Byron Bruin Baer is a gentle giant, a clarinet player, a jazz musician and….a real, live bear.
He likes to play his clarinet (“real good, for free”) under a cherry tree outside a flower shop opposite a tall-steepled church. He plays jazz for passing people all day, and sometimes in the evening too.
The flower shop belongs to Old Mr. Brass, who likes to listen as the music floats into his shop and fills it with joy. Some people like Byron’s music, others not so much. Most people just ignore him, except, that is, for Mr Brass. He loves jazz and he especially likes the sound of Byron’s clarinet. It reminds him of a time when he was young, and jazz was all the rage.
The kids on the street prefer ‘freestylin’ rhymes and hip-hop beats’. They think it’s time for Byron to move on, and they start to make him feel unwanted by constantly teasing him. They even pull his fur and call him names! Byron B. Baer begins to wonder if he’s a bear in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mr Brass sees that Byron is unhappy and growing more glum each day. When Byron’s confidence finally snaps, Mr. Brass takes the huge, sad bear to one side and gives him some advice. He tells Byron to get out into the world and see a bit of life. Perhaps he’ll make new ‘jazz friends’ who understand good music. Maybe, if he’s lucky, he might still be able to see and hear the “famous, fabled Hepcat Five”, the greatest little jazz band that Mr Brass ever saw.
Mind you, Byron would have to be quick. Those ‘cats’ would be pretty elderly by now, and not getting any younger! Mr. Brass not only persuaded Byron to take to the road, but he gave him ‘The Code’ and told the big bear to memorize it. The Code was easy to remember, just a few lines of verse that jazz types everywhere use as a secret language that only they understand. It kind of means, “I play jazz, you play jazz; let’s play jazz together”.
So, Byron sets off to explore the wider world and seek out new, jazz friends. As for The Hepcat Five, he wasn’t sure if they were real or not, but he’d find out soon enough. He meets a succession of characters who are experienced and wise. They like Byron’s style and he begins to feel he’s finally among real friends.
First, there is Clinton Cat, the streetwise trombone player from the alley, who is long in the tooth and no one’s fool. They meet up with the sharply observant Elfrida Fox who gently swings on saxophone and they become a trio. They fill out their sound when they recruit Count Oliver Court, a keyboard-thumping badger who is a bit of an eccentric jazz genius. They exchange ‘The Code’ as they go along, and very quickly become a working band.
Byron thinks nothing of the fact that his first real jazz group consists of a cat, a fox and a badger alongside a great, big lumbering bear. He’s just happy to be playing jazz. He doesn’t even notice how much older they are than he is….
The quartet goes from place to place, playing for the people and getting better each time they play. They get a lot of polite applause in restaurants and cafes, but they’re not satisfied with that. It’s Count Oliver Court who finally says out loud what they’ve all been thinking.
“We need to get back to our roots! We have to be among our own kind of people! Jazz people.”
Elfrida observes that, “All people are jazz people, they just don’t know it yet..”
Byron can’t imagine where they’d find such people, but his bandmates chorus as one that the best place to find the true spirit of jazz is the club they call, ‘The Raspberry Fool.’
Byron and his crew arrive at The Raspberry Fool, where the house band is playing up a storm. Clinton recognises the drummer. It’s Martin Thin of the Hepcat Five. He’s older, and leaner, but still a fit and agile polecat who bends to the beat. Elfrida Fox squints through her specs. It’s Myron Baer on bass! He’s older and fatter, but still as smooth on upright bass as he was in the Hepcat days.
Byron is curious, “why does that bear on bass have the same name as me?” but, before he can get an answer, Martin Thin spots them from behind his kit. Martin notices immediately that they are all carrying instruments, so he invites them all on stage. They join together and play up a storm.
Afterwards, Mr Brass turns up quite unexpectedly and reveals to all that he was the one who suggested that Byron get out and see the world, it was he who gave him The Code. He also arranged for him to be welcomed as a friend by Clinton Cat, Elfrida Fox, Count Oliver Court, Martin Thin, and Myron Baer – the fabled, famous Hepcat Five.
The secret plan was to restore Byron’s confidence by playing and learning, without worrying if he was good enough to be alongside the Hepcats. Besides, they all wanted to see if they could get over their own differences; so, along with Byron Baer, they became, for a short while at The Raspberry Fool, The Hepcat Six.
Byron feels that he’s found something more than just new friends. He feels like he’s found his family. In a way he has, because when you play jazz, you become part of a family….and, of course, Myron Baer turns out to be an older, very distant relative…
Byron B. Baer goes on to be a great success as a bandleader, mixing up beats and adding in rhymes in his own freestylin’ style, remembering always the good advice of his peers, “Everybody loves jazz, they just don’t know it yet!”
(NB Character illustrations above by MSC are prelimenary sketches. The current release is text only)
Stylin’ Byron & The Hepcat Five
Story And Cover Illustration © Michael Stephen Clark 2018
Stylin’ Byron and the Hepcat Five – A Jazz Rhyme (text only) available now from Amazon UK