The Legend of 1900 (1998)
- Summaries (4)
A baby boy, discovered in 1900 on an ocean liner, grows into a musical prodigy, never setting foot on land.
1900. Danny Boodmann, a stoker on an American passenger liner, Virginian, finds a baby abandoned on the ship. He names the child Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemon Nineteen Hundred '1900' and raises the child as his own until his death in an accident on the ship. The child never leaves the ship and turns out to be a musical genius, especially when it comes to playing the piano. As an adult he befriends a trumpet player in the ship's band, Max Tooney. After several years on the ship Max leaves, and tells the story of 1900 to the owner of a music store.
The story is told in medias res as a series of flashbacks. Max Tooney, a musician, enters a secondhand music shop just before closing time, broke and badly in need of money. He has only a Conn trumpet, which he sells for less than he had hoped. Clearly torn at parting from his prized possession, he asks to play it one last time. The shopkeeper agrees, and as the musician plays, the shopkeeper immediately recognizes the song from a broken record matrix he found inside a recently acquired secondhand piano. He asks who the piece is by, and Max tells him the story of 1900.
Shortly after the Second World War, Max, a transplanted American, visits an English pawn shop to sell his trumpet. The shopkeeper recognizes the tune Max plays as one on a wax master of an unreleased recording, discovered and restored from shards found in a piano salvaged from a cruise ship turned hospital ship, now slated for demolition. This chance discovery prompts a story from Max, which he relates both to the shopkeeper and later to the official responsible for the doomed vessel, for Max is a born storyteller. Though now down on his luck and disillusioned by his wartime experiences, the New Orleans-born Max was once an enthusiastic and gifted young jazz musician, whose longest gig was several years with the house band aboard the Virginian, a posh cruise ship. While gaining his sea legs, he was befriended by another young man, the pianist in the same band, whose long unlikely name was Danny Boodman T.D. Lemons 1900, though everyone just called him 1900, the year of his birth. Abandoned in first class by his immigrant parents, 1900 was found and adopted by Danny, a stoker, and raised in the engine rooms, learning to read by reading horseracing reports to his adoptive dad. After Danny's death in an accident, 1900 remained on the ship. Increasingly lured by the sound of the piano in the first-class ballroom, he eventually became a gifted pianist, a great jazz improvisationist, a composer of rich modern music inspired by his intense observation of the life around him, the stories passengers on all levels of the ship trusted him enough to tell. He also grew up to be a charming, iconoclastic young man, at once shrewd and oddly innocent. His talent earned him such accolades that he was challenged by, and bested Jelly Roll Morton in an intense piano duel that had poor Max chewing paper on the sofa in agonies of suspense. And yet for all the richness and variety of his musical expression, he never left the ship, except almost, once, in the aftermath of his infatuation with a beautiful young woman immigrant who inspired the music committed to the master Max discovers in the pawnshop. Max realizes that 1900 must still be on the ship, and determines to find him, and to find out once and for all why he has so consistently refused to leave.
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