The Shadow of Her Smile
 Stan & Noel's Chance Encounter
 with a Beautiful, Mysterious Woman
noel wedder

It was one of those magical, star-filled nights, the moonlight shimmering across the tops of the trees

and filtering like angel hair down upon the parking lot of the motel we were staying at somewhere outside Philadelphia.

Earlier in the evening it had lightly rained, which accentuated the heady ambrosia of the flowers lining

the driveway. The concert we had just performed at a local high school had ended around 11:30 so

the night was still young.


Neither Stan nor myself was ready for bed, needing the next few hours to unwind. We waited patiently

on the bus while the rest of the guys, smiling and happy the concert had gone so well made their way

off the bus on their way to do things guys do when the night beckons.

As we watched Dalton Smith's broad shoulders fill the well of the bus doorway then disappear across the

parkway Stan stood up, lifted down a bottle of J&B Scotch he had stashed away in the overhead

compartment atop his seat, turned and said:

'Are you coming?'


'Yes,' I replied.

We walked slowly across the parking lot savoring the sweet pleasure of a concert gone well and moved

toward one of the side doors of the motel which opened into an expansive conference room. At the far end of the deserted room a concert grand piano, which had seen better days was draped against the wet bar.

As I turned on the small lamp beside the music rack Stan began pouring out two stiff drinks. He passed one to me, then slid onto the piano bench. The 40-watt glow from the piano light illuminated his face just enough for me to note his facial expression. He was extremely happy and up, no doubt about it.

'Certainly was an appreciative audience,' I said in attempt to get some conversation going.

'Yes, they were,' he responded as his right hand began flicking lightly across the keys. 'The guys played

their hearts out this evening. 'I think even Fitz had a ball,' he laughed, 'Did you catch all the marvelous things

he did on 'Malaguena?'


'Yes, our resident curmudgeon was in rare form tonight.'

'Play something,' I told him, 'I love to hear you fool around with different chords and melodies.'

He laughed, took a long pull on his drink and asked:

'What you do you want to hear?'

"I've Got You Under My Skin," I told him with a faraway look in my eyes.

'Christ, when the hell are you going to get over that chick?' referring to the blazing torch I was

still carrying for Virginia, who had begun divorcing me two months ago in Baltimore, where we

had made our home following graduation from college the year before.

 'I am over her! What's done is done.'

'Bullshit!,' he replied.

'Play what you want,' I said quietly, 'It's cruel for you to just sit there and not play.'

He laughed again. Then he leaned sideways into the keyboard and

ever so effortlessly began running his right hand across three octaves.

Magically, light, airy grace notes began dancing lyrically across the

empty room and began turning that dark, dank chamber into a musical

wonderland locked in time and space. As he got more into what he was doing

and was thoroughly pleasured by what he was hearing he swiveled his body

around to the keyboard and began adding a series of mahogany-rich chords

with his left hand.

If I was enthralled, he was in another world as he worked out the intricacies

of a score of complex, superbly-designed passages which floated down the

long corridor of the room. As he came to the end he rested his right hand

on a minor, dissonant chord which rose up and sprang toward the ceiling.

'Nice,' I said. 'What is it?'

'Just a little bit of nothing,' he smiled as he got up and re-filled our drinks.

As he handed me mine, I looked at him sheepishly and asked:

'Were you ever in love? Truly in love?'

'Once,' he replied, caressing the keys again. 'I was very much in love with Violet, but I blew it. I was

too young, too stupid, too god damn involved to realize I was sacrificing her for the Band.

'Do you miss her?' I asked.

'Yes,' he mused, gazing off in the haze of cigarette smoke which surrounded us. Then, quite abruptly

he said: 'Let's change the subject. I hate living in the past. Too many ghosts. Too many demons.'

I knew at that point not to probe any deeper. That I had hit a very sensitive nerve which jangled his

psyche. Yet, being young and a bit self-absorbed I couldn't help blurting out 'Now, you know how I feel.'

'Of course I do,' he said sympathetically, 'but the thing you have to remember is that when a chick

decides it's over. It's done. Finished. It's best to come to grips with it and move on.' Then he reached

over, squeezed my arm and laughed. 'Just keep in mind we always have the Band. Our great, big

love machine.'

I, too, laughed, thinking about his analogy that the Band was a 'love machine.' Yet, the more I thought

about it, the more I knew he was right. Nineteen wandering minstrels sure as hell could spread around

a lot of love, thanks to their extraordinary talent.

As I let my mind drift off to happier days with Virginia he began playing again. Holding his cigarette

in his left hand he began constructing one of his neat, little Kenton-inspired themes. Spreading the

fingers of his right hand out in block chord style he began adding big-band complimentary phrasing.

Always the composer he often used the piano to hear how the Orchestra might sound before all the

pieces were assembled. We had been talking for about 25-minutes when a soft voice called out

from a shadowy corner of the room:

'I love to hear you play, Mr. Kenton. You should do it more often.'

Surprised that someone else had been in the room without our knowledge we watched as a willowy,

elegantly dressed woman in her early 30s approached the piano from out of the dark recesses of the room..

'I hope you don't mind,' she whispered in a soft voice, 'but I followed you back to the motel, hoping

I might have a chance to meet you.

'Did I startle you?' she asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

'Yes and no,' replied Stan, laughing. 'We were unaware we had an audience. Would you like to

join us?' he asked without waiting for a reply as he reached for another glass.

'I'd like that. Yes, I'd like that very much,' she said, tossing her long blonde hair off to one side as

she removed a cigarette from an expensive gold case, then held it expectantly against her lips

waiting for one of us to light it. She laughed as two matches flared simultaneously.

'Would you play something for me, Mr. Kenton?, she asked.


'Sure, if I know it,' Stan replied.

'Anything by the Gerswhin's. That should make it easy, she said lightly.'

With that Stan began creating a dazzling George and Ira musical mosaic which included "Soon,"

"For You. For Me. Forevermore," and "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

I could tell by the expression on our fascinating lady's face she was captivated by Stan's expressive

playing. It was apparent she was in another time and place as she kept her eyes closed, softly

mouthing the lyrics. To say I had instantly fallen in love with this enchanting, mysterious woman

was putting it mildly. I could have cared less that she was at least 8 years older than me. I was deeply

affected by her presence and I wished to know more about her.

Before I could get her attention Stan threw her a big smile as he brought his little medley to an end.

It had taken him about 14 minutes to work his way through the three Gershwin melodies which had

turned that dingy, god forsaken room into a mythical place of shimmering romance, thanks in no

small measure to the gorgeous woman sitting alongside him.

As he finished, he turned, picked-up his drink and asked her name

'Melissa,' she replied quietly and ever so sweetly. 'Melissa Rockingham.'

Then quite abruptly she rose to leave. As she thanked us for being so kind and attentive we nodded

like two babbling, schoolboy idiots and walked her out through the room to the parking lot. There,

waiting for her was a somber, giant of a man, holding open the rear door of a long, sleek limousine.

It was obvious he was part confidant, part bodyguard; no

doubt armed and all no-nonsense. As the limousine slithered into the late night she slowly rolled her window down, leaned forward, brushed her fingers to her lips and blew us a kiss.

We never saw her again.