truth.
Maurice Jr. was lost in thought. A completely new world was opened to him. He started dreaming of how the blues would take him on a magical carpet ride, and he would use the blues to achieve all of his dreams. The fairytale moment was abruptly ended by the loud ring of the front door bell.
The Fingers Family kept to themselves, and they NEVER received visitors. Maurice Jr. went to the bedroom door to see what was going on. He saw his father go to the front door, and look through the peephole. His father immediately turned as white as a sheet, as if he had seen a ghost. In a complete state of shock, Maurice Sr. opened the front door.
Police Officer Adams: Mr. Fingers, Officer Rowland and I need to have a word with you and your son.