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A Trumpet Player in Kathmandu (Kathmandu Jam, Part 3 of 4)

  05/09/11 03:48, by , Categories: BFMN Exclusive, Monday Morning Musical Musings, Paul Bourgeois , Tags: charlie parker, coltrane, fiction, jazz, kathmandu, miles davis, music, paul bourgeois, trumpet
Paul Bourgeois

(In the previous episode the main character had searched for Joe Townsend, the mysterious trumpet player in Kathmandu, but in the end it is Joe who finds him.)

I looked at the old man, Joe Townsend, standing between me and my hotel room. He towered over me, not just physically but with age and a knowledge that he had done horrible things and he could do them again. He seemed like a man worn about the edges, his face in tight wrinkles but his eyes remained harsh and sharp, his long white hair was pulled back tight in a ponytail. The fading light falling red on Everest fell through the window. The trumpet hung at his side as someone might dangle a small ax. He grinned. I suddenly just wanted to get to my bed.

“You were looking for me, and you found me,” he said as if I owed him something now. I did. He had saved me from the police the night before. He looked me up and down. “Do you play anything?”


“Can you sing?”

“Not really.”


“What’s wrong?”

“Well, the place I’m going to take you tonight is… well, it’s just more respectful if you bring something with you.” He dug through his large pockets, pulled out an harmonica and tucked it meaningfully in my breast pocket.

I was still hazy from the hangover and would be so for a few days. ” I should get an early night tonight.”

Joe scowled and grabbed my shoulder. “You’re coming with me. You can sleep when you’re dead.”


Katmandu Street

The red lines from the fading sunset slashed the city like knives. We took a rickshaw deeper into the city, the driver racing the twilight. When we reached our destination, a complex of low-rise apartments, the sun had set. We stopped at an unfinished building. A small sign on the front door said in Nepali and English, “MoMos". The wall of the third floor was open and lanterns were set. Joe waited for me to pay the driver, then he ushered me through the momo shop, through the room where two small boys and a young girl mixed the meat, spices and sauce, and through the empty second floor, which smelled slightly of urine.

The third floor was an open room divided up by thick beams strung with lanterns. The place was scattered with chairs and tables. A tiny makeshift stage was at the back of the room. Men in their fifties and sixties, some with beards and beads looking like leftovers from Woodstock, sat at the tables. Young Nepalese men wandered about. Instruments were everywhere.

Joe stopped me as I passed through the doorway. His fingers were like steel. He whispered in my ear. “These are the people who never left. This is how they stay sane. It may seem very interesting because everybody has their own story, but it’s their business. Don’t be asking stupid questions. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good boy,” he smiled, tweaked my ear, and pushed me inside and sat me at a small table.

“Hey, Joe!” a little balding bearded man sitting on some crates hollered.

“Hey, Pete. Set the kid up with a bottle.”

Pete set a flask of white lightning and a small glass in front of me. “Well?” he asked Joe.

“The kid came to my gig at the High Bar last night. Made an ass of himself asking personal questions, so I thought I would show him some of my personal life. So who’s here tonight?”

“Just the regulars and a couple guitars.”

“Guitars? We’ve got enough guitars.”

“What about the kid?”

“Oh, we’ll find something for him to do.” Joe ran for the stage and jumped up on it. “How about Charlie on drums and Fred on bass,” he shouted. “Some Peter Gunn to start and then some Walkin’ Blues…  And you,” he said, nudging the Nepalese guitarist who was setting up. “What do you think of that?”

“I was thinking about some Thelonius Monk.”

Joe laughed. “I like you. Tell you what. If you can survive the next two songs we’ll play some Round Midnight.”


Some time after midnight and nearing morning, all the others except Joe and Pete had left. I had played the harmonica for the first time in my life. “Just blow,” Joe explained to me. “Relax. Keep the rhythm. Like Johnny One Note‘.” I was euphoric, in a purple haze, confused with lack of sleep and too much alcohol.

The tables and chairs had been stacked at the far end of the room, the moonlight streamed through the open side of the building. We squatted against the wall. Pete crumbled some black hashish into cigarettes.

“Do you want to stay?” Joe asked me.

“I can’t. My tourist visa has already expired.”

“Do you have it on you?”

I showed him the pouch at my belly with all my important papers.

“Let me see that.” Joe took the passport and flipped through the pages. “So you’re here illegally then. So your problem isn’t staying. You can stay as long as you want as long as nobody checks. Your problem is getting out. That’s when they check.”

I took my passport back and tucked it safely back in its pouch. “You’re trying to scare me. There’s only a fine.”

“A fine and a bribe,” Joe corrected. “Neither of which you can afford to pay right now. Look, everybody wants something. The way I figure it: most people are either stupid or criminal, and usually both. Why waste your money trying to leave when you don’t want to? We can help each other. I have an idea.”

To be continued…


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