Discover more from The Writings of T. Reilly
Let’s talk about music, and experience.
When I was in college, there was a corner dive spot as big as some living rooms. Narrow front end with a bar and some tables leading up to a wider back end with more tables and a cramped stage. This dive bar branded itself as a jazz club and surprisingly hosted quite a few notable talents within the genre.
Tuesday night, however, was Blues Night, and to top it off, open mic. There was a house band who played as a group until there were others to join in. There was a sign-up sheet. Write your name and instrument. The leader of the band would call out a name on the list and you would join the group. If you played the same instrument as one of the members of the house band, that representative would take a seat and let you fill in. The night was musicians for musicians, as in most patrons were musicians and the songs were a constant fluctuation of players coming in and out.
Ever Tuesday I attended, there was an old guy, at least in his eighties, who played trumpet. He was accompanied by a young woman, perhaps his granddaughter, who would write his name and instrument on the list. When it was time for the old man to play, she would set a chair on stage and help him to it. He would sit in the chair that was borrowed from one of the tables and the band would play a standard blues tune.
When it was time for the old man to play, the leader of the group would give a nod, and the old man would struggle to rise from that chair. I could almost hear the bones creak as he emerged from the seat. The ascent was slow and weary, but with passionate intent.
The first time I saw this, my take evolved within the motion of the old man. At first, I felt sympathy for a body worn passed its time. As he strained to rise with eyes fixed on the audience, sympathy transformed to adoration. All eyes upon the old man rising with a shiny brass trumpet, like a phoenix from the ashes, to be heard. And man could he blow.
One minute, he needed help getting onto the stage, and barely get to a standing position from sitting in that chair waiting his turn. But when the mouth piece met his lips, and trumpet extended out toward the audience, there was an instant light in his eyes, like years gone by were suddenly returned to the owner. Cheeks puffed up like a blowfish, and a force of nature was expelled from the bell of the instrument. The sound was strong and beautiful. If I closed my eyes, I could have been listening to Armstrong, Gillespie, Davis, Baker.
That was a long time ago and unless the old man has exceeded a world record for age and then some, he is probably long gone. I will never forget those open mic performances. For the art, passion for the art, the will to defy the body’s aging limitations because the art matters that much.