Many thanks to Spank the Carp for publishing Baritone Nose.
The history of jazz isn’t complete without the story of Lou Palmer. Yeah, yeah, you say, never heard of him. That’s expected. Lou never stepped on stage. Well, maybe, arguably, once—we’ll get to that. He didn’t write, he didn’t run a club, he didn’t sell drugs, he didn’t help guys get clean. Lou was just an average Chicago law clerk who could smell a baritone sax from miles away.
At first, Lou’s talent was a curiosity, a party trick. He could tell you how good a show would be hours before the curtain. If some no-name kid from Muncie showed up in town with a splattery honk, destined for greatness, Lou knew as soon as the kid stepped off the Greyhound. He fed his finds to the highest bidding band leader.
One day Lou decided to improvise. He claimed he caught a telltale whiff of pepperoni gone wrong. He barged into the Jazz Record Mart, grabbed the intercom, and announced that Gino Gandoviespo had lost his silky baritone style. Gino played the Green Mill that night, as scheduled, and whether his style had changed is still debated. Some say it cratered, some say nothing was off, and unfortunately there’s no recording. There’s only the review from the next day’s paper. Just like that, Gino was ruined, and everyone blamed Lou.
Scared, all the other bari players tried to throw Lou off their trail. Some walked through department stores, others hugged cash registers. Word of upcoming gigs spread in whispers to everyone but him.
Lou went three weeks without feeling the scent of a low rumbling sax squeeze its knuckles on his nose. At one point, he stumbled into a suspicious breeze but couldn’t trust it. He said he wasn’t about to test his luck just to find he’d followed a cell phone salesman to the gym. Lou had lost the trail of the baritone sax.
He decided to set an ambush for the sound he craved. He sold everything in his apartment except his records and hi-fi. He bought a tub of peanut butter, threw his tunes in the van, and made a break. His plan was to drive to Atlantic City and play penny slots until Tower of Power came through. But Lou never made it out of Chicago.
Lou’s nasociliary nerves—what you smell with—were curled into the exact twist of a baritone saxophone’s neck. The nerves searched for bari nonstop, and the trip to Atlantic City was a subconscious ploy to get him moving toward the nearest horn. When the scent of a Rico #5 reed floated through the van’s window, Lou blacked out and rear-ended a rusting Volvo, shot through the windshield, and then shattered a second plate of glass: the front window of Harvey’s Jazz Club.
Lou landed on the stage, slid across, and stopped just as Neon Clipper finished his bari solo. Neon, in a trance, drained his horn’s spit valve. The spit fell down the canal of Lou’s ear. It wound its way through Lou’s sinuses, flooded his nasociliary nerve, and launched him on a starship of heart-stopping ecstasy. The state-mandated defibrillator behind the bar didn’t stand a chance. Lou had found the baritone sax—and his place in the history of jazz.
Posted above on June 13, 2023. Slightly revised. Thoughts: Why was I thinking of seizure and what does that say?