A Cough at the College of the Pacific – 2


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Now onto part 2 of “A Cough at the College of the Pacific.”

I switched on the ignition and fired up the car heater. Growing up on the East Coast I’d been immune to cold weather, surviving New York and Maine winters with little more than a windbreaker. But LA changes a person, and after only a few months I found myself reliant upon coats and lined jackets whenever the thermometer dipped below sixty. The car vents warmed my cold hands. I removed a weathered and folded sheet of paper from my trifold wallet, uncapped the pen from my shirt pocket, and updated the sorry little list.

John and Sara Beckett
1683 Chippewa Dr.
Las Vegas (no phone)

Seventy-six dead ends. Three leads pending.

I refolded the paper and returned it to my wallet and headed toward I-15 South, mentally preparing for the five-hour drive back to Los Angeles. Once on the interstate, I switched the Subaru to cruise control. A faux leather 75-CD holder (no mp3s or m4as for this audiophile) labeled “JAZZ – A THRU C” rested on the passenger seat. I flipped past the Albert Ayler Trio’s Spiritual Unity, Chet Baker’s Baby Breeze, and Art Blakey’s Moanin’, before stopping at a bootleg copy of Jazz at the College of the Pacific by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. The bootleg version was purportedly recorded from original studio master tapes long thought lost. I’d purchased it six months earlier at the Malibu Jazz Music Convention for eighty bucks. The audio was louder, the highs and lows more pronounced as compared with the edition released by Original Jazz Classics label. Within seconds I felt reconnected to my youth. The vibrant sleeves of the albums that comprised my parents’ expansive vinyl collection, the crisp and cool New England autumn air. Memory and sensation blending seamlessly like milk into hot tea.

I decreased speed as the familiar, up-tempo sounds of Track 1, “All the Things You Are,” fronted by Paul Desmond’s flawless and improvisational alto sax playing, engulfed the interior of the wagon’s Focal ES 165 K speakers. Dave Brubeck’s piano added to the uniqueness of the tune as his solo progressed from J. S. Bach musings into a powerful and vivid apotheosis of sound. Nine minutes and twelve seconds later the tune slowed to its inevitable end amidst the cacophonous audience applause.

Traffic was light as Track 2, the ballad “Laura,” began with its slow romantic cascade of piano keystrokes that seemed to glide, harp-like, against the soft brushwork of Wisconsin-born drummer Joe Dodge. Fifty-nine seconds into the track, I increased speed again, knowing too well what lingered on the musical horizon. I counted down the remaining seconds to the inevitable moment, the moment that had become my all-consuming obsession.

Exactly eighty-four seconds into the track, atop Brubeck’s piano playing, Dodge’s brushing, and Ron Crotty’s bass, a penetrating cough erupted from the audience. A damning, careless cough, caught on tape and permanently staining an otherwise flawless, masterful recording of jazz improvisation.

I bit upon my lower lip anxiously and skipped ahead to Track 3, “Lullaby in Rhythm,” but it did little to calm my nerves and I quickly ejected the disc and drove in silence.

NEXT: Our story continues.