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Experiment 8

the sound of summer

page 16

the sound of summer

I can still remember that day last summer when we first drove into the town of Paraparaumu. We came in just before dark, as the shops were closing and the streets were a mass of people. We went through slowly, past the cinema and the open-air cabaret and out on to the wider road they call Marine Parade, where we left our cars beside the marram-covered sand dunes that were spilling on to the pavement.

I said: "Better look the cars, we don't want all the instruments taken."

"Anyone know this joint?" David said. "Where's the motor camp?"

We all shrugged. Auckland was a long way away, and none of us had been this far south before. We had come down to play in the carnival jazz competition, to compete with some of the top combinations in the country. There was big prize money, but that was only incidental, we had come to play and hear jazz.

We stood for a moment under the coloured lights that were strung in rows across the street. There were five of us: David Kaper, sax; Tony Maselli, bass; Johnny Rewa, who was half-Maori, played, piano; Al Turner, drums; and myself, Mike Anderson, the junior in the group, filled in with a guitar. Then we went along to a milk bar that was filled with teenagers and with frantic music that came from a battered juke-box in one corner.

Johnny turned his back on the music, grinned at us and said,"Dig that crazy trash!"

Al went in, pushing sideways through the crowd, and came out again with five bottles of coke. We stood back against the shop window and drank them, looking out at the dark sea, and at the trace of red in the sky where the sun had gone down. Just to the north of the red was the dark shape of an island. Al pointed to it. "What's that place called; Mike, you're out book man?"

I said: "I think that's Kapiti, it's a bird sanctuary or something."

At the northern end of the island a red light was winking. Al said: "Well, the birds have sure organised a fine homing beacon."

"Moron!" Johnny said, "I guess that's for the aerodrome."

"They have their own aerodrome? This place sure is civilised".

David said: "Come on you guys, we're looking for a motor camp, not an aerodrome."

Al took our bottles back into the shop. A sharp gust of wind came down the street, spinning the sand into a small spiral; a scrap of newspaper clung to a girl's leg until she reached down and picked it off.

We walked further along and watched the roller-skating, the people swirling rhythmically to harsh, amplified music. "They really like their canned music in this place, don't they?" Johnny said.

Tony Maselli pattered an accompaniment on a parked car. "Just wait till we hit them with some real jazz."

"We might be wasting our time," Johnny said, "They're probably immune to good music by now."

Al said: "You reckon we play good music?"

page 17

Johnny nodded towards the loudspeaker. "It's better than that junk, anyway".

It was then that we saw the girl in the small grey car. She was across the street from us, trying to manouver out of a tight parking space, but each time she moved forward the big car behind her followed and jammed her in still more tightly.

"O.K." I said, "Do we help her?"

So we went across and told her to sit where she was, then we pushed the car in front clear so that she could swing out, ignoring the shouts and laughter from the big car. The girl stopped beside us and wound her window down further; she was quite pretty, with wide-open blue eyes and long dark hair. She said,"Thank you very much."

"You don't want to be afraid of those jokers," Al said, "They're just a big noise."

"I can see that you're new here. They're more than just a noise in this place, now that it's summer."

"Now that it's summer," I repeated; "How do you mean?"

But she only said thank you again and closed her window up halfway and drove out into the crowded street.

As we walked past the big car that was behind her the boys inside shouted and blew their horn and revved their engine loudly. "Just a big noise," Al said, and he flicked a small stone on to the bonnet.

We came on to the stage about eleven, and looked out across a sea of faces illuminated by the big spotlights around the edge of the park.

Johnny said: "Hell, somebody's going to make a packet out of this lot."

"Don't kid yourself," I told him, "Most of them came in free over the fences."

We tuned up and then David's heel went bump, bump, and we moved off into "I cover the Waterfront," with Johnny carrying the melody, the rest of us drifting in the shadows at half-throttle keeping the rhythm alive. We stayed like that for most of the piece, taking it apart so that it was barely recognisable, then building it back up again, never losing the beat; then at the end David came in with his sax and very gently took the melody away from Johnny, nodding us out one by one until he was at the final long sad note alone.

