I recently watched the movie Don’t Think Twice for the second time. (Call me oppositional.) It’s a fictional, inside peek at what it’s like to be part of a group of friends that is also a struggling comedy improv troupe.
One of the themes of the movie is “living in the moment,” — an important element when you’re on stage in front of a live audience, trying to be witty without a script. It made me think about how scripted my life has been up until now. In fact, a big part of my job for the past twenty years has been reading scripted test instructions to kids. The scriptedness of my career is one of the reasons I decided to retire this month. Whew! I’d had enough of that. But now what?
I did make a sort of plan. The first two items on my list were to visit family 2,000 miles away and to be there for my grandson’s second birthday. I flew from Tucson to Montreal, just across the border from where my sister Sue lives. We spent the next three days practicing our French, eating pastries, and laughing it up in Vieux Montréal. I then traveled by train to Albany for a visit with Mom, sister Amy, and sister Lisa. Next on the agenda was renting a car and driving to Rochester for some quality time with daughters Erica and Katie, grandson Porter, and a few old friends. Mission accomplished, and still accomplishing, as I have about a week left here and am looking forward to a full day at the zoo or at the Museum of Play with Porter tomorrow.
What I hadn’t planned on was that the Rochester Jazz Festival would be taking place simultaneously with my visit. This trip has turned into a wonderful chance for me to practice living in the moment, and what better way to do that than in the company of jazz, the ultimate medium of improvisation. I want to tell you about the show I heard last night.
But first, to give you an idea of how my life has become sort of random lately (and I’m loving it), here’s what happened yesterday:
-Woke up, decided to skip breakfast and dashed off to a yoga class.
– Made a split-second decision to go to Mt. Hope Cemetery to take a picture of Susan B. Anthony’s grave stone. Drove in without a map, headed for the older section. Couldn’t find the stone. Started driving out through the confusing web of winding roads in the old section, and by chance I took the very road that led to her grave.
– Met my good friend Alex for lunch, had Ethiopian food, which was about as spontaneous as lunch gets. There was one big platter of various unidentified foods, scooped up with torn pieces of spongy bread, and Ethiopian coffee brewed with beans that they had just roasted in their kitchen. We had decided against ordering the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, because it cost about $15. It was misspelled on the menu as Coffee Ceremoney — which we thought was hilarious.
– Treated myself to an unplanned cup of coffee and a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie at my favorite little coffee shop in town (Canaltown Coffee Roasters).
– While savoring my pie and caffeine (and maybe because of it), I decided to check out a jazz show that was happening — I thought — at Java Joe’s. After finding a decent place to park downtown and standing in line to pay for said parking, I walked the six blocks to Java Joe’s, only to discover that the show was at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters instead. I thought it was just a few doors down, but after consulting with Googlemaps (who needs the right side of your brain when you have Googlemaps?) I discovered that I’d be walking two miles to get there. So it was back to the paid parking lot, out of the parking lot, and on to Joe Bean.
– I finally arrived at my destination, paid the $5 cover charge, sat down, and heard the last few notes of the band’s final song. The next group wouldn’t be on for another hour. Not a problem. I decided to stay for the second act, the Tyrone Allen II Quartet, about whom I knew nothing. But with my new, retired life ahead of me, I was starting to experience a wonderful sense of freedom. Why not stay? What else did I have to do?
I ordered a glass of wine (not coffee!), and entertained myself with a crossword puzzle and an Italian grammar book (that’s a whole other story). While waiting, the strains of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be heard over the cafe’s sound system. How ironic, since I had just been reading about that song the previous night in a book I’d found in my rental house (How to Listen to Jazz by Jerry Coker).
The wait was well worth it. So worth it, in fact, that I’m having trouble finding the words to describe how good this group was. They were young — all recent graduates of the Eastman School of Music — but extremely talented. I was so blown away that it was probably noticeable. When I left, two folks in the crowd who appeared to be the bass player’s parents waved goodbye to me. I think they saw me picking my jaw up off of the floor during the performance. The bass player, Tyrone Allen II, was their modest leader who played several sensitive and interesting solos. The drummer, with the happy name Daniel Sunshine, was lively yet cool. On electric keyboards was Andrew Links, musical, experimental, out there, yet blending perfectly in the mix, and I loved watching his mouth move while he played. And out in front, on sax, was Rowan Wolf, who looks like he could still be in high school but plays like an old soul. And fast! His fingers were a blur at times.
If yesterday was any indication, I’ll be doing a lot of improvising myself from now on. And listening to last night’s free-form jazz was the right way to get started.