Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Over the Rainbow

It was an ambitious plan. Fifteen 8th graders who had just come home that morning from Nicaragua at 1 a.m. were signed up with select parents to go to Yoshi’s Jazz Club with me to hear Jane Monheit sing selections from the Judy Garland songbook. Whether the kids were jet-lagged or genuinely mesmerized by her voice and warm stage presence (probably a combination of both), they were beautifully attentive and I felt so proud of them. Loved how they almost jumped out of their seat when Jane started singing “the Sunnyside of the Street,” which they had recently performed. A “Hey, that’s our song! “ moment. And again when they recognized “I Got Rhythm.” The pleasure we all feel when we know something and recognize what the folks in the limelight deem worthy of recognition. A good reminder of what education is—passing on that which is worthy of remembrance and recognition.

Ms. Monheit brought the house to a pindrop silence with her “Embraceable You” duet and again with— of course— “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” two songs I had recently included in my Mom’s Memorial Service. Gave them both another layer of meaning and along with recognition comes that sense of meaning that a song or a story or a piece of art has for us. A meaning that grows or diminishes in time, that changes as we grow and change. And this time around, a special meaning for me when she reached the lines “and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

This Friday, a dream I’ve long held will have another moment of coming true as I play with my Pentatonics quintet (plus one). I’ve somehow managed to give a concert once a year or so in a charming little hall in the place I got my first job in San Francisco—the Community Music Center. For years, I hired a bass player and a drummer, rehearsed once before the concert and off we went. Afterwards, I usually felt good about some moments and knew how much more time I needed to play in a trio as opposed to the solo practice I do in my living room. And I wondered what it would be like to play with a group for an extended period of time and perform often.

One important word in that “Over the Rainbow” lyric— dare. Anybody can dream, but to have a worthy dream that’s deeply tied up with your destiny takes a great deal of daring. Why? Because of the vulnerability of failure. What if I played with a group every day and I didn’t get much better? Easier to say, “Well, if I wasn’t so busy teaching kids, just imagine how good I could be in a jazz band!” But to really commit to it takes daring and risk.

Not that I’ve quit my day job. Nor are the Pentatonics rehearsing more than once every few months or so. But after two years of it, it’s starting to kick in for me and our last two rehearsals were thrilling. And so tiptoeing up to 63 years old, it looks like my joke about being a “jazz pianist” when I grow up is starting to get a little serious.

Again, thousands of more hours that I probably don’t have to really do it justice, but that’s only on the “compare myself to other accomplished pianist’s” yardstick. The more important thing is that this instrument, this musical style, this particular group of people, is starting to speak the syntax of my way of living and loving the world.

Those who live nearby, come hear for yourself this Friday night. If you don’t like it, I will continue. If you like it, I will continue. Of course, it matters to me that it communicates, but the deepest communication is not whether you like a particular combination of sounds, but whether you recognize both the daring and the discipline. From my end, all that matters is that I inch closer to the dream I’m meant to dream and dare to dream it closer to the far end of the rainbow. That’s where the pot of gold lies—in the risk, in the effort, in the perseverance in the face of every reason to stop and lower the bar. Come bear witness on Friday— I think you’ll be glad you did.

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