True story, just happened: The cashier at my Brooklyn Shop Rite supermarket asks, “Who’s that on your shirt?”
I glance down at my tee, not recalling what I threw on this morning. “Louis Armstrong.” I see it’s one from the Jazz Institute of Chicago, a print of Gary Borreman’s painting of Pops as he looked circa 1928 — newsboy cap, big grin, chubby cheeks, suit and tie and proudly held trumpet.
“I’d like to meet him,” says this pretty young black woman, maybe 23.
“You don’t know who he is?” She shrugs, nah. I teach jazz, blues, etc. to non-music students at New York University, and some of them sign up for class knowing little, but I usually assume everybody in America has heard of Armstrong.
Wrong. Assume nothing. “He was a great musician — a trumpet player, who basically invented jazz as it is today — and a great entertainer, with a long career,” I tell her.
“Oh, sounds nice,” she says. “I studied flute once. Or clarinet.”
“Why did you stop?” Thinking, “Maybe you haven’t. . . ”
“It was just something I did in junior high school,” she says. “Band class or something. It was okay while it lasted, but I wouldn’t do it again.”
“Why not? I just came from practicing my flutes — I ride my bike out to someplace quiet, and practice for a few minutes, most days,” I say.
“That must be relaxing.”
“Well, it feels good,” I allow. “It’s fun, and give me something to work on.” Like I need another thing to work on. But I do find it fun.
“Oh,” she says.
“You must have something like that in your life, don’t you?” I prompt her.
“No, not really, nothing like that,” she replies, handing me a receipt for my purchases. I’m bagging the stuff myself. “Just work and school, then I go home. That’s all.”
“Too bad,” I sympathize. “Where are you studying? And what?”
“In college — childhood education,” she answers.
“Great,” I say. She intends to teach. “Good luck with that.”