Just like my father used to tell me music is all in the mind. If you feel kind of down and sad, the music will come out slow tempo and mournful sounding. If you feel excited and happy the music will be upbeat and joyful. As musicians our instruments are a direct extension of our being. We plug the guitar into our emotions and out comes the amplified product through the speaker. My dad was a great Jazz player. He told me long ago that he was inspired to play when his father had taken him to a Charles Mingus concert. Mingus was truly a Jazz great.
He had an amazing capacity for piano and bass. He also wrote some touching pieces of music during a turbulent time in the United States. He was the author of such pieces as, “Freedom”. A song that expresses the desire for those that feel marginalized, on the fringes of society to be free. His words and music hit an emotional chord with people. It was one that stuck with my father, he told me it was when he heard Charles Mingus playing this song that something in his soul ached for the freedom that he spoke of in his performance. And not just freedom granted by a society, it was deeper than that. Just the freedom to be yourself, to not worry about what others think of you, it was his search for this freedom and identity that drew my father into the arms of music.
He was a jazz player extraordinaire. I still remember going to see him at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis. That was his favorite place in town to play. He knew all the regular players and that frequented the outfit. He had been a part of the house band there off and on for about 30 years. And he never missed a Wednesday Open Jam night. He especially loved seeing the younger crowd of musicians coming to try out for the first time. A lot of college kids from nearby Butler University would often pop in and my dad would serve as their musical mentor. He would show them all the tricks of the trade.
The Jazz Kitchen was his favorite, and it was the last place that he played. He played his last concert there two weeks before he passed away. My dad a ten year cancer survivor had been slowly deteriorating over the past few years. The cancer had begun in the roof of his mouth in 2010 and after its removal it just kept reemerging in his and our lives. In 2005 it progressed to lung cancer, he pushed very hard to get through it and took aggressive chemo therapy to keep it at bay.
But even though the cancer was making him weaker and weaker, he never missed his showing at the Jazz Kitchen. We always knew my dad pushed himself to be there and he wouldn’t miss it for a minute. And sometimes when I visit the Kitchen I still feel him there as well. That Jazz Kitchen was the place where he found the freedom he first heard Charles Mingus talking about.