Chapter 17 Summary

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While the band prepares to rehearse, Bud works with the mop, pretending that it is the underwater boat in the book he erroneously remembers as Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea. The boy knows that Herman E. Calloway is trying to "work [him] like a dog," but Bud is used to hard labor. The old man's efforts are falling far short in wearing him down. 

Bud's attention is suddenly diverted by someone shouting out, "One, two, one two three!" The Thug begins brushing his drum sticks on the cymbals, making a sound "like a soft rain...commencing to fall." Dirty Deed joins in, making the piano match the "rain pats" the Thug is creating. The combined sound is like

what Niagara Falls must sound like...big bright drops of water splashing up and over, over and up.

Steady Eddie starts snapping his fingers, then puts his sax to his lips and makes it talk. His instrument makes the most beautiful sound Bud has ever heard; the notes swirl and float over and above the rest of the "storm of music." 

Bud is so mesmerized by the band's music that he does not even hear Miss Thomas, Mr. Jimmy, and Herman E. Calloway come up behind him. The vocalist and Mr. Jimmy compliment Bud on the cleaning he is doing. Mr. Calloway lets out a grunt as the three head up to the stage. Bud at first is inclined to acknowledge them, but ends up saying nothing, because it somehow seems that

talking [would be] wrong what with all these wonderful sounds...coming from the people on the stage.

Mr. Jimmy picks up his trumpet and joins in the impromptu session with the other musicians. Miss Thomas sits on a stool, closes her eyes, and bobs her head to the beat, while Mr. Calloway takes his giant fiddle, putting one hand near its top and using his other hand to pull at the strings. All of the instruments blend together, and Bud cannot tell which is his favorite. Then Miss Thomas begins to sing, and the boy wonders why Herman E. Calloway takes central billing in the band's many names. It seems clear to Bud that the music revolves around the talented woman vocalist. Miss Thomas is so good that

she [doesn't] even have to sing real words, mostly she [is] saying things like "La da de da de da da, ha whee a ho, ha whee a ho, ha whee a day...." 

All the other instruments try to break into the conversation—Dirty Deed on the piano, Mr. Jimmy on the trumpet, and Doo-Doo Bug on the trombone. Mr. Calloway on the giant fiddle and the Thug on the drums pound out a steady beat, "like someone's heart turned way up loud." In the end, though, it is Miss Thomas's voice and Steady's saxophone doing "the talking that you really [want] to listen to."

After a long, exciting spell of heavenly give-and-take, the vocalist sings out a few lines in real "American" words, and the music starts to fade, like the sound of rain and thunder "getting farther and farther away." Finally, there is "dead silence," which is broken only when Bud drops his mop and starts clapping as loud as he possibly can.

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Chapter 16 Summary


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