Dancers in Love

This past weekend I was playing a trio gig with my friends Steven Heffner on the bass and Scott Kitchen on drums. As the end of the gig was approaching I looked at my band-mates and asked: “Any requests?” meaning: “Are there any tunes we haven’t played yet tonight that you’d like to play before we wrap this up?”

There were three couples, all over 50, maybe over 60, seated very near the band and one gentleman immediately spoke up. “Can you play The Nearness of You?”

For a split-second I was irritated. I was clearly not asking the audience for requests. I looked at him. He seemed nice enough. The irritation passed. “Well, we don’t have it in our regular repertoire, but I think I have the music for it here. Let me take a look…” As I pulled out the Real Book Steven confirmed that the chart was indeed in the book and proceeded to sing the first few bars as he often does.

Then I hear the man say, “I guess I’d better get my feet moving.” With that, he started shuffling his feet around. Getting his circulation going I guess. I glanced suspiciously over the the top of the book wondering what in the hell he was up to.

After flipping through the book for a few seconds I find the page and examine the music looking at the key, the form, and generally checking for any difficulties that might pop up along the way. I’d probably only played the song a handful of times. It looked easy enough. I put the book on the stand and look up. By now the man is standing and he proceeds to address the room. I usually don’t like when people do this sort of thing. You never know what they are going to do or say, especially after a few drinks. I wish I could remember what he said word-for-word, but this was the gist of it:

“The song “The Nearness of You” was something that we heard on our very first date.” He motioned to his wife, who was still seated. “That was a long time ago now. We’ve been together ever since and whenever we hear the song, we dance.”

Nothing more was said. We began to play and the couple found a space in in the room to begin their dance. I think everyone was touched by their tenderness. The song really was an easy one but it was beautiful too. After playing all night together the trio locked up as if we had rehearsed for this moment. Because I was basically sight-reading I could only see the couple moving out of the corner of my eye. My heart melted as I played. I felt so blessed to be able to provide music that was obviously very meaningful to them. Most of the time it’s difficult to know whether or not music has any on significant impact on an audience. At least for this one song I knew that that my playing really touched someone.

I wish it could be like that every time.

Note: The title “Dancers in Love” is also the name of a Duke Ellington Composition.

A Little Story From David Wilcox

I’m looking forward to seeing David Wilcox in Columbus this fall. Here’s something I ran across on his website:

Such a simple question: what kind of music do you play? Well, um, can I tell you a story? OK.

Once upon a time in a faraway land there was a huge debate between all the possible political candidates so everyone could judge for themselves who was best to lead the country. Unfortunately, they judged the speakers the way they judge musicians. They grouped them into genres by the sound of their speech. The ones who had a slight Southern twang were put it in one category, and the ones who had a little New York edge to their phrases were put into another category, and the ones who had that Midwestern plains sound were put in another category. If you asked somebody what was said or what the candidates stood for, the only answer you’d get was: Ah, he sounded like he was from Maine, or: Oh, that guy was from Oklahoma, as if that described the speech that was delivered. Were people really not hearing the meaning? Were they only hearing the sound? When you ask: “What kind of music is that?,” Isn’t the question more about what it does to your heart and mind? What about the ideas and emotional assumptions that were sung? How did it inspire your imagination or affect your sense of wonder? But maybe in our made-up little story about the political candidates, the truth is that most people aren’t looking beyond their desire to listen to someone who’s from the place that they call home. I always wanted music to move me, but maybe for most people, the purpose of music is not about how it moves your heart and mind but rather just its ability to make you feel comfortable sitting where you are.

-David Wilcox