Some time ago Bill Evans, whom many people describe as a trombonist and bandleader, stood facing the rectangle of carpet his band occupies at Bennett’s Chop and Railhouse. The band’s last notes of the evening had died away a few minutes previous, and we were all packing up to head out onto the St. Paul winter streets. He seemed lost in thought, and I’m not sure he knew anyone overheard him when he said, “Imagine. Grown men doing this.”
I don’t know exactly what he was thinking; you’ll have to ask Bill. I feel fairly certain, however, he wasn’t setting an appropriate age for jazz playing. I don’t think he was implying that jazz is something adult men and women ought to grow out of. When he spoke those words, it recalled to me the feeling I get every time I leave my house to meet up with other proponents of the art. I will often say to myself with downright amazement, “I get to play jazz tonight!”
Let’s say I had a knock down, dragged out day. Let’s say the snow’s flying and the “Imagine-The-Worst” side of my brain envisions fans deciding upon hibernation over a night of music. Here’s what I tell myself: “It’s 2011, and I get to play jazz!” Then I leave my house and my life intersects with the lives of likeminded folk who happen to possess enough wherewithal to prop up instruments of their own, and before we know it we’re playing “Perdido Street Blues” 85 years after people first heard Lil Hardin Armstrong’s great tune on record. Or you're sitting out there in a Minneapolis café and get to hear Sidney Bechet’s “Premier Bal” on account of me and my cohorts. Or one night downtown the clever, clever lyrics of Noel Coward telling a cautionary Jazz Age tale gets delivered to your ears by a singer and her stalwart accompaniment. These scenarios make fantastic phenomena. I mean, what next? A group of people getting together to ride around on elephants, wear giant shoes and red noses, bicycle on wires two stories in the air and other such nonsense, just to give the rest of us some thrills and laughs?
My pie-eyed romance with the music does occasionally run up against the realities of less than idealistic work environments, management relations, clumsiness in my playing and the like. But if I move on to the next moment, my persistence invariably leads me to immersion in such soul-lifting stuff that I’ll always want to wake up the next day and do it again. Bill Evans has been persisting with that trombone of his for over fifty years. Imagine that grown man doing that.