It’s 4 am on the last day of my 64th year. I’m awake with jet lag, but also the reverberations of a glorious day of music and teaching. Yesterday we played, sang and danced in my Jazz Course, so joyfully, so happy to hit the bad guys on the head with our rolling pin and then step back, baby, step back, so thrilled to unfold the road map of the blues and start traveling down that lonesome road in company with each other, so willing to feel the full measure of our voice singing out some grief and pain and the poetry of sorrow and then transform it all into the Duke Ellington notes of jubilation. 9 am to 4 pm, a full day of nothing but pleasure and conviviality, keeping our troubled minds deep in the backpack, shooing away our doubts and voices whispering “can’t” to us, chasing away despair and grabbing helplessness with both hands and open declaring, “I’m in charge here.” Our brains were buzzing with the math of music come alive, our hearts were humming, our feet were tapping, the full glory of awakening that jazz invites, a wholly alive and alert human being come out from the corner of its hiding into the bright sunshine of its promise.
At the end of the day’s teaching, I stepped into the phone booth like Superman and changed into my suit and headed for my gig at the Palace Hotel and from 5 to 9, stepped into the next refreshing waters of piano, bass and sax. Not just playing changes and each of my fellow players going through the motions of the 32 bar solo like someone giving their predictable opinion at a school staff meeting, but diving down into the deeper waters where the luminescent fish light up a seldom seen world with the light of their own being. My fellow divers Joshi and Sam have spent enough time conversing together that when we play, the three-ness of us becomes the we-ness of us, one voice with three interlocking parts. Some Jazz Course folks out there at the tables enjoying their time together with wine and snacks, but also listening beyond background and letting us know with their Amens when we took them to a good place.
And so I spent the day and when I finally got home at 10 pm and did the little rituals of attending to business and closing out the day, my skin was still tingling, my heart still in the jazz groove, my energy closer to the 4-year old than an old guy 60 years later. Music has that power to charge you and light you up and keep your engine running and thrumming without an outlet and a plug, without ravaging the Middle East for oil. Yes it does.
Young Paul McCartney could only envision the tottering old man shuffling along in his pajamas, hoping that someone would still pay enough attention to need and feed him. But on my last day of that mythological year, another day of joyful teaching before me, another romp with my fellow Pentatonics band in a concert for kids, I imagine I’ll feel the same tonight as I did last night, 4 am awakening be damned!
Maybe Paul was speaking directly to music when he asked “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?” Well, yes, there’s a thought, we need music, but music also needs us. Without our attention and time and discipline, music itself would lie mute and hibernating and as much as we need music to feed us and nourish us and refresh us with all its flavors and textures, it also needs us to feed it with our commitment and dedication. Think about that for a moment.
Like everyone, I don’t love the way 64 is marching to 74 and fates willing, 84 and beyond, but if I have the privilege of marching onward, it might as well be with a loose-limbed jazz stride rather than a soldiered goose-step or a shuffling stoop to the walk. Whatever else we love about youth, there was no way I could teach the classes I teach today with the full measure of my body and heart and soul when I was 24 or 34 or 44, no way I could play with the hard-won freedom of swinging on the 88’s, no way I could say what I say with the authority the years have granted and the freedom to not care if I look cool or am offending someone. Our culture has no understanding whatsoever of the gift of being an elder, just all the lame jokes.
So this my ode to the way music walks you down the aisle and marries you to the elder you might become. Either you’re an older or an elder and music is one of the things that will make the difference.