The Secret of Freddie Green

"Le Secret de Freddie Green"
Written by Jacques Reda
Taken from "Jacques Reda - L'improviste. Une Lecture du Jazz"
Published in Paris 1990
Translated by Martha Nelson
Edited by Amanda Nelson and Michael Pettersen

Going up or down the deserted rue de Rome at night,

when trains no longer run in the trenches of the station

(it grows hollow, shadowy, and empty, like an orchestra pit

under the poet's lamp that for us is never extinguished),

one sees on both sides gleaming in the storefronts

all sorts of instruments with keys, slides, buttons:

of brass which seem to palpitate if the lights of a car

surprise them by turning, amidst the red draped background,

of the shadows which proceed tentatively behind

in search of their section

and on that score to play a prelude with a slow gallop

of horns, clucking of saxophones, popping sounds that the clown

of a trombone makes in the low register, and some tremolos

from the clarinet. And then all goes silent

and nothing moves and not the least sound is heard,

but there remains in the air a light vibration of chords

as regular as a pulse

or as the steps of a man who walks without dragging

but without haste,

as if by instinct he has adapted to the beating of his heart,

as if the space in which he strides up and down,

thicker than paste,

has lost a little of its gravity as he moves.

He goes straight ahead, nothing distracts him, nothing leads him astray,

one could believe that at times he barely touches

the ground:

it’s as if he bounces without effort like a hand on a guitar

that picks out blues harmony in B flat.

Is it a phantom? He passes the windows without a sound,

at least alone and transparent, he remains hidden.

How to understand that motionless, nevertheless he


or that one doesn’t get any further away even though he doesn’t stop


In fact, he’s had this strange habit a long time,

for 50 years always seated in the same spot,

but almost every night somewhere else, at all latitudes,

meticulous but absent—did he suspect why?

I observed him in different moments of this period:

Besides the graying hair, he never changed.

He seemed indifferent to his own soliloquy,

and one wondered in vain; "What could he be thinking?"

He arrived punctually from one side of the stage or the other

to quietly take his place on his stool,

then he waited for the signal and — no matter what --

resumed his tireless, discrete journey.

Handsome face but not very expressive, with heavy eyes,

he placed his guitar flat across his knees

and, instinctively or idly as an old civil servant

who sorts in a drawer the same old papers, the same old rubber bands,

he did his seemingly useless duty,

and it was said that he became a figurant.

But from that open drawer easily flowed in rhythm

Incorporeal bouquets of chords thrown to measure

and to support by their tiny buzzing of a bee

the burst of deep-toned importance rolling on the beat of the


The sooner one understands it, the more one needs to lend an ear:

under the traveling hive for which he marked out the way,

one perceived the sledge hammer thrown like a


or purring like a great cat preparing to roar,

that which transported it skyward on the feet of a dove

that came from far away and for whom the journey could not end.

Now, all is quiet. That is why I often run into him

at night on the rue de Rome near the music shops.

But it doesn’t matter the surroundings,

at the moment, he is everywhere, unable to stop himself,

and he hasn’t even been able to perceive that he is dead.

Others have proclaimed their strength, played their tragedy,

skipped like rope jumpers at their own risk:

all have passed on. Yet he, with his obstinate modesty

and near anonymity hasn’t let go of the thread of life.

And the pulse that he captured resounds, continues

--while the radiant storm, that made the sky pitch,

like a heat cloud pales, weakens

and dissolves—to reestablish the essential tempo.

I hear it beating inside myself when a true silence

cleanses me, and when this pace

reverberates with the beat of blood

as if I were the sound box

of the rhythm even more fundamental and more powerful

than that which moves the moon, the wind, the rivers,

the tides,

to explode the silent orchestra of the stars

and by which also guides the certain course

of a man who goes on his own two feet into the scansion of the universe.

That’s all that this astounding, insolvable riddle

tells us: Go, get lost in yourself, become my very meter,

like those who silently listened to his guitar

link the time of his passage to the infinity of time.

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