R - E - L - A - X
I love going to the beach. If you know me – more importantly, if you have seen me – I am probably in no need of tan. But I love love love the beach. Specifically, I love Ocean City, MD. I am in no way affiliated or paid by the OC Chamber of Commerce for this commercial break, but I love it over there. When my wife was a kid her entire family spent weeks there eating out, cooking in, playing on the beach, enjoying the boardwalk and spending family time together. And now 25 years later her kids get to do the same thing with her entire family. We go down and the family is a literal step out of time: activities include the grandkids and adults taking turns singing karaoke, I brought my keyboard and played a jazz happy hour set on the deck, we have guys/girls night out. We have a marvelous experience. The last memory we collectively have is of my wife’s grandfather enjoying his family before he passed away soon after.
Even in the midst of tourism and crowded beaches I am training myself to be still and enjoy the moment. The moments. They go by so fast, if you’re not sensitive to their appearance you’ll miss them. What are the moments in this music you remember? Who are the musicians – local or famous – that conveyed a thought, a feeling, an emotion so strong, they weren’t even making music; they created art? What are the songs that make you cry? What is the backstory behind that time you sat in a club, at a festival or experienced a live jazz event that moved you beyond words?
The beach is a constant reminder to me that if I’m not careful, I can miss the most important moments of my vacation. I’ll miss how angelic my wife looks when she falls asleep on a blanket. I won’t hear my 7-year-old giggle as he runs after a wave. I won’t be aware of how miniscule my world is compared with the enormity of the Atlantic Ocean. Perspective is a wonderful thing for us all.
I’m used to playing jazz gigs in a crowd. It doesn’t really bother me, as long as the crowd allows the band to be creative and they are rooting the music on. Some of my favorite jazz recordings are the live ones where you hear people talking, cheering, clapping and even singing along. I remember when the Miles Davis “Live at the Plugged Nickel” box set came out; I was mesmerized. It was like I was in the middle of the club, listening to Herbie and the cats deconstruct the music and put it back together again. You hear the gentle background noise of the people, the community. I love that! I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment, as I would take the crowd at the Caton Castle or Westminster Church in DC over a sterile club any day.
But lately I am noticing a trend: either patrons go out of their way to talk as loud as they can to overpower the music on a jazz gig, or the crowd is so 21st Century they are more interested in taking pictures and recording the gig on the phone than listen to the music they claim to love. Now, I can hear your criticism. You’re going to say, “oh you’re old…” (I am). “You’re not with the times…” (I’m clearly not, I play jazz). “You’ve obviously never heard of YouTube..” (I actually have – gives me the opportunity to watch all the Sanford & Son I can).
Hear me out:
Roy Haynes took his Birds of a Feather group on the road and Bhagwan, Al and I saw the group. It was heavenly. We were all in Switzerland at the Montreux Jazz Festival and that group played standards on such a high level. It was perfection. It was so good B started to record the gig so we could savor the music later, so we could close our eyes on the plane and get lost in the jazz as we flew home. Guess what?
We didn’t get lost.
I realized that what makes life and this music – this jazz music – so special is that it is in the moment. It is impacted by the intangibles. While Roy and Kenny Garrett and the boys were fantastic, the music was heightened because I was with my brothers B and Al whom I love dearly. It was special because I had never been to Switzerland before. It was special because I was so humbled God loves somebody like me so much that he would give me these amazing blessings. The digital audio can’t capture me smiling like a little kid. A mobile phone video can’t capture the heart or spirit of the music. A photo doesn’t capture what the band talking about minutes before they quoted a Michael Jackson song in their solos.
At the risk of being preachy, one of the most powerful verses in the Holy Bible is a verse that is often quoted and most ignored: “Be still and know I am God”. If you love the music and if you love the lives that are in it, Be Still and enjoy it in the moment. If you love the way Lenny Robinson’s drums feel when he swings, they way Allyn Johnson’s piano inspires, the way Tom Baldwin’s bass or Bruce Swaim’s saxophone takes you on a journey then Be Still and enjoy it. Don’t tweet it, post it, film it, instagram it or uploaded it. Just Be Still and experience it. Then tell everyone you know where you were yesterday and end your thoughts with the best thing you could ever say about an artist:
You had to be there.