Ami Silber



Being alone with the piano, only a soft scraping rhythm behind me on drums, that was as close to praying as I ever got, and that included my bar mitzvah. The air in the club was thick and alive, smelling of bodies, booze, reckless joy. If there was a better place to play, I didn’t know it. The crowd quieted, breathing on my command, and I held them for as long as I could stand it. But I knew when to let them go.

Sonny had had a legitimate gig earlier, recording for a movie over at Paramount, and he’d run out of steam after half a dozen numbers. Since there weren't any other sax players ready to go up, Victor was backing me with brushes. Don't get me wrong, I dug playing with Sonny and other musicians, but soloing was the difference between smacking lips with the tired chick in the carnival kissing booth and the honeyed press of an eager, fresh girl in the privacy of night.

There was a moment, a weighted moment, when I would first sit down at the piano, my hands over the keys, just brushing against them, the coolness of the ivory kissing my fingertips, and the room was silent, the audience suspended and waiting for me, waiting for sound, and not any sound, but my sound. I could’ve drawn it out, that anticipation, the need and communal hunger of the crowd that only I could satisfy, until they threw themselves at my feet, sobbing with desperation. Or I could have shoved myself straight through the membrane of tension, hard as steel or iron, brutal and direct as I played without pause or mercy. There might have been other musicians on stage with me, but when I was the soloist, the melody I was about to bestow was all that mattered. In that moment, I was the most powerful man in the world.

It was a power I didn’t get to taste often enough. My usual audiences didn’t hear music, not at the front of their minds. At my weekly paid gig, banging out standards on an out-of-tune piano for chalky poker players, I wasn’t powerful, wasn’t the controller of destinies, just background atmosphere, and hardly even that.

No one paid me here at Dee’s, and it didn’t matter. I played “Night and Day,” bringing everything down low and gentle, into a collective longing. Music wasn't a con, but even here I could lead folks along, make them feel what I wanted them to feel, the way I could make people cry, have them grow greedy when I wanted. I was the shadowed, gleaming man underneath the window, whispering promises of touch and taste to the woman inside. Her hand rested on the sill, slim and alive in the cool evening, and, hearing me, hearing how I would run my own hands over her, silky and rough, how I would then bring them up to thread my fingers into her hair, tilting her head back for the first dark kiss, she wanted so badly to push up the casement and invite me inside. She wanted to fall back onto the bed with me covering her, settling between her legs, sliding into her the way it was always meant to be. Every note I played was my pledge, the one vow I would never break.

Glancing up quickly at the audience, I gauged my success. Lights dazzled my eyes, but I could see enough—people with their eyes closed, swaying and nodding—to know that I had wooed and won. And this was not a small prize, lightly given. Mine was the only white face in the club, and so I always had to work even harder, make each seduction doubly sweet, irresistible. But I never doubted myself.

Copyright 2008, Ami Silber