For the love of Joe
And so we leave Italia by way of the A12 highway. Stuck in traffic entering Genoa at 8:30 on a Monday morning, we have plenty of time to savor the majestic mountainous splendor, the sweeping Mediterranean, and the hard-earned elegance of the Italian landscape with its diversity of hardy trees and shrubs punctuated with weather-worn houses of various rectangular shapes dressed in warm tones from olive to pink topped with triangular, terra cotta tiles glistening in the sun.
Today, Fernando and I have the pleasure of the Great Frank Stewart's company as this is an 8 hr drive and, though Fernando doesn't need a second, it's always good to be in Frank's company. Both men are not given to too much chatter, so there will be a lot of space for contemplation.
I'm glad Frank is on my last drive of these two months of touring because we silently acknowledge the grueling travel of the American tour and assess each other's state of health, sanity, and fitness as a barometer of toughness.
Questions of "How's your old ass holding up?" are met with a wry laugh that is musical in it's complexity of meanings from recognition to resignation to regeneration. We admit to fatigue while implying 'not as tired as you MF'. It's a very 'inside' type of inane masculine pride that is measured by the ability to sleep 3 or 4 hours a night in a car for 34 of 40 days and still execute your actual job as if walking the dog. (Fernando takes a vacation from running his travel company to enjoy weeks of sleepless night driving and carrying bags while conducting his everyday business all over the world). HaHa!
You have to love AND embody what you do (that's what he says), and Frank says it to with his omnipresent camera at his side. "You have to live this bruh." If this summer was about anything for us as a band, besides endurance and consistency.
It has been about Joe.
Joe Temperley is 80 something years old (he hates you mentioning it) and has dealt with every step of this onerous schedule without a single word of complaint or moment of irresolution on or off the bandstand. We all ask," You ok?" to which he grouchily responds, "Fine! I'm fine." We are acutely aware of his love for this music and for this band and the sacrifices he makes for both. Every time he plays his horn, it is with a depth of expression and dedication instructional to all of us. His legendary sound has taken on even more humanity, integrity and gravitas as these years progress. Last night, in Follonica, his solo on Victor's arrangement of Limbo Jazz was lengthy…and significant—aflame with urgency, inventiveness and pure joy. He had requested the rhythm section swing on his solo, and they laid it out for him. Meat and potatoes.
Marcus turned to the trumpet section after about the 3rd chorus and looked like he was getting full, "Damn! His playing always makes me happy." We all quietly 'Amenned' him. (Skysor doesn't allow too much overt demonstrating in his section). "Put it into the playing.". After the gig, we stood around in that unchoreographed circle that always forms, talking about Joe and how much he has taught us on this tour….. and in general.
We love and respect him in the deepest way AFTER 25 years of playing with him. He continues to show us that this road and this music demand everything you have; that there is a sacred dimension to playing that requires many layers of sacrifice; that quality time and meaningful times are not promised to any of us; that great situations for the actual playing of jazz are rare; and that you best be totally present when it's time to play.