80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, November 29, 2023


There's a lot of music on island–everywhere you go you hear it.
Hip-hop, rap, rock, pop, soca, reggae, even classical and, of course, calypso. The island hums with musical sounds that people make.
I want to take a moment, though, to tune down the volume. Hell, I want to turn off the set. No, I'm not going to suggest we all listen to the cocquis mate as they cling to cistern walls, and certainly not to the
roaches who clumsily fly from pantry to kitchen sink. None of that nature stuff.
I want to go back to a small space, the tinkle of glass where whiskey is poured, a shuffling of bar stools, thin trails of cigarette smoke from the bar, a murmur heard here and there, the almost empty, 9 o'clock, sultry, small, old jazz clubs of St. Thomas. Just about the time the band is setting up.
Understand? OK. Three guys on a platform, more than a little tired from the heat, of being behind the wheel of a taxi or safari bus all day, of talking to tourists, of smiling happy island welcomes, of driving the same roads, sweating the same traffic jams, of collecting the coins.
They're not young. They've made a life in the world before–albums, CD's, European tours, the Downbeat charts.
A big man steps up, wets his lips, puts the reed of a sax to his mouth, and runs a lick. Another, with eyes like sloe gin, unsheathes his sticks, brushes the drums, stops, looks away or maybe inward. The third closes his mouth, strums a few chords on the bass. The big man listens, then talks to them.
They open with Coltrane's "My Favorite Things." The air gets rarer.
Even the wood rafters give up oxygen. It is call and response. Like Christmas 1916, the human voice calling from town, the spirit responding from the hills. Synchronicity.
When it stops, a handful of patrons applaud. What's next? An energy switch. The man on drums sings "My Funny Valentine." Ah, what voice! Mel Torme would mortgage his vocal chords to make those sounds. A bass
solo in between. Was that Thelonius Monk?
Night after night, they go on. A little different each time, a little closer. Between sets they talk–maybe do this riff, that; let's try this . . . .
Three men come home, each after a long odyssey. Many adventures, much success. But now they're home to this ordinary life. No fanfare. A living barely made.
It is the music, though, that keeps them alive. The art they make, the daily pains they take. Models for us all. If we only stop to notice. If we only stop to listen.
I'm talking about Joe Ramsay, Dave Heyliger, Jon Lucien. Have you heard them lately?
Editor's note: Joseph Lisowski is a former English professor at the University of the Virgin Islands.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.