‘Round Midnight (44. Transcript)

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Colbert: Our next guest is a multi-talented musician who has made quite a splash lately. The NY Times has called her the future of jazz. Here to play the title track of her debut album, Breathe, let’s welcome Cassandra Sommer.

(Audience is ecstatic. Band plays Breathe)

Colbert: We’ll be back to talk to her after the break.

(Outro from Breathe)

Commercial break

(Intro, the band previews a little bit of Aftershock)

Colbert: I’m back here with my guest, Cassandra Sommer. So, Cassandra …

CS: Cassie, please. Only my mother calls me Cassandra.

Colbert: So why the trumpet?

CS: I like shiny things. (audience laughs) I started playing piano when I was about five, but when I was given the opportunity to play in the band in fifth grade, I chose the trumpet, ostensibly because it was silver and shiny.

Colbert: I see you don’t wear any jewelry, though.

CS: No. I’m a minimalist in that sense.

Colbert: I can see that. (audience laughs) A little birdy tells me you are taking a lot of flack over your wardrobe.

CS: I think that bird is a big fat turkey, by all accounts. (Colbert chuckles)

Colbert: Is it true that sometimes you wear even less?

CS: Well, yes, comfort is important to me when I play. That’s why I don’t wear shoes.

Colbert: That’s not all you don’t wear. Is it true that one night a month, you play commando.

CS: I’ve been told by my agent to stop that, but yes, we have a Commando Night at Jimmy’s in Chicago where we are the house band. Military get in free, with discounts off drinks. I dress commando.

Colbert: But that’s not all, right?

CS: Yes, I wear a mini skirt and a camisole. That’s all. I usually play piano on those nights, but it gets a little dicey when I play trumpet. I have this habit of dancing a lot when I play. That’s a recipe for accidents.

(audience laughs)

Colbert: That brings me to my next point. You play trumpet, piano, sing, and you dance, too, when the spirit moves you.

CS: Which it often does. I’m a founding member of a funk band called White Chocolate, and I’ve been known to boogie from time to time.

Colbert: It’s funny you should mention that. We just happen to have a clip … (audience laughs in anticipation) … apparently it’s from only a few weeks ago.

CS: I was waiting for you to say that it was from when I was 14.

Colbert: We’re still working on that one. Let’s roll the clip.

(WC playing Pick up the Pieces with CS twerking out front while playing trumpet)

(audience laughs hysterically)

(Stay Human picks up the song. CS twerks a little for the audience.)

(audience applauds)

Colbert: Gotta love that catsuit.

CS: That’s my secret identity. I’m a closet exhibitionist.

(audience laughs)

Colbert: (gestures at my outfit) Well, you’ve come out.

(audience laughs, someone shrieks with delight)

Colbert: So, your new album.

CS: It is actually Gus’ Ferrotte’s new album. I’m just part of the band.

Colbert: But you have equal billing. How did it come about?

CS: Gus asked me to sub for his pianist. The tenor player in my quartet studied with him, so we knew each other, but we hadn’t played together until a few weeks before the session. I don’t know why, but at the last minute, they changed the other personnel and gave us all equal billing. The night before the session, Gus asked me to bring along a couple of my charts. I thought that one might make the album, but they chose all three.

Colbert: And even added a trio version of the title track.

CS: We recorded that a week later, when we were doing retakes, just because we had extra studio time. It’s actually edited. The full length version wouldn’t fit on the disc.

Colbert: Hopefully, we’ll get to hear it at some point. We’ve asked you to play another track from the album before you go. You are playing both trumpet and keyboards on that. Must be difficult. (audience chuckles)

CS: I do occasionally play both at the same time, but there I played piano in the rhythm section first, scatted my solo, and then overdubbed on trumpet.

Colbert: That must have been hard to remember. It’s my understanding that you have perfect pitch as well as eidetic memory.

