Friday, January 15, 2010

The Jazz that a Saxophone Plays...

Mercury went direct this morning and I'm taking this opportunity to relate a story that still pulls at my heart when I think about it...

It was a beautiful day in September, 1974. Detroit had just been honored by being labeled Murder Capital of the World. The summer of '74 had been one horrific homicide after another and 8 cops had been killed so far. The year ended with 12. We were being shot left and right. The citizens were killing each other in alarming numbers and the anger and mayhem had been transferred to us. We were all on edge every day, approaching traffic stops with our guns drawn, in broad daylight no less, and we didn't care who complained.

On this particular day, my partner Mike and I had just come from a gangland style killing. The radio run had said, "13-4, see the neighbors." When we arrived the people said that they hadn't seen their neighbors in several days and that there was an strange smell coming from their apartment. When we went to knock on the door, we could smell it and knew immediately what we were dealing with. But we didn't know the extent until we kicked down the door.

Inside were four bodies laying in a row, all beginning to swell in the September heat. All four were tied, hands behind their backs with electrical cord and had their throats slashed. With syringes and vials and rubber tubing laying about, it was obvious that these deaths were drug related.

It was a horrible scene and one that shakes the faith of even the hardest of cops and it was the kind of scene we had been seeing all summer. By the time we were done, Mike and I were drained, almost oblivious of the world around us. It was the kind of experience that you had to lock deep within you, shoving it in a compartment never to come out again. No way could you go home and tell your spouse - or anyone else for that matter - about it because it would be impossible for them to relate. It would do nothing but disgust others and you in the telling. A necessary part of the job was to file it away in the darkness.

We had just finished the paperwork and left the station for our scout car area which was north of West Grand Blvd., behind the Henry Ford Hospital campus and just across the street from the Motown Museum made famous by Berry Gordy. Driving down a residential street and basking in the warm sunlight, it was just after school had let out for the day. Kids were walking down the sidewalks on their way home, laughing and talking, a lifetime away from the horrors we had just witnessed less than an hour ago.

One young gentleman, about 13 or 14 years old, was walking down the street by himself, singing and whistling some unknown song. He was carrying a music case larger than a trumpet and smaller than a violin. Without a word between us (as was usually the case; we were telepathic with each other) we pulled over to the curb and beckoned him over. With the tension in the city he was nonplussed to say the least.

I was driving and Mike was sitting shotgun and as the boy approached, he asked what was in the case. Guns? Of course not the boy replied in the negative, emphatically. Well, Mike asked, what was in the case then? The boy replied, a saxophone, just as we had expected. Really? Mike said, show it to me, I want to be sure. Mike was playing it like a gruff cop and the young boy was getting nervous. He shuffled closer to the scout car and fumbled to open the latches. Nervous, eh? asked Mike. A muffled mumble in return.

Finally he got the case open and showed us the saxophone. Mike looked at me and I nodded. He asked the boy to take the saxophone out of the case and hand it to him. I knew and Mike knew but the boy didn't, that Mike was an accomplished jazz saxophone player. He affixed the mouthpiece, adjusted the reed and began to play.

I held the microphone for the P.A. system over the mouth of the sax and began to broadcast Mike's renditions over the speakers on top of the car. Mike was (is) a great sax player; he was first chair in high school and I was, well, seventeenth or something. And he loved jazz and that came out over those loudspeakers. I had the gain on high and the music was blasting, turning the neighborhood into a concert hall.

Pretty soon, people began to come out onto their porches wondering what in the hell was going on but it wasn't long before some of them were dancing. You could just feel the atmosphere in that neighborhood; it was like bright sunshine and joy all wrapped together in a flashing, smiling bundle. So far from the atmosphere of the last neighborhood that we had visited that it seemed like years since we had been there.

Mike's concert went on for a good twenty minutes and we had the whole block involved. The boy stood by the car with a huge grin on his face, knowing that he would be the stuff of legends, and loving every minute of it. He would be forever remembered as the "Concert Master" and those twenty minutes did more for the image of the Detroit Police Department than any ten positive news stories could. The department would never know but the people would remember, and that's the way we liked it. Mike and I had a reputation to uphold as those "cool cops with the number 4 on their bubble; Mike and Larry."

When Mike finally slid down his last riff, the neighborhood began to clap. It was a standing ovation for an extemporaneous display of civic connectedness and a bridge between cops and public like nothing ever seen before. We drove away as they all clapped, waving to the people of our scout car area. Though it all was heard only on one block, word would spread and we would be treated as one of their own, helped instead of dismissed.

And that's the way we rolled. Our eyes on making friends and patching up strained relations. It made everyone's day...especially ours.


  1. I like that story, dad. :) I don't think you ever told me that one before!

    <3 squeeze

  2. Thanks, Jess, :-) pretty wild that I haven't! It's one of my favorites and definitely worthy of telling...

  3. Great story, Lar!

    My dad played clarinet & saxophone in a band with his brother in the '40's. I learned to play both instruments in junior high before switching to flute in high school. My favorite home room was band.

  4. Great story Larry,
    Was it our great education at EFHS that taught you to write so well?
    It is going to take me some time to get through all your posts on this entertaining blog.

  5. Di..

    You sound as thought you're well schooled in music, something that I wish I could have pursued with more passion. For me it came down to a choice between homeroom band and early football practice. Ah, well, music would have served me better but sports, you know...

    Fritz, yep it was English Humanities for sure! That and a little practice over the years. Thanks for your nice words; makes me feel like I'm doing something right. Enjoy, brother...

  6. Hey Lar!

    Guess what!! I decided to nominate you for a Kreativ Blogging award. You are off to a good start here! Please feel free to do whatever you wish with this . . . :-)

    Go to my new website for details: Libra Seeking Balance

  7. Wow, Di, that is definitely an honor! I'm sorry it took me so long to comment on your comment but I've been in a mood. (grin) And "decidedly eccentric?" Hmmm, I'm not quite sure what that means but I'm sure it's good. If it means different, Oh, yeah. That I am...

    How do I go about using this award? Since I'm a neophyte at this, I need some direction...