I mentioned in part III of this series that I can date the handwritten drafts of Long Days Short Nights because of a passage about Frankie Newton. I am posting that passage here, though it was not intended for publication. It is an unpolished prose sketch, written in one shot, to get the material down on paper. The passage begins with some garbled and embarrassingly sentimental sentences, which I omit. The first sentence in the omitted passage is "Nine years ago he stopped breathing," which dates the writings in 1963, since Frankie died in March of 1954.
[Prose sketch from Long Days Short Nights ms., summer or fall, 1963]
by Paul A. Greenberg
My first memory is not music but tennis. I met Frank when I was barely in my teens. I don't remember whether it was at a friend's house or at a record shop but he was looking for someone to play tennis with the next day. In my youthful exuberance I exaggerated my prowess and we arranged a date. You may recall that Newton was a big man and athletically well developed. After 5 minutes it was obvious that this was a tennis lesson not a game. Newton: "It's a good thing you are nice because you sure ain't a tennis player." He invited me to the club he was working in. My memory fails but I believe it was in the Fenway in Boston. I do remember Vic Dickenson and Horsecollar Williams and Pete Brown were in the band. And I do remember that it swung. Lord it swung. I brought my clarinet but Frank said no he would not be embarrassed but I might be if my playing was equal to my tennis. He was right. During the next few years I saw Frank every time he was in Boston which was frequently. I learned a lot of music by the osmosis of listening. We established a man-boy relationship that was fatherly without being paternal, brotherly without being filial. We explored sports, books, politics and mostly people. I learned how to listen, doubt, and feel. I learned much about being human and some of the anguish of being negro.
I first became aware of the problem of friendships "across the wall" when we were walking in an area where Frank felt we were not welcome. He asked me to walk half a block behind him. I asked him why the parade? He said if we were jumped I should run like hell. I had thought about his being paranoid then. It was later that I found out there was wisdom in his approach. I still don't know if I would have run like hell or not.
The summer of my 17th year I arrived in N.Y. with 65 cents, a clarinet which I played at best poorly, and the ill fitting clothes I had on and presented my self to Newton as his new roommate—uninvited. He goddamned me and told me to go home but took me in. Times were tough. Frank's jobs were infrequent but we shared what he had. I remember some of the dates. Some of the people who played those dates were Sandy Williams, Pete Brown, Art Hodes, [Bill?] Pemberton, Pops Foster, Hank D'Amico, Ike Quebec, Roger Ramirez, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey. The places? Webster Hall, a club in the Bronx, organization dinners in Brooklyn. What was the music like? Moody! Some nights it was terrible, a fight all the way. Others it swung. By now Frank was playing the flugelhorn. It's a shame we don't have records. He played it with love and what music. The horn had belonged to Boston friend, Doc Kiley who died in the army and left it to Frank who treasured the friendship and the horn. Several years later a fire destroyed the apartment and in the remains he found a twisted piece of the horn which he made into a piece of jewelry which hung around his neck. What are the real memories? I learned about girls, drinking and fun. I found out what shuffling meant. I learned anti-conformity. Some of the memories are clear. I can't always distinguish what I saw from what I heard. There were three neighborhood youngsters, brothers. Frank called these little toughs Big Jazz, Little Jazz and No Jazz. He taught the kids in the neighborhood. He was always puzzled by the fee question. He felt playing was a good discipline. On the other hand he said, "How much do you charge a note." His attitude was that any kid that wanted to learn had a right to a good teacher. He was a great teacher even if the lessons were spasmodic and on a whimsical basis.
(This prose sketch was previously published in "The Search For Frankie Newton," by Jennifer Wagner, in The Historical Society of Washington County, Virginia Bulletin, Series II, No 39a, 2002.)