Picking up the licorice stick, again

Published 11:05 am Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A scene in the 1989 film “Skin Deep” ran through my head as I started to take apart the bad pop-art impression in the corner of my bedroom made of cardboard boxes and empty grocery bags.

In the movie, John Ritter plays a down-on-his-luck writer who, at one point, announces aloud “I know you’re in there, I’m coming to find ya” to his typewriter, locked in a room as his life fell apart without it. My quest for what I knew to be in the organized rubble wasn’t preceded by similar drama, but I felt it was time to look for that little black case.

Ah! There it was, like I thought. My clarinet case lay protected inside a bag, as I left it some years ago. I expected it to be rancid, the reeds likely tattered or at least in need of replacement. I must have replaced them at some point, though. Only a few solid months of rebuilding my musician’s breathing exercises stand in the way of recapturing past glories.

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Those glories included quite an achievement for this reporter in high school. Clarinets had long fallen out of favor in most eras in jazz since the genre left its roots along the Mississippi River and went north to New York and Chicago. The saxophone replaced it because it was “too country”, too “Dixieland”, according to my jazz history teacher in college. I didn’t find that out for a few years after I picked it up in ninth grade — after never being trained to read a note of music previously. Those little black dots and straight lines that accompanied the hymns in the missalette in church had interested me; I just didn’t know what they meant.

That horn paved the way to a few individual awards in solo and duet contests in high school and chances to march in Mardi Gras parades and inside the cavernous Mercedes Benz Superdome. In there, the national anthem’s images of missiles and bombs take on a whole new meaning — the bass drum sounds like mortar fire and the lightest of hits on the snare drum might as well have been scuds fired off during the first Gulf War.

It’ll take carving out more spare time to get the chops back. I was no Pete Fountain in the first place. But, playing the thing in the first place was an accomplishment in itself. Please excuse any high-pitched whistle-wails you might hear as I blow out the cobwebs.

Danny Barrett is a reporter and can be reached by email at danny.barrett@vicksburgpost.com or by phone at 601-636-4545.