Her name was Marie Topaz and there wasn't a single photo of her that existed that I didn't try to get my hands on.
My name is Adam Sharpe and maybe you've heard of me, maybe you haven't but I'm a little old soul who plays the trumpet and piano to swinging jazz music. I get to do what I've been doing since I was old enough to hold and play an instrument and it's what I love, it's what gives me life, what wakes me up each day, my soul is filled with the sound of smooth beats, rhythm and blues, I'm a modern jazz man and I have Marie Topaz to thank for that.
She was a jazz singer who played the keys and could easily put on her dancing shoes to shake up the dance floor. She had a background in music since her father would play with his work buddies after long days in a factory and she and her mother and sisters would dance and sing along. Her family was fortunate enough to escape the oppression of the South, and find some good land with a house they could afford while doing hard but good paying work and they never took their freedom for granted.
This mentality and togetherness, Marie brought with her into life and music, she always managed to put a smile on the faces of those around her. But boy did she wow them with a soulful sound and funky beat. She was the epitome of beauty, sexy and classy, all in one. She had this long, brown hair full of curls that hung in face and swung around when she sang. She had this perfect glowing skin that resembled warm caramel. Her curves and strong, yet feminine smile with signature deep red lips, could melt steel. But her voice, her voice and finger movement on the piano, now that was where the magic was. She played as if she had only entered the world simply to grace us with this mesmerizing sound. She was truly a ground-breaker and every jazz pianist that has come after her, commends her for the bridges she crossed in the music world.
Every song that she ever played and sung, she either wrote alone or with very little help. And let's not even get started on the amount of music she wrote for other musicians, from jazz to funk to rock, what area didn't she cover? She even sang with some of the country music classics. She had no boundaries on where or what she would get involved in.
I've pretty much been in love with her since I was a small child. I can't imagine a time where I didn't obsess over her. All of my friends thought I was strange growing up, they didn't even know who she was, well most of them didn't. After all, she passed on just a few years before I was born. But boy what I wouldn't have given just to be alive in the times where I could've met her face to face, I would've done everything in my power to make her fall in love with me.
Anyway, Marie is the absolute reason that I wanted to be a musician, I wanted to do and be everything that she was, I spent my childhood daydreaming about singing to live audiences, playing the piano and the trumpet, wearing fancy suits and then dancing with girls in pretty dresses. Late night lounges, spotlights, spending the whole night jamming with other musicians who had a love for swinging jazz like me. Band classes in school were life for me, it's where I got to practice playing the horns and on the side, I begged my mom for piano lessons. It wasn't easy to make it happen, she was a single mom raising an only child but I did what I could around town to earn extra money and when some of her friends saw my dedication, I was gifted with a really nice keyboard instead of lessons. I didn't complain, I just went on to check out every book and video from the library that I could, then I took what I learned about music in class and began closely listening to Marie's playing, along with the other piano greats, and did my best to mimic them. I lived and breathed for practicing and playing, I did my best to earn a microphone so I could put on shows for my friends and community, it was so much fun and I felt so alive, I was even able to earn some small change doing what I loved, always playing at least a couple of Marie Topaz's songs.
One of my music teachers suggested that I volunteer to play my music at the local retirement home since they would love to hear a kid play songs they all grew up with. I did so happily, knowing my playing could bring joy to others. It was also nice to talk to others who knew of all the long time greats that I obsessed over. I began going there regularly. I was called little old soul every time I went. I truly felt at home with everyone there, they understood me in ways that none of my friends did.
I was thrilled to find out that a lady named Geraldine had actually had the opportunity to see Marie Topaz live when she was a young adult, she even received an autographed photo of her, she dug it up and showed it to me, I was in awe that I was looking at something that Marie herself had touched and to speak to someone who had had the opportunity to meet her, of course she talked about how truly sweet she was to every fan she met.
When my birthday rolled around that summer and I was turning thirteen, Geraldine gifted me with the photo, it was the absolute best gift I had ever gotten next to my keyboard. I took it home and hung it right across from my bed where I could see it every morning. She was my daily inspiration to keep practicing to get better.
I went on to play and also volunteer at my local retirement home for the rest of my school days and intended on getting into the best music school in Los Angeles, growing up in a smaller California town about four hours away, it was the only place I wanted to be so I could come back home and visit whenever I was able to. Interestingly enough, I started playing small gigs around town and began to make a name for myself and started to film myself playing and uploading to a new online platform, Myface. Little did I know that a producer named Peter Bryan had come across my profile because he had family in the town I grew up in and he too traveled in and out. He had heard of the old soul boy who played to the local retirees. I guess you could say I got a lucky break, all the practicing and hard work did indeed pay off, but I imagined that I would be a starving artist for years, and while it did take some time for Pete to clean me up and work with one of his best vocal coaches to prepare to cut my first record, he knew what he was doing and after some promotion, interviews and a handful of opening acts, he booked me my first tour with a few other jazz and pop artists, and basically the rest was history.
My dreams of becoming a modern day jazz pianist came true and I bought my mom her dream house, still in our hometown but in a nicer neighborhood. I went back to the retirement home and made sure they got anything they needed or wanted to keep the place a happy, well kept environment. I even opened a bigger stage area for them and hired any local musicians to their liking. I named the mini auditorium the Topaz place, in honor of none other than Marie Topaz.
