Saturday, September 11, 2010

Young Boy Tryin' to Know Something

I love this moment in Gerald Early's essay about Count Basie's autobiography, included in Early's 1989 collection Tuxedo Junction. I like to imagine it as a formative moment for him in his career as cultural critic:

There was a d.j. in Philadelphia back in the 1960s named Sonny Hopson who called himself the Mighty Burner. After having heard the original version of "One O'Clock Jump" when I was a boy, when I went through my period of fascination with the Basie band when I was thirteen, I concluded there was really only one mighty burner and it was not that d.j. In fact, it was not even the Basie band but little old Bill Basie himself. I remember standing around in the barbershop one afternoon listening to the old heads talking about jazz while some others were getting their heads cut. (One never gets a haircut in a black barbershop. One is always getting one's head cut. In the black beauty parlor the womn are getting their heads done, not their hair.) And I, quite timidly, interjected a little note about Basie:

"He's a mighty burner," I said.

And one of the older men laughed loud and raucous, saying:

"Why, lookahere, the young boy tryin' to snap out. The young boy tryin' to know something. Why, one day, he might even know who Bill Basie is. But he learning."

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