CS: Not quite. One of my classmates in high school called it photogenic memory. (audience laughs) It’s good enough that I can remember enough obscure details that appears impressive. I see everything in sound and images. You might call it photographic memory.

Colbert: So you can remember what you had for breakfast on say, the 21st of November?

CS: (laughs) Scrambled eggs and bacon.

Colbert: What’s so significant about that particular breakfast?

CS: You just happened to pick a rare morning that it was cooked for me. Let’s just say that was the last morning of a very brief relationship.

Colbert: You mean a one-night stand? (audience laughs)

CS: (blushes) It wasn’t intended to be. (applause)

Colbert: Well, before you go, we’ve asked you to play one more song from the album. Would you be so kind as to introduce it?

CS: It’s a piece that I wrote on the same day as Breathe. It’s a modern bop that I call Aftershock. It’s almost too fast to dance to, but I’ll give it a go.

Colbert: Well thank you very much for coming (shakes hands), and while you are setting up, I’ll just say that Cassandra Sommers’ new album Breathe came out last Friday. She plays with DeRon Johnson at the Empire Club in New York City from Thursday to Saturday this week and next.

CS: One …. Two …. one, two, three, four …

(band plays Aftershock)



‘Round Midnight (36. Standards)

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Not the comfy crew – never again – but a comfy set list of standards, basically Stacey’s band plus O’Leary and me. I’m on trumpet all this week before I fly to NY on Sunday.

We open with Maiden Voyage, Herbie’s tune. We’ve decided to play Willie Maiden’s later, which is totally different, a bebop tune he wrote for Maynard.

I still can’t get these dreams out of my head. I looked up the murdered horn player again. Aside from the hair, we look so much alike, it’s uncanny. I spent some of today transcribing what she played on her horn in the dream, as well as much of the accompaniment. I might write a concerto based on the material.

Akira has canceled all my opera and symphony gigs. She says the only classical playing I should do from now on should be concertos, as a headliner, like Wynton Marsalis. He played fewer and fewer over the years, and I could go the same way. I don’t really want to play the Haydn and Hummel concertos over and over, though. Maybe my own?

That great symphonic theme
That’s Stella by starlight
And not a dream
My heart and I agree
She’s everything on this earth to me

Stella, I sing, but not like Ella. I’m my own me, fella. I’m paying homage to symphony me, wearing my concert blacks, pencil slacks, white silk halter and black jacket.

But no shoes.

Why do I play so much better barefoot? Anna Sophie Mutter always plays her violin with bare shoulders. She says she connects with her sound better. Maybe I connect better with the beat, like Evelyn Glennie (the famous deaf percussionist). She has a better excuse for her bare feet, though. I’m just a pretender.

I could have been a pretender!

I guess I am.

(psst, hey Cassie, that’s supposed to be contender)

Live with it. I’ve got a trumpet in my hands. Wouldn’t want to dent it.

Billy’s Bounce is up. Lots of notes, lots of changes, must pay attention. Next, Naima, O’Leary’s first set feature. I do a Miles, that is, wander offstage, down into the audience to say hello to Akira. Hug and a kiss.

I’m just being the diva.

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Only two ladies here on-stage, and both of us would blow away in a stiff breeze – three, if you include Akira, who is also a waif, and the only other female I see in the house. I guess this gig will never end.

Maybe Jimmy’s bouncer will offer up some falsetto.

A quick drink during the break, two stiff ones for O’Leary. He’s not taking the prospect of my hiatus well. I don’t give him enough credit. To be honest, we are a musical marriage. We complement each other. He’s focused and meticulous, an intellectual in spite of the booze, and I’m radical and uncontrollable. I take my clothes off … what I can get away with. We give each other the space to create. He and Stacey are too much alike. That’s why they split up so long ago. As long as O’Leary leads the band, they’ll survive. I’m only away for three weeks this time, but I’m not back long before I head to Europe.

