I spend so much time seeing plays and musicals these days that I don’t get to spend nearly enough time doing anything else. When I went to the Blue Note on Sunday night to hear Pat Metheny and Larry Grenadier, I realized with a start that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to a nightclub. Such is the paradoxical fate of the erstwhile generalist who mutates into a specialist in midlife: it’s immeasurably rewarding to immerse yourself in a single discipline, but it cuts you off from all sorts of other good things.
Fortunately, I bobbed to the surface in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, for Metheny and Grenadier gave the kind of performance that you’re lucky to see a half-dozen times in your life, totally focused and hypnotically involving. It was ecstasy-making to watch them move with nonchalant grace from “Bright Size Life,” the song in which Metheny helped codify the language of fusion thirty-seven years ago, to an oblique, near-abstract, hard-swinging blues, sounding equally at ease in both tunes.
I had the good luck to be seated ten feet from the bandstand, and to be sitting with Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh, two old friends who are themselves jazz musicians of the highest accomplishment. (I wrote the liner notes for Julia’s first album, which was co-produced by Kerry, her husband.) All three of us know Pat a bit, and we got a chance to chat with him after the show, which was almost as much fun as hearing him play. He is the nicest and most modest fellow imaginable–you’d never guess that he’s also one of the most important and influential jazz guitarists of the postwar era–and it was pure pleasure to catch up and swap stories.
Listening to Sunday’s performance had a stirring effect on me. As I said to Julia and Kerry afterward, “That wasn’t a set–it was a way of life.” For me, of course, it was a reminder of the way of life that I practiced many years ago, and to which my friends have consecrated their own lives. I like to call myself a recovering musician, a line that rarely fails to get a laugh, perhaps because there’s a certain amount of truth in it. I wrote about that in this space five years ago:
Somebody asked me once if I were a frustrated musician. “No,” I said, “I’m a fulfilled writer.” But that doesn’t mean I never think about what might have been, much less what used to be. The way I feel about having once been a musician is not unlike the way some reformed alcoholics feel about booze. They know they can’t live with it anymore, but they also know how much they liked it, and they remember, as clearly as if it were this morning, how good that last drink tasted. I remember, too.
Needless to say, my playing days are over. I’m a full-time writer now, for better or worse, and I feel even more fulfilled now that my professional life encompasses both criticism and writing for the stage. Nor do I regret having chosen to fling myself into the world of theater, whose endless bounty feeds my soul far more than adequately. But as I packed my bag and prepared to fly to San Francisco, where I’ll be seeing Kevin Spacey in Richard III tomorrow night, I found myself feeling no less grateful for having had the chance to dip my toe into the once-familiar stream of jazz again, if only for a night. It was good to be home.
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Bill Evans plays “Time Remembered”: