Mr Ax

"His Sax for an Ax"

Mr Ax busks terraces. He has a sock stretched around the bell of his horn which disappears down into the Sax's recesses. This is where the people are supposed to throw in the coins. The idea (and their greatest hope) being that the more money they throw in, the less noise the Sax will make. Large bills are especially effective at damping the sound.

While playing, if the Saxophonist jumps up and down he can accompany himself with a rhythm section made up of the coins inside the instrument clinking around.

He strolls from terrace to terrace where bored tourists sipping drinks sit talking.

He eyes his quarry, and wonders to himself : "Hmm, how long has it been since the last guitar gypsy bottled these punters?" As he pulls his gleaming horn out of its carpet bag case, he catches a quick smile out of the corner of his eye. "Those two must've just arrived".


"Good evening Ladies & Gentlemen, you probably don't understand a word I'm saying, but LET'S HAVE SOME FUN!" That said he blows one note, one soulful note, hangs on to it, pushes it, pulls it, caresses it, then lets the melody drift with a flourish down to its natural resolution. The tension builds as he understates the theme, slyly implying the fury which is yet to come. In full control he slowly takes off, each chorus growing in intensity, until he finally explodes into a hard bop wall of wild sound.

Everybody knows the song, it's a classic. Mr Ax knows it too. To learn it he had to play it a hundred times a day for a month, and now he plays it nine times a day, in between the words "... but LET'S HAVE SOME FUN!" and "Thank you very much".

By this time he's had a chance to have a close look at the terrace-ites, size up the people, see which tables are about to leave. Which people are rich, which are poor, and which ones will offer him a drink after he finishes bottling.

Sax playing is thirsty work, and nothing feels better than a cool beer and some conversation before hitting the next terrace.

He had just said "Thank you" and was about to introduce the next tune when this old drunk comes along and starts dancing around and singing some tuneless rasp with words that only other drunks could ever hope to decipher.

Mr Ax had seen it all before, that was one advantage to being mobile - He could always just walk away from idiots like this.

But this terrace was really throbbing and after that applause there was no doubt that the coins would be flying into the sock. With a little patience he managed to persuade our inebriated guest to have a seat and shut up.

First quick riff escapes from the depths of his Sax, then Mr Ax begins snapping his fingers and hissing: "Chee-Chicka Chee-Chicka Chee-Chicka Chee ...", alternating between rhythm and riff to really get it moving.

The punters were getting into the groove and snapping along with the beat. Mr Ax was walking around and through the tables, blowing in people's faces, smiling with his eyes and finally working his way back to the front of the terrace again.

With all of them snapping and clapping along in rhythm, he takes off! Laying down some of the heaviest tricks in the book. It's controlled dynamite, an explosion of emotion, technique, groove and practiced real-feel. Music is the only Art that moves your entire being and envelopes those truly listening with a sense of involvement ... Isn't it amazing that a series of structured pitches should be capable of invoking so many different types of emotional feel in humans? But boy do they ever!

The old boozer in his drink befuddled mind decided that in order to help out his new found Saxophonist friend, he would go around to the tables and ask for change. Never mind what his percentage of the profits from this newly formed business partnership might amount to ...

Best intentions aside, it's a busker's rule never to bottle until the third song.

So when Grampa Whisky-Breath whipped off his hat and started slobbering at the people sitting at the nearest table for money while pointing at Mr Ax, the music stopped.

The Saxman went over, dropped a couple of coins in the battered cap and told the drunk to bugger off, walked back up to the front, shut his eyes hoping the nuisance would disappear, and began the Grand Finale.

While playing, he was thinking how good the sun felt on his face and how good it felt to be blowing his Sax out in the fresh air on such a beautiful day.

No "real" Saxophone player would let people throw money into the bell of their prized horn, but this Sax was special. Matilda was her name, and she was getting more personality with age. This horn was not painstakingly preserved for posterity by some sterile scholar. Matilda got PLAYED!

