Two nights ago, on New Year’s Eve, my wife and I found ourselves attending a party hosted by a close family friend. The guest list included my uncle and aunt, and a number of others that we had never met, all of whom were, give or take, thirty years older than us. I’m not much for parties, as a rule, and I tend to be more comfortable as a musical employee than as an invited guest. This affair was low key, however, and I was able to enjoy it in spite of my civilian status. There was a television in one corner of the room silently playing footage from the Times Square celebration, and one fellow guest, Eric, asked me if I, as a younger man, recognized the “musical” performers on the screen. (I had earlier pretended not to recognize Kelly Clarkson, saying she looked like an Iowa farmer’s daughter wearing a dress made out of fruit roll-ups. This did not go over particularly well with my wife, but I was and still am reasonably proud of it.) I responded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that I was a jazz musician, and I did not recognize anybody. What happened next shocked me. Eric explained to me that he is a jazz fan. My mind exploded. We conversed for a good half-hour about his favorite players of various instruments. He mentioned Coltrane and Bill Evans early on, and I knew that 2019 would be a good year. Names like Art Farmer and Cannonball Adderley emerged from his seemingly normal lips, and were followed up by stories of Eric taking his son to hear Jimmy Cobb and Louis Hayes in recent years. I nearly suffered a seizure. He told me about his newfound appreciation for Lester Young. Keeping my balance was proving increasingly difficult. We turned briefly to Jazz Messengers personnel over the years, and I was miraculously able to maintain consciousness, hanging on by a thread.
I think that I’ve become so used to only ever being able to discuss music with other musicians that hearing Eric’s clear enthusiasm for and knowledge about jazz and many of its important performers took me aback. A couple of days later, I still feel heartened after this interaction. I needed a reminder that there are people who actually care about this art form that matters so much to me, and yet suffers from such widespread apathy and deep ignorance in the country of its birth. If we could just grow the number of enthusiastic and curious listeners to 10% of the population, jazz musicians and jazz music could thrive without the burdens of institutional agendas aligned with universities and endowments. We have more than enough great musicians in the profession. What we need now are more engaged civilians.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments below. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!