I’m being too restrained. The second set is a Latin love-fest, and I’m taking the metaphorical gloves off. And the jacket. Can’t help grinding my bum in a good salsa. I don’t know why I’ve gone all British, shaking my bum instead of my ass. I’ve been there a few times, I’ve even met the aforementioned percussionist. She’s way cool. (We have a mutual friend.)

Who will I meet in London this time? Perhaps the Englishman who has all the answers for me. The answers that Gaia says will be unexpected. I’ve got six weeks to prepare myself.

We’re playing Chick’s Spanish Fantasy, but I should be at the piano. This is so weird. At least I play a stonking hot trumpet solo. One shouldn’t wear sheer white when one is shimmying as I am in a hot room. The band probably can read the label on my bra.

At least I’m wearing one.

I’m dripping. I down another cold one at the break. Who is this that Akira introduces me to? John Parrington. He’s the director of the festival we’re playing in London. He’s standing a little too close. A lot too close. A hand on my sweaty shoulder. He’s about my age, maybe a little older. Dark hair, thin build. He’s a handsome Englishman, dressed a little too formally.

I’m not interested. Dare I show it? No. The break isn’t long enough for any business, and the joint is too noisy. He just wanted to meet me, hear me, touch my skin.

Touch my flesh.

Time for our signature set and then run. Or maybe not. Akira has arranged a quiet late-night bite for us somewhere. I like an English accent, and he’s easy on the eyes. Akira remains as chaperone, thankfully. He wants to arrange a couple more guest artist thingies while I’m in the UK, possibly Birmingham, Manchester, and Cambridge.

He stares at my baby blues. I avoid his gaze. We finish. He pays. He lingers. He’s staying on the Mile, not close enough to Evanston to offer me a lift home. Would I come to his? He asked that without saying it.

No. I have standards, you know. They must be met.

Akira drives me home. She leaves.

‘Round Midnight (16. Fetish)

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Speak to the chest.

More Bird tonight, with a twist. The first set is the same, but Etienne Boissart is sitting in, and Pete is on drums. Yorick is on emergency pastoral duties, and Vic wasn’t available. Etienne and Jamar were in the studio today with me recording retakes on Gus’ album, basically just some rhythm section over-dubs and fixes. We finished early, so we recorded the original trio version of Breathe with an improvised piano intro and extended solos. One take was all it needed. We nailed it. 25 minutes: Too long to add to the album. We’ll save it for a later release.

Ophelia’s on the floor tonight, showing off her sister to her new man, or more likely showing off her new man to her sister. She hangs on him. Do my extreme wardrobe choices distract him enough?

I doubt it.

Etienne kicks the second set off with a blinding walking bass in the changes for Airegin, soloing after Jamar joins in. Then wham – O’Leary and I hit the head; I’m on trumpet while Stacey sits in on keys. Michael has asked me to play more trumpet in the second and third sets tonight. His guest is in the house again. O’Leary gets to try Breathe next. I’m on keys, but back on trumpet for Aftershock, and the rest of the evening.

Breathe Cassie.

Akira is here again, but on work duties, dressed in her black power suit and white silk blouse, perched at the table with Michael and the mystery man. Let them do the talking, and my musicianship answer the questions. She illuminates between the lines. She’s persuasive, adding just a little bit of sensuality and elegance into the conversation. Not me, I’m in my frazzled cut-offs with a new top that I saw in a shop window this morning, nominally a brown halter with laces down the side, the back, and between my breasts, almost to my belly button. Serious skin on four sides.

All eyes are drawn to my chest tonight.

Even those who are used to it. Do I dress this way to make up for my deficiencies in playing?

I play more loose when I am feeling free.
I surely do not care what people see.
By showing off my skin diverts their charms
from flattish chest and skinny legs and arms.

Ophelia says I look like a very tall 14-year-old, although I’m more than twice that.

Does she hate or envy me, her only sister?