Mr Ax knew that the day would come when his well-worn Sax would give up the ghost. But not yet!

It seemed that every day the horn would change and he adapted to "Matilda's whims". As each new quirk arose, he would find a way to compensate or even capitalize on it. He had the feeling that the Saxophone was something growing, almost sentient.

Mr Ax loved this metallic gadget with all its springs and buttons and screws. He felt like this horn had a niche that no other could ever have. Through all his good times and sorrows, the horn had always been there for him. Whether to celebrate or mourn. Matilda always seemed to know the right mood. Unimaginable to think of going through all that without his beloved Sax.

Sure he'd played other horns and he knew he'd play many more. But there was always something special about that particular musical instrument named "Matilda".

The first time he saw it in that pawn shop, him and his buddies were just hanging around making trouble. He noticed it hanging in the window. The closer he got, the more it drew him. There was something written on it in French, and he could tell that it was old, real old.

It never occurred to him that this Sax would take him to where he is now. He opened his eyes for a second and saw the old alcoholic sitting at one of the tables smiling with a big beer in front of him.

The Saxman groaned so loud the horn growled. He closed his eyes again and finished up in his usual Grand Finale way: He'd do a little shuffle, then get down on one knee, roll onto his back kicking his legs furiously, and on the last note he'd jump up and take a bow. All this while making sure that no coins fell out of the horn during these antics.

As the people were clapping, he could quickly make out which ones were appreciating the show and which ones it was almost better not to go up to. This way, he developed his strategy for which ones to ask first and which ones to ask last. This is the art of psychology here. Cheapskates are always more likely to give if they see a bunch of coins already there. Especially if the coins are big ones. This is not speculation, this is scientifically proven fact.

Not everybody likes street musicians, and already a pair of menopausal shopkeepers from across the road were beginning to grumble and give hard looks.

Suddenly, his old drunken buddy and his beer were gone. Being a bum is thirsty work and nothing feels better that a cool beer and a good loud mumble before hitting the next terrace.

It was time to bottle the people, get those buggers to cough up their hard-earned pennies. "I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn!"

The fat man at the first table hands him one small coin and in a grand gesture says: "This is for the whole table",

"Anybody else?"

"I said for the WHOLE table!"

"Right, uh thanks, uh have a nice day"

At the next table they looked right through him as if he was some kind of television commercial on another channel.

From the table nearest the street, a group of businessmen hailed him over. Sunburned drunken faces in suits were signalling and waving for him to come sit down.

The Saxophonist tried to use sign language to let them know that he'd be over as soon as he was finished, but when they started waving banknotes at him, his priorities shifted, "They're probably good for a beer, as well" he thought to himself as he sauntered over to their table.

Having promptly deposited the bills in a safe place, he then had to deal with all the guys insisting that he sit down and have a drink with them there and then. There were still more tables to get to, so he told them, "You just order me a beer and I'll be back in a few minutes."

Then the one with the biggest mouth started trying to make him sit down. Finally after a little man-handling, the Saxophonist laughs and says he's gotta get back to work.

As Mr Ax walks away from the table, one of the guys calls him an asshole, they dump down enough money to cover their bill, and get up to go to some place where the people are friendlier.

A waitress brings the Sax player's beer to the businessmen's recently vacated table. Two minutes later a second waitress clears the table, his long-awaited beer right along with it.

At the last table, the people are stuffing their faces with spaghetti and just don't seem to have enough hands left to reach into their pockets to pull out some change.

On the way to the next terrace, an older woman with a puberty aged kid walks up to Mr Ax and says, "We saw you playing, and my nephew here says that he wants to play saxophone in the street when he grows up!" Junior looks like he's from the Royal Boys Academy on Mars. "Good Luck, kid!"

You know the old saying: "Easy come, easy go", well, what they don't tell you is that even if it's HARD COME, it's still easy go!
copyright 2003 Jeff Brent

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