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NO MORE FIGHT LEFT

“J.D. sipped his drink. He thought it would give him “courage” and settle his nerves.”

John Dunn Sylvester sat in his window seat staring out at the tarmac and watching the loaders complete their chore. The Flight Attendant came down the aisle offering assistance and instruction. She stopped by J.D.’s seat.

“Sir, can I get you anything?” she asked.

“Huh? Oh, no thanks, I… no, thank you, I’m fine” came his distracted reply. Her smile offered little in the way of comfort or assurance. It would take more than that, he was afraid.

John remembered passing through the terminal thinking how appropriately the word irritated him after his journey. The doctors at the clinic were all in agreement. They labeled his condition with the same hopeless word. Terminal.
His cancer had metastasized. 18 months was the sentence proclaimed. He got nothing off for good behavior.

“Get your affairs in order, John!” the words ringing hollow in his head.

Sylvester was coming home to do just that. For a moment he thought it was a blessing that he and Beth couldn’t have children. But guilt washed over him, knowing that now his wife would be all alone. Her tears had been plentiful during their ordeal, but the determination as a last “second” opinion would surely open the floodgates.

J.D. sipped his drink. He thought it would give him “courage” and settle his nerves. But all that the Sweet Soco Manhattan did was excite the butterflies in his gut.

It is amazing how when your mind seems a million miles away, you don’t notice the obvious happenings around you. Announcements and recommendations filtered across the intercom.

“Approaching runway 19…”

“Tray tables in the upright…”

“Keep seat belts fastened until…”

The screech of the wheels as they contacted the runway, pierced him with a final thrust. As the plane taxied to the terminus, he tried to compose himself. How could he face Beth knowing he had refused all further treatment? He didn’t want to fight anymore. He just wanted to spend every minute he could loving the love of his life in his last months.

The line of passengers spilled into the waiting area, heading for the baggage claim. John had followed the others like cattle; mindlessly plodding along.

And there she was. Near the carousel. He saw Beth’s tears glisten down her cheek as she tried to retain some semblance of calm. As they embraced, he felt her shudder against his chest in muted sobs.

Pressing his cheek against hers he whispered “Beth, I love you so much!”

She gave a squeeze. Beth sniffed in her last tear.

“Let’s go home!” she whispered, never veering from his side.

OLD BLACK MEN OF CERTAIN IMPORT

But mostly they would sit and watch the world go by.

Calvin Watkins had been around the circuit for a long time, playing the jazz clubs in Chicago, and Cleveland. He even made it back home to Buffalo to serve up his sweet trumpet sound at the Colored Musicians Club. He recalled the nights he had spent in the smoky dimness listening to the likes of Ellington and Basie, Ella and “Lady Day”. His big break came the night Art Blakey invited Calvin onto the platform to fill in for his horn player. Blakey picked him up for the tour, travelling down South on the “chitlen’ circuit”. Calvin had stories to tell, for sure.

But his biggest accomplishment came when he met up with William “Boney” Claxson, who along with Claxson’s cousin, Edwin James, formed the Calvin Watkins Trio. Three musicians steeped in the roots of jazz, tempered in the blues, and honored countrywide for their smooth and soulful sound. They didn’t just make music. In a way, they reinvented it!

Eventually, the sounds evolved in many ways. And the fifties started to toll the knell for musicians such as the trio. The small intimate clubs started to disappear, opting for larger venues. And people wanted to hear the “new music”. The rock and roll train was catching steam, and although having had its roots in old gospel, rhythm and blues, it steered away from its origin in many ways.

The trio had a good run. But they had seen better days. Calvin still frequented the clubs that remained, resettling in Buffalo and the CMC. “Boney” joined him years later when James had been killed in a drive-by shooting while exiting the corner store. Edwin’s luck had run out as he clutched his lottery tickets, slumped on the pavement in a pool of his blood. He was dead before any response had been affected.

Calvin and “Boney” would sit on the bench outside of the club and reminisce. They traded stories about the great musicians they had known, and the clubs and the discrimination that they faced both as black men and musicians. They’d play their version of “Name That Tune”, whistling melodies from the day. But mostly they would sit and watch the world go by. And Calvin and Claxson never let a day go by when they would not pay homage to Edwin James and the talented men and women of the Colored Musicians Club.

Their memories brushed the same years. “Brothers” who battled their age and their fears. Oh, what a time it was…

CLICK HERE FOR A HISTORY OF THE COLORED MUSICIANS CLUB