The band is ultra hot tonight, and even after midnight the bouncers are turning people away. I’m doing my best Dizzy Gillespie imitation, but not the cheeks.

Not those cheeks. The crowd digs my ass.

I’m dining with Michael’s guest tomorrow, before my gig. Mitchell Tomlin, I haven’t heard of him. Akira hints that it might mean an appearance at a jazz festival on the east coast. A headline gig.

Cassandra Sommer. Who dat?

Me, myself, and I. Three in one. A trinity of divinity.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date

Tuesday methinks.

Perhaps a little Sting shall play my heart
To sing or do another thing I might,
in thy distraction will I be alert
to bare my soul or something set alight.

On Commando night.

‘Round Midnight (15. A Kiss, and more, Stolen)

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Ba-dom ba da deet da
Ba-dum ba da doot da

Yorick kicks off Bird week with A Night in Tunisia. I should have thought ahead more, as I’m too distracted for a whole evening of bebop, ridiculous tempos, chord, chord, chord, chordity, chord, chord.

… this is npr news with Dave Mattingly …

Someone set an alarm for an ungodly hour this morning. I was spooned with Aoki, in her underwear, cotton, prudish, bun was in my face. I was sans jeans. I don’t remember taking them off. The other couch was empty. Someone was in my bedroom. I was too sleepy to care.

O’Leary plays a stonking solo, and I’m up. Unlike this morning.

Next thing I knew was that someone kissed me. Asami? No. Aoki. Asami was back in my arms hot and sweaty, asleep. Silk underwear, no bun, tousled hair. Another kiss, Akira, she licked my lips. That was so fucking sexy. She kissed Asami on the forehead. I could smell my shampoo in Akira’s hair as it brushed my face.

Concentrate Cassie!

Chords are flying by. There goes one, and another. Play a single line solo and catch up with the left hand. O’Leary will notice all these foreign substitutions. Cover up those mistakes.


I woke again pinned under Asami. Her bra had unhooked, or someone had unhooked it while she slept. Skin on skin, well, no. I was still tidy in my t-shirt. My bra was off, though. Someone had removed it.

Damn, I lost count. I have to fake it back in after Zip’s drum solo. Play the head, and get our of here. Ornithology is next. I’m so fucked.

Someone kissed me. A long one. I give her a hug, and I’m out again.


That was Asami leaving. The clock said 8 am. I roll over, someone has put a blanket on me. I’m alone. Off to my bed. Musky. I only just washed the sheets on Monday. Damp? I don’t know. At that point, I didn’t care. I needed at least two more hours of sleep.

Booba dooba deedle dodalyoodo,
booba dooba doobat deet, ba doodah, dee ah-da

Struggle through that piano break, finish the head. Solo. I’m up first. Damn! So many chords. More single line solos. I wish I had my trumpet tonight. Akira’s here, sitting at the table by my bare feet.

That was some kiss. She stole part of me, my inhibition? My shortest black mini is on (barely), serious skin tonight. As much cleavage as I can muster. (Strappy crop halter, maroon.) Shoes off. Both Aoki and Asami have gigs tonight.

Akira had sex with Asami in my bed. Aoki was with me. I’m jealous. Am I? Should I be?

Pay attention, O’Leary is killin’ it. Keep up, idiot! I glance down at Akira. She’s rocking cleavage tonight, too. We seemed to be thinking alike, laced up corset (scarlet satin), sexy black slacks. Our colors clash.

Shit, wrong substitutions in Yorick’s solo. I’m stepping all over them tonight. A quick look out in the crowd. No VIPs that I can see. Scrapple from the Apple is next, not so fast, but still up-tempo. I so need a ballad, or a break, but not yet.

Asami in bed with Akira.

Did Aoki know? She must have, since she was with me. Did she approve? Who undressed me?

Akira had to. I’m a light-sleeper most of the night. I’m surprised I didn’t awaken. Asami wouldn’t have dared. Akira was making trouble. That kiss. That corset.

