It is the summer of 1933 and young Haven Cattrell, seeking work, finds himself abandoned in the small northern Ontario town of Davisville. At an exclusive summer camp for girls he befriends Wetherby Moss and his son Jude who introduce him to the joys and heartaches of jazz.
Jazz had taken a hard blow, during the first-half of the 1930s. Although there was still work to be had for some in places like New York, musicians in other parts of the country were barely existing on what venues remained. Wetherby and Jude had come from that reality and, as Haven mastered the jazz trumpet, he learns the horrifying truth about why Wetherby, his mentor, had to flee his home in Detroit and find sanctuary with his son among the unique subculture of rural Northern Ontario.
But Haven’s story is bigger than his love of jazz. It is the story of the racism that haunted black jazz musicians in the 30s, and how that racism found its way to Davisville. It is the story of how love can blind young men and save them from themselves, and it is the story of how important it is to dream when the chaos and hard times around you want to drag you down.
From Chapter 7:
The song was “Walkin’ Shoes Blues” by The Morrison Moss Quartet. The voice that sang it was unmistakable. It was Wetherby:
“Baby’s gone away…got her walking shoes on…one last kiss, one goodbye…and my baby, she is gone…baby’s got her walking shoes on…”
The chorus was a string of nonsensical syllables followed by spurts from Wetherby’s trumpet.
“Shoo-be-bop-a-do…shoo-shoo-shoo-be-be-bop…shoo-be-bop-a-do…baby’s got her walking shoes on…”
Haven couldn’t sit anymore. He stood before the Victrola and watched the needle bob over the rotating disc. Slowly, he sank to his knees before the machine. It was as though he was kneeling before a great god and that god was speaking to him. By the time the song finished he didn’t have the strength to rise again. He slumped lower until he lay prostrate on the floor, his heart thudding against the floorboards. The needle hissed against the groove in the centre of the disc until it floundered and wobbled to a stop.
Wetherby found Haven an hour later, laying in a daze on the floor.
“Get up, you,” Wetherby said. “What you doing down there on the floor, anyway?”
From Chapter 7:
“My mother’s dead too,” Haven said, “She died of the flu when I was little more than I baby. I hardly remember her.”
“Now ain’t that a shame,”
“My father wouldn’t tell me anything about her, the bastard,” Haven stiffened his jaw. “He wouldn’t even keep a picture of her in our flat. I know nothing about her. He said the memory of her was just too painful for him. I’ll never forgive him for that.”
“He may be right,” Wetherby said. “I know what it’s like to lose a woman you love, several times over. It can be real lonely for a man without a good woman by his side. So don’t be so quick to judge.”
“’Cause I know what it’s like to be judged by someone who don’t got all his facts right,” Wetherby replied, “and it can be pretty tough on a man.”
Haven ran his fingertips across the side of Wetherby’s trumpet; leaving a row of foggy smudges along the brass.
“So will you teach me to play?” he asked, eager to change the subject.
“Your first lesson’s already begun.” Wetherby rose. “Now stand up and put that horn to your lips. Let me see your form.”
Haven stood and raised the trumpet to his mouth, amazed at its weight. When Wetherby played he made it look as though the instrument was a natural extension of his fingers. In Haven’s hands it felt awkward and cumbersome. He pressed his lips to the mouthpiece and pulled in a breath.