Body and Soul – Frank Conroy

His first view of the outside was through the small, fan-shaped window of the basement apartment. He would climb up on the table and spend hours peering through the bars at the legs and feet of the people passing by on the sidewalk, his child’s mind falling still in contemplation of the ever-changing rhythms and tempos of feet and legs moving across his field of vision. An old woman with thin calves, a kid in sneakers, men in wingtips, women in high heels, the shiny brown shoes of soldiers. If anyone paused he could see detail- straps, eyelets, a worn heel or cracked leather with the sock showing through- but it was the movement he liked, the passing parade of colour and motion. No thought in his head as he stood or knelt at the window, but rather, from the images of motion, a pure impression of purposefulness. Something was going on outside. People were going places. Often, as he turned away from the window, he would muse on dimly sensed concepts of direction, volition, change, and the existence of the unseen. He was six years old, and much of his thinking, especially when he was alone, went on without words, went on beneath the level of language.

This is one of my all-time favourite books. Straightforward writing, old-fashioned, the story of a musical talent coming to life in the most unpromising circumstances.

Claude lives in a basement apartment with his mother, a hard-drinking New York taxi driver. But tucked away in a back room, covered with junk is a little white piano with sixty-five keys. That absorbs Claude’s empty days, and when he gets to know Mr Weisfeld in the music shop, he has a mentor and he is away.

One of the most enjoyable books ever about the making of a musician. Frank Conroy was an accomplished jazz pianist, so he knew what he was writing about. His book was written in 1993 but is still available from the usual sources.

I must have picked up my copy second hand in India, as it has a card, Ishan Tours and Sight Seeing Kerala and a hand-written inscription To Faiz from Daadijai. A precious book I reread  quite often.

The author’s inscription is from Goethe’s Faust

That which thy fathers have bequeathed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it.

Good advice to all musicians (and writers too,)

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