"RIGHT TURN! HEP! HEP! HEP! HEP!"
The men's feet clapped the earth with a flat rhythm that yearned for a simple song or melody to accompany it. Sol tapped his feet along with them as he fed a large rag through the body of his saxophone with a piece of string. It was a hot day, despite the looming of September, and he was glad to be out of the sun.
"Kinda makes me feel bad," Archie said beside him.
"What does?" Sol replied.
"Them marching up and down all day with rifles while we just sit around, playing songs. At least they got guns now; back in New York, they was all marching around with brooms! They sure are looking good now, though."
"Don't tell me you're thinking about trading your trombone in for a rifle, Archie."
"I said it makes me feel bad, not crazy! We the smart ones, Solomon. When we get home, we'll get all the glory but without any of the hiking and cooking and marching."
"Exactly. God gave me these hands to make music—not shoot guns and dig trenches."
"Break time's over!" the familiar voice of Jim Europe called. "Let's get back to it!"
Archie left Sol to quickly reassemble his sax before joining the rest of the band, taking his seat beside Ceferino. He lifted the sax to his lips and played a few notes to check he'd put it back together right.
"Back," Ceferino said.
Sol immediately straightened up in his seat and nodded his thanks. Ceferino was the same age as Sol but he was a much better saxophone player. Though he spoke little English, he knew a great deal about the importance of proper posture and would often remind Sol to place his feet flat on the floor or keep his back straight or his head up. Sol had found the remarks a little annoying to begin with, but he had noticed his playing improve greatly over the past few months and had become very grateful for the advice.
"Memphis Blues," Europe said, and the music began.
Playing for James Reese Europe had been one of the greatest experiences of Sol's life. "Big Jim" was something of a celebrity in New York where his services as a composer and conductor were in hot demand, and it had long been one of Sol's ambitions to play for him. While he was delighted to have made his desire a reality, he only wished it hadn't been against the backdrop of war.
They were not yet half-way through the composition when Sol saw a man walk right up to Jim's side and speak into his ear while he was conducting. This was not normal and Jim looked quite annoyed at first, but then his expression turned to one of confusion and then disbelief. He brought the melody to an abrupt end.
"To where?" he asked the man once the music had died. The man repeated something only Jim could hear, then saluted and left. After a long moment, Jim turned back to the band and removed his glasses.
"It seems we're going to join the regiments of the 27th Division for further training," he said. A murmur of excitement spread throughout the band; this was long awaited news which moved them closer to their goal of going to France. But Jim did not look excited.
"Where we being moved to, sir?" one of the clarinetists asked.
"Camp Wadsworth," Europe replied. "South Carolina."
YOU ARE READING
Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a single day's work. And in the Bo...