Tenorman by David Huddle


This novella is a gem of a book with beautiful, insightful writing and a unique premise for the story. Ed Carnes is a tenor saxophone player and composer who has drunk himself into bad health in Sweden at the age of 59. The National Endowment for the Arts offers him a sweet deal as part of the American Music Recovery Program:  if he comes back to the States and agrees to be recorded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they will provide him a horn of his choice, a comfortable place to live, food, clothing, music, and occasional access to musicians to play with. 

The narrator is the project director who tells us that everyone is satisfied with the arrangement. Carnes plays music happily and is unconcerned about being recorded, the project managers are thrilled with the preservation of music made by this national treasure, and other musicians are pleased to come to the townhouse to make music with him. (Musicians mentioned include Wynton and Branford Marsalis.)

A complication turns up when, after some months of this arrangement, Carnes expresses a desire to meet a woman. Not a sex-for-hire-situation and not someone who hates music and can only talk about current events, he says, leaving the project managers in a muddle. The managers do find a suitable solution by having a party and including among the guests a woman who apparently is appropriate. Though he has hardly had any contact with her, the connection has a noticeable impact on Ed's music and over the next period, the managers are very excited by this change in his music.

We learn about the narrator and his wife and their affectionate, but somewhat tepid relationship. Here's where the constant recording becomes creepy: the recording continues as Ed and the woman go out to a restaurant for the evening. And even creepier: the narrator takes the tapes home and he and his wife listen to them (and they are shared with us).  

The narrator writes lovingly about music and musicians and one wonders if David Huddle is expressing his own wishes to crawl into the brain of a musician. The premise had the feel of a pipe dream and what an intriguing idea it is.

Available at the UVa library, and from used book sellers through Amazon.

David Huddle, Tenorman, Chronicle Books, 1995, 121 pages.

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