#4 The Poetry of Walter Bishop, Jr.

Thelonious and the Keyboard Bugs
by Walter Bishop, Jr.

Picture if you may:
The scene was Harlem of an earlier day.
Bugs and roaches crawling up and down keyboards
The whites, the blacks,
In and out of the cracks.
Check the facts.
An incredible lot they were;
They had their own kingdom,
They had their own hierarchy,
They had their own God.
It was a centipede named Art –
Brother, he played piano with every part.
He became known as God.
The King was a mighty gnat named Cole.
He played and he sang like a merry old soul.
Then there was elegant Edward, the firefly –
A most illuminating creature.
“Sophisticated Ladies” was to become his feature.
And he’d go on to become the Duke
Of that wonderful land we know of as Ellingtonia.
Then there was Bouncin’ Bill from Red Bank,
The grasshopper.
He had this weird habit
Of jumpin’ up and down at one o’clock each night.
Now, he became known as the Count of Swing,
But you and I know he really was King.
Tad, the talented tadfly –
He would go on to rule Dameronia to “our delight”
Then there was Amazing Bud, the hornet.
He turned the whole thing around
With a machine-gun like sound.
He struck the keys magically
But would end up tragically
In a glass enclosure.
J.P. the honeybee –
In his day he was master, for none could play faster.
Eubie, the termite –
They say he used to eat up piano keys
Morning, noon and night.
And lest I forget –
Those lightening-fingered ladybugs
With names like
And Mary Lou.
I want to tell you,
They could run up and down the keys with the best of them too.
So you might say
Thelonious learned from the boogie, the stride and the rag,
Then he proceeded to come out of his own personal bag.
But Thelonious had problems, you see,
Because he was a bit too deep
For the average creep.
And I don’t think all his friends could be trusted,
Because lo and behold, Thelonious got busted.
And dig the charges:
Thelonious assault on stock standards.
Melodious malpractice.
Diatonic distortions on boring ballads.
And add to that
Fornicating with the likes of
Honeysuckle Rose,
And Sweet Georgia Brown.
How could they know he was just a gigolo.
Well, fortunately for Thelonious,
None of these chicks showed up to press charges.
‘Tis my belief
They dug the changes he put ’em through.
I know they were never the same!
That slowed him down for awhile,
But he wasn’t about to change his style.
He merely went underground
And proceeded to perfect his sound.
And wouldn’t you know it –
Soon the scene became imbued
With the sound of “Monk’s Mood”.
And even the finks
Ordered their drinks
“Straight, No Chaser”.
I mean, from underground artiste,
Outwit the beast.
Become high priest.
Which reminds me:
In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”
It was Polonious,
While counseling his son Laertes,
Who was about to embark on a trip to England –
The last thing he said to him was
“This above all things, my son,
To thine own self be true.”
In our lifetime, it would be Thelonious’s life style
Which was the embodiment of these words of wisdom.
A seer without peer.
A musical mutineer.
He would go on to commandeer
A new frontier.
And become known among nations
For his bold innovations.
What more can I say?
He loved to love us
And left us
The ‘evidence.”

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