Walter Norris

Excerpt from my autobiography

In ’53, I worked the `Bar & Grill´ with tenor saxophonist Max McElroy, bassist Wayne Harris and percussionist Harry Johnson. The club was located on the most dangerous corner in all of Los Angeles, Fifth and San Pedro, better known as `Five.´ This red-hot bebop six-nighter continued through all of June, July and August. Life on "Five" was a most ruthless world; the police never interfered; they only showed their presence and nothing more. During one intermission, while standing in front of the club, a woman began screaming, from a dark parking lot across the street; probably she was being stabbed. At the same time a policeman in uniform casually walked along the sidewalk oblivious to everything. I remarked to the bassist after the cop passed, "Why can´t he go over and show his badge or something?" A local standing nearby overheard and said in no uncertain terms, "If the policeman tried to help he would draw his last breath. Man, the law is different in this part of the jungle," laughing loudly as he walked away. Max soon departed for Houston and was replaced with vibraphonist, Joe Dillard from nearby Oceanside. Unfortunately, the old upright piano was exceptionally flat and could not be tuned sharper to match the A-440 of Joe’s vibraphone or some of the ancient strings would break. I had never consumed alcohol while playing, in the previous years, but this engagement was an exception; if he played in B flat I had to transpose to B natural but even then, we were still a quarter-tone off. The nerves became more than unraveled between intonation and intoxication; consequently, I guzzled more beers than necessary. One night, hardly able to control my kidneys any longer, I told the drummer to take a long solo while I relieved myself. The narrow rectangular toilet (width of four-feet by twelve in length) had a barred window at the far end just above the throne; and fastened to one wall was a Spanish styled urinal (trough) extending nearly the entire length of the room. As I opened the door, a Mexican standing at the far end of the trough was draining himself; I approached and stood to his right, unzipped and began alleviating my bladder. In the next moment another Mexican kicked the door wide open, screaming threats, with knife drawn as the one to my left flashed a wicked looking switchblade. I realized that I caught in between them and couldn't for the life of me stop urinating. As though I were nonexistent, the attacker on my right charged his enemy to my left. I immediately jumped backwards and pressed myself against the wall, opposite the urinal, as he charged passed in front of me. I hurried out the doorway, glanced quickly over my shoulder and returned to the bandstand. The explosive drum solo ended just as I reached the piano but I continued looking in the direction of the toilet while playing. Then, the survivor left hastily; his appearance was conspicuously odd and all mannerisms were slightly different from the other clientele. This resulted from an extreme adrenaline rush; his aura radiated the paranormal glow of a combatant several moments after a fresh kill. A couple of minutes later the corpse was discovered and with both feet dragging, he was pulled through the club and dumped onto the curb of the street. Inside, the bartender prepared a bucket of water and proceeded to mop blood from the floor; it was all in a day's work. Every zombie at the bar looked but noticed no thing. The police were never notified nor did they question anyone; this was the law of the jungle on "Five" between San Pedro and Main. Nevertheless, each night when entering the club I was conscious of the fact I had witnessed a murder that was never investigated by Los Angeles’ Department of Homicide.

Copyright © Jan. 2001 Walter Norris.