Aoki? Not a chance.

It is so hot on the floor tonight. Sweaty, or is that just me? Akira dangles a pinkie along her cleavage. She did that on purpose. Why do I care?

Me het.

Me distracted, disturbed. Horny.

Yuck! That didn’t work. Strange substitution, stranger voicing. More like Scrambled Eggs. I suck tonight. Just make it to the break, Cassie, and go have a wank in the ladies. The tie falls out of my hair. I’m such a mess. I’m raw.

Pan-sexual, pandemic pandemonium. Panda.

Panda? He’s a famous baseball player, standing in the wings with Jimmy. I think he’s with the Giants now. They go way back. He’s a VIP. Maybe we should be playing some salsa tonight instead.

The set ends. I run to the bar for a beer. Akira follows. She stands close. Way close. She’s fucking with my head. Arm around my shoulders. What’s up? You seem out of it tonight. Not enough sleep last night. She pulls me tighter, her breasts hot against mine. Don’t worry, she says. Hugs me, stroking my mostly bare back. I can still smell my shampoo in her hair. She squeezes. One of her legs is between mine. Erg, there, up against me. Ooh!

Do not have an orgasm. Do not have an orgasm. Do not … not here.


Back on stage now with damp panties. I suppose that was better than pleasuring myself in the ladies. At least, I feel a little more relaxed now. She knew exactly what I needed, even if it wasn’t her place to give it. I hope nobody noticed. Damn! Michael Columbine is sitting in the back. Did he hear that travesty of a set? I don’t think so. No drinks on his table. Who is he sitting with?

Of course, the next set begins with Anthropology, and we take it at lightning speed, even faster than Parker. Fly through the head, live in O’Leary’s brain, anticipate, deliver. My turn, ultra-chromatic, slithering substitutions, stay in the moment, go nuts a bit, go nuts more, bring it down low for Yorcik, who starts with a splattering of harmonics, I paint back a few coloristic chords in the stratosphere. He’s like playing in half-time while we speed along, then rips into a sublime walking wonderland, clearing the way for Zip, who hints at half-time for a chorus on his cymbols, I throw in a chord change or two, then he’s full speed ahead, quotes some Louis Prima, but a lot faster, then we are back into the head to close it out.

Welcome back. O’Leary whispers in my ear. Yes, I’m back. All of me is on stage and in the moment. Fuck Akira.

I look down at her. She smiles.

I want to take my clothes off.

(For me. Not for her.) Reason prevails.

The piano bench is slick with my sweat. (At least, that is what I’ll admit to.) Michael and his guest stay for the third set as well. He made sure that I knew he was there, but didn’t make a move to introduce me to his companion.

Who was that with him?

Akira drives me home. We don’t speak of what happened, and yes, she did undress me last night, but Asami insisted she leave my t-shirt on. Maybe she was right. I was vulnerable.

Tonight, Akira took that advantage.

‘Round midnight (3. Skin tight, an-uncover)

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Skin tight Tuesday Night, another of Jimmy’s gimmicks to make up for O’Leary’s absence. Leave nothing to the imagination. Cover the important bits, closely. No sly peeks. No flashing.

See everything and nothing important.

My solo set: magic. Like a lap dance without ever leaving the stage. Shove a 50 in my cleavage. I dare you. Vic Malone sat in on bass after midnight. The priest was indisposed.

A touch of purple deep in my soul, a flutter.

Maybe I should have asked his name, not that I needed to know it. Like Jimmy, obsessed with my inadequacies, as long as I show them off.

Unpaint, me, unpainted. Unwashed, lathered, in a lather, hot and bothered, in the shower, unalone.

Skip, my heart.

Vic’s girlfriend’s brother, to teach me some things. Something. Make something from nothing, and maybe back to nothing again. He has my number. He won’t use it.