It's been a few years now and every time I perform I make sure to cover at least one of her songs and make it known that she is the number one reason I became a musician.
In a few weeks, there will be an event in honor of all the late jazz musicians where the artists of today get together and sing their songs and remember their music, of course there will be a part where Marie is one of the ones honored and I get the chance to sing one of her songs during. I couldn't be any happier than if I were actually meeting her, but I know she will be there in spirit.
When the event finally happened, the evening went perfectly, every act was amazing and there was lots of laughter, applause, tears and encores demanded. I felt so at home, I knew I was right where I belonged and everything was so perfect that it honestly couldn't get any better. There's no way.
As I performed I got my own set of applause and I could feel the energy in the room, I stood up and took a bow. As I was walking off stage, a girl was coming up to take my place, we shared a quick glance, and I was mesmerized. She had long wavy black hair pulled to the side, with a purple flower, she had beautiful glowing caramel colored skin, wrapped in a satin green dress, and red lips. She actually looked exactly identical to a photo I had of Marie, she was like a dream. She slyly smiled back at me and for a moment, I literally trembled, as if I had just watched a beautiful ghost walk by. I walked off but turned around to see her on stage.
"And now ladies and gentlemen, we welcome the granddaughter of Marie Topaz, Clara Valentino, also known in honor of Marie as Clara Topaz!"
Loud applause followed and I was stunned. I knew she had children and grandchildren who played music, but I had never had the chance to meet any of them, I knew there would most likely be a relative of her's here tonight, but I never expected to basically see her twin.
"First, I would like to thank Adam Sharpe again for that beautiful performance and rendition of one my grandmother's greatest hits, and also for keeping her legacy going by performing her songs at every one of his shows, thank you," I nodded back to her, "let's give him one more round of applause ladies and gentlemen."
After the applause dies down, she continues on to talk about Marie and memories of her.
"My grandmother, was a legend, a ground breaker, a revolutionary in music and in her life, she was always trying to make the world a better place, and when she was back at home with her family, she was the best grandmother, mother, sister, wife, friend, that she could be. She would constantly sing to me, at bedtime, randomly throughout the day, she would even make up a song for each one of us, she wanted us to know how special we all were to her. She would tell us stories of her life on the road as a musician, and even though she wasn't in my life very long, I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to be just like her. Growing up in a family of musical people, it was definitely in my blood and I would sit on my mother's piano, which was given to her by my grandmother and play until my fingers were sore. I am so happy to be here tonight with all of you to share in my grandmother's legacy and honor her in song with the rest of these wonderful musicians. I'm about to sing you one of her most well known songs, My Love For You, which was specifically written for her three children, my mother included," she began to tear up, "I love you grandmother Marie, I miss you and I hope you're watching from above," she raised her hand and blew a kiss to the sky, "I love you." More applause as she sits down to the piano to sing her song.
I sat there listening in awe. Her voice was deeper than Marie's but her style and mannerisms were spot on. I finally felt as though I was getting the chance to see Marie Topaz live, in my lifetime, I could've stayed in this moment forever, watching and listening and I had to admit to myself, I was starstruck all over again. My mom was in the audience and I wondered if she saw her the way I did too, of course, I'm sure everyone did, but I've obsessed over the idea of seeing and meeting her, so this was the closest I'd ever get. In this moment, my heart was racing and I couldn't help but imagine myself dancing with her and sweeping her off her feet, the way I had always imagined it with Marie.
She finished up and walked off the stage, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk to her so I followed her backstage to properly introduce myself, but she spoke before I got the chance.
"Well hello Adam, it's an absolute pleasure to meet you," she reached out for my hand. I was clearly nervous but I managed to shake her hand with ease.
"And it's an honor to meet you, Clara." her eyes were dark brown and I couldn't stop looking into them.
"I've been looking forward to meeting you, I've followed your career, especially after you made it very well known that my grandmother was your number one influence, I love your versions of her songs by the way, she would have loved them too."
She giggled and tucked her hair back, "Yes, she would've, all she wanted was to make beautiful music that would make people happy and see it live on, which it has, clearly. I want her music to never be forgotten and that's why I was very excited to find out about your love for her, it's been a breath of fresh air to meet someone else from our generation who wants that too and is as good as some of these other greats we're honoring."
"Well I wouldn't say I'm as good because, c'mon, they're legends," I laughed, "but it's still great to hear that, especially from you, thank you. And you, are, wow, you're absolutely amazing."
"Thank you, Adam." she smiled and I smiled back, we shared one moment of silence before she finally spoke.
"You know, I don't have any plans for the rest of the night after the show is over, perhaps we could go get a bite to eat, and maybe talk music and I could tell you some stories about my grandmother, if you like."
I stumbled over my words but I finally spoke, "Yes, of course, that would be wonderful, Clara."
"Good, then it's a date, I'll see you a little while later," she turned to walk away and then turned back around, "by the way Adam, I love your suit, you look very handsome tonight," she grinned.
"Well, you're absolutely stunning yourself," I smiled back.
"Thank you," she turned back around and continued walking, I watched every step she took, my heart racing and my stomach turning, and in that moment I knew, I had fallen out of obsession, and into love, I had truly fallen in love.