Blaze Fingers Episode 7: Pivot Chords

Christmas 1960 was looking ever more bleak for the Fingers Family. Maurice Fingers Sr. sat in a jail cell on charges of the attempted murder and robbery of pawn shop owner Bill Castellano. Leticia Fingers was doing her best to try and hustle to provide for herself and her son, but money was hard to come by for a poor black woman with two mouths to feed. She took a low paying job as a maid for a wealthy suburban family, but her pay was barely enough to make ends meet. Her commute to work was almost two hour each way, and she had to leave her only son alone for very long stretches of time. Her silent prayer was that her son should not get into any mischief during his long hours alone. She needed someone that she could trust as a guardian angel for her boy, but when and where would that angel arrive?

Wednesday, December 21 1960: 9:30 PM

The Street Pharmacist: Kid, you and I are going to take a little walk, and we’re going to chat about that job that you asked me for. I know a little spot: it’s about 10 minutes away.

Maurice Fingers Jr. took a long look at his apartment building.

The Street Pharmacist: Everything is cool. You’ll be okay with me. Let’s go.

Maurice Jr. was desperate; he was now the man of the house, and he had to do something to financially help his mother NOW. He obediently followed the Street Pharmacist. After about 10 minutes, they arrived at their destination: the Oakwood Trails Jazz Club. A menacing looking security man stood in front of the beautifully manicured gold-plated doors that formed an entry portal into the inside of the Oakwood Trails Jazz Club.

Security Man: He’s too young to come in here.

The Street Pharmacist: It’s cool, we won’t be here long. We have to see Fats Bixby.

The Security Man looked carefully at the Street Pharmacist, and then at Maurice Jr.

Security Man: Okay, I’ll let you in, but keep the kid in the back where he can’t be seen. You and Bixby can meet back there.

Fats Bixby was a massive man: 6 foot 7 inches tall, and somewhere well north of 300 pounds. He was a legend in the Chicago jazz community: a first-rate piano virtuoso.

Fats Bixby: Do you know who I am kid?

Maurice Jr.: No Sir.

Fats Bixby: Well you will. You’re a good kid. I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your dad.

Maurice Jr.: You know about my father?

Fats Bixby: I make it my business to know about all of the talented youngsters in this neighborhood. I’ve heard your progress on the saxophone. You’re getting good, and you’re getting good fast. I know EVERYTHING that goes on in this neighborhood. I knew that when your dad got arrested, your family would run into trouble. Leon and I planned this meeting awhile ago.

Maurice Jr.: Leon?

Fats Bixby: Leon; you know him as the Street Pharmacist. You’re a good kid; we’re not going to let you get into selling drugs.

Leon, the Street Pharmacist: 30 years ago, I was just like you kid: I was a talented young musician. I got into some trouble, and I ended up selling junk to make a living. But I’m trying to get myself clean. I’m going to stop selling drugs, and I’m going to go legit. We have to get the people in our community off of this stuff.

Fats Bixby: Kid, I’m going to take you under my wing, and I’m going to teach you how to REALLY play that horn. You’re not allowed in here at nights, so we are going to get together for lessons in the afternoons. I know that you and your mom need money. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that you and she are taken care of until your dad is released.

Maurice Jr. felt like a two ton weight had been lifted off of his chest.

Maurice Jr.: Thank you so much Sir! Mr.?

Fats Bixby: Bixby. Fats Bixby, but you can call me Uncle Fats.

With that, the meeting was done, and Fats Bixby disappeared into the shadows of the Oakwood Trails Jazz Club like a chameleon.

Saturday December 24, 1960Fats Bixby’s Home – 1 PM

Fats Bixby: Okay, I’ve heard you playing your horn on your balcony: you like playing the blues.

Maurice Jr.: Yes, I love the sound of the blues!

Fats Bixby: I know that you do. Do you know your major scales?