The crowd liked it but they were becoming restless, so before the applause had died away we jumped into a wild, upbeat rendering of "Tea for Two," driving the sound out across the crowd with our violence. We played it through straight and loud, no variations, David's sax riding above the rest of us yet never quite submerging us; we swung into the last chorus with all our strength, giving it everything we had, so that when we finally stopped there was a long silence before the applause came.

Those were our two and so we moved back off the stage and made way for the next group. Some of them said: "Not bad, fellows," "You really blew them, Dave," "Just wait till you hear our sound," as they passed us.

We went down the steps at the back of the stage and there was the girl we had helped the night before.

"Hello," she said, "I camearound to tell you how good you were." She waved the small cyclostyled programme at us. "I know your names now, if you are the Kaper Quintet."

page 18

I said: "And do we know your name?"

"I'm Kathy Nartin; I'm staying out here for the carnival with some other girls along Hanly Street."

"Well, what about scaring up some of your friends," Tony said, "And we'll go to the dance-hall or somewhere and have a ball."

She said: "Sure, girls are a dime a dozen around here." But we did not go to the dance-hall; we took the girls down on to the beach, and sat there in the soft sand and with the gentle sound of the sea behind us we played "Take the 'A' Train," and "Undecided," and "Button up your Overcoat," with Johnny doing the vocal in a husky voice when there were words written. Then we moved slowly through our own original we called "Blue-eyed Girl," and finally, because she requested it, we took apart "I Cover the Waterfront" again.

I remember the days that followed as though they were last week. The long hot days that we spent down on the beach, practising our pieces in the shade of a hired sun-umbrella, then running out across the burning sand to swim in the cool blue sea. Kathy went with us almost everywhere, she seemed to have adopted our group; she always stood right up close to the stage whenever we played in the competition. Some of the other girls came with us for a while, thinking that we must be something different and special because we played jazz, and then when they found that we were just ordinary guys they left us and hooked on to somebody else they hoped might be different. But Kathy always stayed.

"You're a lucky guy, Mike," Al said once; "Kathy's a nice girl."

I said: "She's not my girl, she belongs to all of us."

"You're an old sly dog! You mean you haven't noticed how she always swims closest to you, and lies next to you when we're sunbathing. You can't put that one across!"

"It's probably only my crew-cut she likes. You know, All-American Boy and all that rot."

We worked our way through to the competition finals, and were listed to appear with three other combinations on the last night. That morning I found Kathy down on the beach by herself.

I said: "Hullo, all alone? You'd better be careful or you'll get picked up." I pointed to where a big car full of youths was racing around in tight circles on the sand.

"I am scared of them," she admitted; "But I can scream pretty well if I want to."

"You said something that first night I didn't understand, something about: 'they make more than noise, now that it's summer'."

The big car in front of us straightened up and went racing off to the north, splashing through a small creek that crossed the beach.

"You don't know what it's like here in the summer, Mike. So far this year it's been different, but usually at the end of the summer 'Paraparaunu' is almost a dirty word."

She said: "Sometimes when I think of summer I only think of that. Big cars racing through the streets and along the beach. Beer bottles thrown through windows and left broken on front lawns. Paper and dirt blowing in a hot wind. Gangs of hooligans blocking the pavements and spitting at parked cars. Sometimes when I think of summer I forget all of the nice things."

"Like the tinkle of ice in tall glasses." I said. "The sound of summer. Or the quick rush of a wave up a sandy beach. Or jazz. Any sort. Music that idles along in the shade with a muted horn and wire brushes on the drums. Or Jazz with all stops out so that the veins on your neck swell and the sweat runs down your face and all the people out there are dancing and shouting. That's summer."

page 19

"Tell me," Kathy said, 'What is it really like to play jazz?"

