Saturday, March 7, 2020

McCoy and the Rain

Awakening to a sound for sore ears—rain. In this new world where dread and epidemic uncertainty is the new norm, here is something we count on that we’ve been missing here in California and now it’s back. Such a welcome guest in this new day. 

I awoke from a dream about playing the Goldberg Variations on a piano while riding a bicycle and offering $5 to any kid who could correctly identify the song. Amongst my unorthodox teaching methods is paying kids to display knowledge, as I did yesterday with the 8thgraders standing outside of the SF Jazz Center looking at the large display of photos of jazz musicians on the building across the street. Dug in my pocket for change and ended up paying out 18 cents to three different kids (6 cents each)who correctly identified Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. (One of my favorite spontaneous intellectual bribes was telling my daughter Talia, then in high school, that I’d give her $10 if she could name the person in a photo in the book I was reading. Without missing a beat, she said, “Franz Kafka.” Apparently, she had just studied him in class. I took out my wallet and paid her on the spot.)

But ah, the 8thgrade. After some deep doubt when the “mirror of malicious eyes” (some admin folks) tried to paint an ugly interpretation of my unorthodox interactions with this class a month or so ago, I felt restored confidence that their hearts and minds are with me as I chaperoned them on a field trip to The Midsummer’s Night Dream SF Ballet performance. Time to informally chat with many of them one at a time as they sat sketching by City Hall, watched them play so joyfully like little kids at the playground there (I love this quality of playful innocence that our school helps keep alive), was impressed as 12 boys sat through the hour performance far away in the deep balcony in pin-drop silence. These kids give me so much hope and so much pleasure. 

At this time where large-group gatherings are being cancelled left and right, there we were out on the steps of the Opera House with 3000 kids bunched together. When fear rules the roost, logic flies out the window. Our school auction for next Saturday is cancelled, we’re holding our breath about the announcement when school might be closed, but somehow, it was okay for this big crowd to gather to watch Puck turn Bottom into a donkey and have all the four main characters love the wrong person until it all gets set right at the end. Go figure. 

And here I am, on retreat again in Marin County. Last week with my reunited nuclear family riding bikes, now with the 30-years-together men’s group cooking, drinking, eating, talking, joking, hopefully hiking, cooking again. And again. These guys love to cook and love to eat. It is good to be together in this virus-time where isolation is the watchword.

Yesterday, I learned that jazz pianist McCoy Tyner passed away at 81. That used to sound like a ripe old age, but with our eldest men’s group member just turned 80, it’s uncomfortably close to home. I was a big McCoy fan in my early jazz appreciation days, especially his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and am proud to announce that I saw him live at the long-defunct Keystone Korner in San Francisco. So now the sky is weeping at his passing, the French toast is being prepared for breakfast and a new day has dawned worthy of our full capacity for gratitude and our full determination to do something worthy, even if it be just hang out with a bunch of guys for two days. I’ll leave the last word to McCoy. When asked how he achieved such prominence in the Coltrane group, he replied:

To put it simply, it was the fact that I played in a great band…we functioned like one person. It wasn’t like we were four guys on stage doing his own particular kind of thing. In other words, it had to be in relationship to the total. To me, it’s a wonderful way to not only think, but behave. I think to create civility in life and society itself, you must think of yourself in relationship to other people.

R.I.P McCoy Tyner.

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