The spirit of jazz is a powerful thing
Night before last, we had the pleasure of playing in Szczecin, Poland. (Shh-CHECH-in)
Our man, saxophonist, composer, organizer and cultural force, Sylwester Ostrowski and his wife Anna are presenting us. They are here doing it all: welcoming cats to the hotel, tidying the venue, bringing students to help with the check in, sound check and stage setup (and get some impromptu lessons)… Anna even got absolutely fancied up to elegantly host the concert from the stage.
In the morning, as we left, here they are at the hotel to see us off in the proper style with a familial feeling of warmth, concern and solidarity. The Spirit is everywhere.
That evening we played Mary Lou Williams’ “In the land of Oo-bla-dee” for the first time on this tour. The audience really enjoyed Vincent Gardner’s singing, and Mary Lou’s iconic arrangement gave us another opportunity to assert the contemporary vitality and continuing expressive possibilities in all periods of quality jazz. As we walked off the stage to enthusiastic, appreciative and generous applause, I looked to the cats playing the encores on our set list. Out of the blue Sherman said, “Man, people liked Vincent singing, why don’t y’all play Just a Closer Walk with Thee?” This is not typical, when Sherman suggests something it is normally, “Play a slow one man, let people hear your sound.” Vince said, “See if Chris (Crenshaw) will sing it.” Chris agreed…..and we went out there. Though we had never played it with Chris Lewis on clarinet, he said he would be cool with it. Mr. Crenshaw sang and soloed with such feeling and sincerity that Marcus Printup got a little full and followed him with an evocative and very personal Printupian solo. Carlos was also in the moment, playing fervently with depth and commitment. This Sunday evening performance of that old hymn had a special quality about it.
As I went to the dressing room, Carlos brought a lady and her mother down. They were thanking us for playing the song she had requested in a letter delivered before the gig. “But I haven’t seen a letter,” I replied just as they picked it, unopened, out of a light fixture outside the door. It read:
Hello, my name is Zuzana and I’m 23 years old. My late father Gregory who passed away 6 months ago because of cancer is the reason I’m writing this to you. He was an amazing musician. He played jazz and classical music and he was the principal of music school till his last days in my city Stargard which is 40 km from Szczecin where you play today.
His whole life was about music and he admired you since I was a kid. He played with your recordings and learned a lot of it. Nine years ago on YouTube we found your concert with great Eric Clapton. We especially loved “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” with Taj Mahal. He said to me, “I want this at my funeral.” And I did it. You gave us beautiful sounds of your hearts on his last path. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to be here with us. But I’m here with my mother Monica, who I know gonna think of him the whole concert and I wanted to give her a little present and make her smile. So I decided to try my best to contact with you and ask a big favour. Could you dedicate whatever song you like for my mother Monica and my dad who I’m sure gonna listen you with us ‘upstairs’ and just tell her to smile? This means a lot for me to give her this happiness for years.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for connecting me and my father’s mutual passion. He played clarinet and sax, and I play the violin and viola.
With best regards,
Meeting Zuza and her mother afterwards we were all moved by the appropriateness of what had happened and several of us commented: the Spirit is everywhere. I wish I could have made that public dedication but meeting in person was even more meaningful. Thank you Zuzana and momma Monica.
I wrote this as we were on the road to Hamburg to play in the magnificent Elbphilharmonie and now finish it on the road to Neuhardenberg for another swinging gig. Hallelujah!