I experienced modal jazz for the first time at sixteen. July, midnight, and a Chicago radio station on my Walkman in a farmhouse near Avalon, Wisconsin: two stories of white siding and blue shutters squared by a thick windbreak of pines to the north, W-140’s humming asphalt before the house's eastern face, and the long green sheet metal shed beside red-slatted wood granaries standing south. Silent fields, where there were no high beams or yard lights, lapped at my bedroom's western wall. This void behind the house, the rural night, threatened to strain through the windows’ screen and crush me, dared me nightly to resist it. I braced myself with sound.
I didn't understand whether I was filling the progression of the tune or it was filling me. My suspicion is both occurred simultaneously. I know now what it means to be full to bursting with eager limbs, tears, and milk. I know, too, what it means to stretch something open with my own fullness by way of desire. But that night, writhing through the circle of fifths with Bill Evans, I explored form not as limit, but mystery. I discovered my own curves by gliding along his compositions’ contours, wondering at the expansion wrought by something weightless, how breath stretches lungs.
As night pressed against me and the movement of “Comrade Conrad,” my definition became freedom from a particular oppression: cornfields and starless sky shattered by the body of a sixteen-year-old girl.
Ann Thomas lives in Iowa. Her narrative nonfiction has appeared in The Examined Life Journal, Dappled Things, Ever Eden Literary Journal, Catholic Exchange, and Image Journal.
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