I don’t care. Not … really, not … yet … not there, yet. Well, maybe there, whenever, wherever.

GZeer, geeze, ghahl.

All the worlds a stage and we’re on it. Oh honey, we’re skin tight … chromatic instrumental break.

The water’s on full, gushing, but not overflowing, yet. Nyet yet.

Skin tight, fit him like a glove. My love is skin tight. Hard to concentrate on him, I’m thinkin’ all night,

Hard to concentrate at all, my … what is his name?! What. Is. It? Come on baby, keep it flowin’ … uptight, no that’s not the lyric, our set was so tight … instrumental interude

Ska, skidoo, skiddlededoo. Babadi, babadi, boodeleoo, rump pum pum, skin tight
Diggity, diggity … There! That’s ticket! Ooh! Please don’t stop it,
Keep it, slay it, slinky play it, skin tight
Bahhh, bah, booba doodlededoo, doobah doobee do, wat dodah do dat. Ah!
Slinkity slinkity kinkity Kat, that! Gah!
Gooba, gooba, gooba, dooba, dooba, dooba, da, (breath)
Rah, ta, ta, ta, rumpum, pumpum, pumpum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, ummmmmmmmmm, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, gah! uh-gah. Gah. Gaga. Gah. Ga

Skin tight, baby that’s alright. Yes indeed it is. My alibi is all night. Skin tight.

Turns me in to a baby. I think I’ll cry.

I’m crying.

Baby what a big surprise … wrong song … forgot the rest of the lyrics

I should really ask his name, but that would be even more embarrassing. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Until satisfied.

I hope he calls me.

It was skin tight, but he uncovered me.

‘Round Midnight (2. The Naked Pianist)

Photo by Ikon Republik from Pexels

“Don’t burn the place down,” Jimmy chided. It was commando night, just me, my mini, and my cammy, bare feet on the pedals. The first time was a dare, the less I wear, the more inspired the digits. O’Leary would say I was a freak if he were here. Tuesdays, he has a gig uptown, so it is just the trio. Zip says I’m going to hell. Yorick won’t commit.

Rick Yo, GJM, priest, prays for Cassie's soul. Optimist.

Mephistopheles might have something to say about that. (But I’ve never met the man. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, along with the piano bench.)

It’s worth Jimmy’s friendly verifying grope for triple the fee once a month. He’s a sweetheart. And the place is packed. That’s what he really wants.

This isn’t a strip joint. Definitely not.

Around midnight the music heats up. The jazz goes hard like my nipples in my sweaty white cammy, now almost transparent, and erect like the regulars who know where to sit for the best view. (Stage left, front tables.) The ensemble is tight in a chromatic progression, my possession, Jimmy’s obsession. He stands in the wings, his coal-black skin pulsing with the beat and desire, hoping to a catch my eye.

A wink and a wry smile.

He’s a little too old for me, and his wife might have something to say about it.

I’m unique in the house again tonight. I’m their fallen angel, their Miranda to Jimmy’s Prospero, my pale skin flushed with alcohol, the only representative of my sex and my race, my blond hair tied back to show more shoulder, more skin. They all want to bed me, but my music has hypnotized them, while my sex throbs moist on the leather bench, driving it to distraction. These Odysseuses are slaves to this siren.

Jimmy left the stage door open. My skirt wafts. The front row drools. He plays the crowd. A regular at the table in front of me stares at my naked feet all night, every night. He dreams of them, two pale paws caressing the pedals. Or does he wait for me to turn and acknowledge the adoring crowd? That’s upskirting, if I have my slang right. But that is part of the dare, and why they keep coming.


It’s a small price to pay for this feeling of power, of dominion. They worship me. I am a goddess.

It all ends too soon. This devil that possesses me has grown weary. The regulars are protective of their angel, or so they say. (Chivalry is not dead.) They walk me to the el for the night train back up north.

The tempest has spent its might.

Tuesdays: No cover for military personnel.