I said: "It's like coming down a river in a boat. It can be a fast or a slow river. All you know is that you have to reach the sea; you take the bends and the rapids and the waterfalls as they come; you go slowly where the river runs deep or where the banks disappear and you are in a wide lagoon. You follow the river at its own speed and you are always surprised when you reach the sea."

Johnny came along then. "Come on, you two; we're supposed to be practising."

"Will you be along to watch us win tonight?" he said to Kathy.

She laughed. "Just you try to stop me!"

She was not in her usual place when we came on to the stage. It somehow seemed strange not seeing her there. She would have to push hard to get through the crowd now, I thought.

Then we were tuning up: Johnny playing odd little phrases on the piano, loosening his fingers; David feeling for the first few notes of "Blue Moon" on his sax; Al pattering lightly on the drums. A few seconds of silence and then bump, bump, from David and we were into "Blue Moon." As we played I looked around in the crowd for Kathy, and by the third chorus I knew that she was not there, unless she was right at the back where the lights did not reach and the faces fringed into the darkness.

While we were waiting for the applause to die I said to Johnny: "Kathy's not here tonight." He ran his fingers quickly down the black notes, like a shiver down my spine. He only had time to shrug his shoulders and say: "That's strange," before the applause was gone and we were playing "Falling in Love Again," an arrangement of the old song that we almost considered our signature tune. There was more guitar in this one, and I forgot about Kathy until near the end when the saxophone came in louder and took the melody away from us. But she was still not there.

We had to stay out at the back while the last combination went through their numbers. They did a nice slow ballad that must have been their original, and then swung into a fast-tempo "Freight-Train." Halfway through we heard a slow siren that rose above the music and then fell back into it again.

"That's effective," Al said, "I wonder how they managed it."

"That's a cop outside; listen, there it is again," Johnny said.

We watched from the door as a big car with a red flashing light swept past, its tyres squealing as it turned out on to the Marine Parade.

David said: "Somebody's for it."

I said: "Do you reckon it's anything to do with Kathy not being here?"

"Of course not," Al laughed at me. "It'll just be some hooligans busting up some joint."

But after the show was all over, after we were presented with the third prize, and after the crowds had gone and the big spotlights illuminating the ground were turned off, Al and Johnny and I went to look for Kathy. The little bach where she stayed was empty and locked, and we could find her nowhere in the town. Maybe I knew then what had happened, because I suggested that we ask the police. Al and page 20Johnny said I was crazy, but they came along. The policeman on duty was big and had white hair and a kind smile, but the smile went away when I asked about Kathy. He made us go in and sign a statement of where we had seen her last and what she had been doing.

I said: "Where is she? What's happened to her?"

He looked down at his papers before he answered. "Some boys in a car took her up north along the beach to the mouth of the river.

Luckily somebody heard her screaming, and our car got to her before--before anything happened. The boys are back here in the cells now." He nodded behind him.

As we went out I said: "She told me only today that she could scream real loud. Or yesterday, I suppose; it's morning now." I kicked a small stone across the road and listened to it rattle into the darkness. "That's what she said. The sound of summer."

That was last year, during the carnival. Now it is summer again, and the time for jazz. But our group has broken up; David has gone to a big band across in the city, and Tony Maselli has moved to another town. But Al and Johnny and I are still together, and sometimes we call ourselves The Three Minstrels and play in a coffee-bar or at a Swing Club. Johnny is learning the horn now, for the places we play where there is no piano.

And this summer we will move south again, out of Auckland's heat. Perhaps we will go to The Mount, and live on the white sand next to the sea. Perhaps we will keep moving, and be the minstrels of our name.

We will not have Kathy this time. She wrote to me only once; "It was fun while it lasted," She said, "But it's over now. Please don't write again." It was not the Kathy I remembered. Girls come and go; some of them stay a little longer than others, that is the only difference.

So we will look for somebody else. We will play our music to her, music that is as soft as a caress, music that is immortal and that will be played as long as there is a girl to listen to it and a summer to lift it above the earth.