While riding my bike the other day, I was thinking about the passing of the great Joe Temperley, which drew my thoughts to the following:
There have been many instances where “being there” has changed my whole perspective on music: musical moments so memorable that I can’t imagine ever forgetting them.
- Hearing Dizzy Gillespie play “‘Round Midnight” in the final year of his life. It was so frail, but so full of meaning and depth that it even reached an 18-year old who only liked higher, faster, and louder
- The Ray Brown Trio (with Jeff Hamilton and a young Benny Green) swinging so hard it was VISCERAL. I don’t remember what blues they were playing, but they used the shout chorus to Neal Hefti’s “Splanky” for their own shout chorus, and good LORD….
- Wynton Marsalis sitting in with my quartet at the Columbus Music Hall. Two things destroyed me that night: when he played “All the Things You Are” with all that crazy octave jumping that he does (trumpet players, you know what I’m talkin’ about), and when he played “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You” so warmly, so richly, that you could almost feel his sound wrapping around from behind you in a deep embrace.
- Branford Marsalis’ quartet playing “A Thousand Autumns” as a dedication in St. Louis in 2002, shortly after the sudden death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile.
- Hearing Joe Temperley absolutely *singing* Duke’s “Sunset and the Mockingbird”. There have been many great jazz baritone saxophonists (don’t let anyone tell you differently), but Joe was singular.
Obviously, jazz exists on a nearly unattainably high plain on the thousands of recordings we revere. And we should revere them, as those are the mighty shoulders we stand on. We obviously can’t go hear Louis Armstrong anymore. But we can’t lose the value of now. And not just the music of the folks at the top of the notoriety pile - the 1%, if you will. I still remember with great clarity the night I watched my friend, colleague, and drummer Daniel Faust become the real deal, seemingly before my very eyes (ears?) in a collegiate big band performance several years back. My dear friend Doug Wamble singing his William Faulkner suite. My partner-in-crime Brandon Lee absolutely stupefying the rest of the Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra and our audience with a solo of such beauty and clarity on “Dolphin Dance” that it still brings tears to my eyes and mind to think of it over a year later. Those moments stick with me, and they aren’t attached to a famous last name (yet). Those moments are only with me because I was there.
And speaking of Joe Temperley and “being there”…
A few years back, I was in London as part of an educational group during Jazz at Lincoln Center’s annual residency at the Barbican Centre. It was a surreal experience for me, for although my relationship with Wynton went back several years, I was now a (small) part of “the team”. I hold the members of that musical organization in incredibly high esteem, and to be working alongside them, even in an educational capacity…needless to say, I felt very out of place. I came down for breakfast one morning, and found my colleague Seton Hawkins seated having breakfast with Mr. Temperley, who I had met in passing several years earlier, but who had no reason to remember the encounter (and didn’t J). I joined them. Mr. Temperley, by this point an octogenarian who had played with everyone and seen and done everything, welcomed me into their conversation. He was reveling Seton (and now me) with stories of how he met Charlie Parker, and working with Duke Ellington. Imagine that…straight out of a history book. I made it a point each day after that to set my alarm, so I could “be there” for breakfast, should Mr. Temperley be there.
In honesty, I don’t remember much of the content of those stories, because I was so dumbstruck by the cast of characters. But I do remember this – Mr. Temperley treated me, a stranger for all practical purposes, with a kindness and patience that I will never forget. I’m sure it was fun to talk about Bird and Duke (and God knows who all else), but when you’re 82 years old and first thing in the morning, and trying to enjoy your breakfast? Grace.
And it was all because I made a point of being there.