Monday, 28 February 2011

Give stuff away, change someone's life

In 1950 an offhand gift changed my life.  Some fellow who worked in a Bay Ridge music store, a jazz fan, was getting rid of stuff; I can't remember why.  Moving?  Purging?  He knew Dad, and he knew I had a budding interest in jazz.  (At the time, I'd heard more Erskine Hawkins than Coleman Hawkins.)  Dad and I went to his apartment and he gave me about twenty 78s from his collection.  "Odds and ends," he called them.  I remember them all, but these stand out:

-  An album of "Unissued Duke Ellington" from the 1930s, my first taste of Ellington.  My favorites were Blue Mood (Ellington later used the main strain for his celebrated Echoes of Harlem) and two small-group sides with Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, and Harry Carney: Tough Truckin' and Indigo Echoes.  (Could such masterpieces really have been unissued?)  I played these three sides obsessively for months, haunted by their beauty.  They still get to me.

-  An album of Bunny Berigan and Bud Freeman sides (some of which were cracked): Chicken and Waffles, You Took Advantage of Me, Blues, The Buzzard, Keep Smilin' at Trouble, and Tillie's Downtown Now.  I liked all the soloists, but Bunny's drive, ideas, and tone on the trumpet knocked me out.  So much so that I decided to make the trumpet my instrument.

It would be nice to report that this was the beginning of a rewarding career as a musician.  I did take trumpet lessons, and kept it up through high school orchestra. (What the Fort Hamilton Philharmonic did to Wagner's Rienzi overture was cruel, even to a louse like Wagner.)  I finally gave it up, flummoxed by triple-tonguing.  But those "odds and ends," those 78s given to me in 1950 were enough to steer me into a lifetime's worth of musical joy.

When you give a gift, or give stuff away, you never know what's going to be a life-changer for someone.  Brooklyn Girl and I were discussing this the other morning over coffee.  She was talking about giving away old clothes.  Think about it: some old suit or outfit might enable someone somewhere to dress properly for a job interview resulting in a job sufficient to send a son or daughter to college leading to a career in science or medicine resulting in...

"We're all connected," said Brooklyn Girl.  We are, in ways we can't possibly imagine.

At this point the conversation was getting a little eerie, and then the Twilight Zone music kicked in, so we decided it was time for breakfast.

1 comment:

  1. The person who wrote this post -- his name is unknown to me -- knows all there is to know about the joys of generosity reverberating through the world, it seems. For what is blogging except spending time and energy in loving giving-away-to-readers? And now I will think once again of Bunny Berigan, which thought is a great gift in itself. Yours in the sacred names of Berigan and of fiery foxes . . .