Maurice Jr. Looked down at the floor sheepishly: Ummm kind of…

Fats Bixby: Lesson Number 1: there is no “kind of”: either you know it, or you don’t. I’m going to teach you how to believe in yourself, and how to stop bullshitting yourself….excuse my language. You have to ALWAYS tell yourself the truth. When you get in front of an audience, the truth will come out as soon as you start playing your horn. So, I ask once again: do you know your major scales?

Maurice Jr.: No Sir.

Fats Bixby: Do you know your minor scales?

Maurice Jr.: No Sir.

Fats Bixby: Do you know your blues scales?

Maurice Jr.: No Sir.

Fats Bixby: Well, we have a lot of work to do. You have a lot of natural talent: we are going to have to polish that talent. Do you know what separates people who succeed from people who fail?

Maurice Jr. nodded "no".

Fats Bixby: One word: FOCUS. The world is full of noise, and most people waste their whole lives following the noise. To get you to becoming a great musician, we have to teach you how to focus on the signal instead of focusing on the noise. Do you understand?

Maurice Jr.: Yes Sir.

Fats Bixby pulled out a piece of paper and wrote out the following:

C E G B | G B D F#

D F A C | A C E G

E G B D | B D F# A

F A C E | C E G B

G B D F | D F# A C

A C E G | E G B D

B D F A | F# A C E

C E G B | G B D F#

Fats Bixby: I know that you don’t know your major scales well yet. You can probably read them out of your book at home, but you haven’t internalized them yet. The left column is the chords in the key of C major. The right column is the chords in the key of G major. What do you see common between the two columns?

Maurice Jr. looked carefully at the piece of paper: Both columns have A C E G, CEGB, and E G B D.

Fats Bixby: Correct! Those are called “pivot chords”; they allow you to transition between the two keys. ACEG is called an A minor seventh chord; C E G B is called a C major seventh chord, and E G B D is called an E minor seventh chords. Pivot chords are a metaphor for life: they give you the flexibility to transition between two modes. You don’t understand yet, but you will one day. The more you practice, the more you learn, the more flexibility you have: you will learn tools that will help you to navigate easily between modes that other people find hard to navigate. Do you understand?

Maurice Jr.: No Uncle Fats.

Fats Bixby: I know, but you WILL understand. Everything takes time. The next time that you practice, I want you to play the notes in both columns on your horn. Just play with them ,and memorize the sounds. We’ll talk more in the next lesson. What are you and your mom planning on doing for Christmas?

Maurice Jr.: I don’t know. I never see her. She’s always at work.

Fats Bixby: I’m going to stop by your house tomorrow and bring something nice for you and your mom. Don’t worry: your dad will be back. We don’t know WHEN he’ll be back, but everything is going to be okay.

Saturday March 1, 2025: Royale Jazz Club, New York, New York

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Blaze

Happy Birthday to you!!

Tears started to roll down Blaze Fingers cheeks. He never though that he would make it to the age of 75. He wished that his parents could be here to enjoy the celebration. He looked around at the members of his quintet with pride, and then he looked out at the packed audience.

Blaze Fingers: Thank you so much everyone...I am so honored …. to … I … I … I …. miss …. mix … ish … lid ...

Blaze began to have trouble speaking… and he began to slur his words…

Mark Sawyer: Something’s wrong with Blaze!

Just as he spoke those words, Blaze collapsed to the ground. The members of his quintet rushed to his aid.

Mark Sawyer: Is there a doctor in the house?

A young lady, Doctor Rosita Amen, sprinted to the front of the room, and felt for Blaze’s pulse. She then put her hand on his head, and looked carefully into his eyes.

Doctor Rosita Amen: He’s having a stroke!!


Thank you for enjoying Blaze Fingers Episode 7. The Blaze Fingers Story will be on Christmas/New Years hiatus until Friday, February 5, 2021. Please join us then for Blaze Fingers Episode 8: A Stroke of Genius.

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