Monday, April 17, 2006

SF Jazz, Karma & Human Nature


Attending a concert at SF Jazz is always a pleasure – a momentary release from the hard driving pressures of an engaging life in interesting times.

Sometimes you get more than you bargained.

This was my third SF Jazz Collective experience and each has been a memorable evening of masterful musicians finding their groove and driving it home. The concert, featuring director Joshua Redman (sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Nicolas Payton (trumpet), Miguel Zenon (sax, flute), Andre Hayward (trombone), Renee Rosnes (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), performing original compositions and selected works of Herbie Hancock, was superb.

Jazz played well has the power to take you to a distant landscape where none of the rules apply. It is structured anarchy, ordered disorder, and harmony in the realm of discord.

Jazz is the music of dissent and rebellion. As chronicled, it was the rhythm of the Velvet Revolution in Prague. Jazz was condemned and banished by the imperial overlords of the Soviet empire before the fall, fearful that it would lead to independent thought. Jazz is why white America could not discount the cultural and intellectual contributions of black America. Jazz is the heartbeat of the nation – its pride and its mystery – and jazz is why we can never forget what happened to New Orleans – not in a million years.

But the legacy of jazz was not what preoccupied my mind as I drove the moonlit highways home Saturday night. It was what happened before and after the concert.

As concert time approached, I was still circling off Van Ness, trying to find a parking lot. I found one close to the theatre but it was unattended and the machine refused to accept my money. A gentleman in ragged clothes approached to offer assistance. I hand him my bills and watched him fiddle with the machine unsuccessfully. He told me, if I was in a hurry, he would take care of it.

As I locked my car, I saw a sign above the entry, warning me not to trust anyone posing as an attendant. I said to the man: “You’re sure? They’re not going to tow my car, are they?” He waved me off and gave assurances.

I walked on to the theatre, figuring that I would have hell to pay. Once before, I had my car towed in San Francisco. Worse than the fees and fines are the hours of waiting in a cold and frigid building that slowly and inevitably drags you down to a level of mutual misery.

I managed to shake off the distraction, the second-guessing, the dread of that probable experience long enough to enjoy the concert. When the encore was finished, the gloom descended as I made my way to the car.

A gentleman in rough if not ragged clothes asked me if I could afford a handout. I told him truthfully I had no more ones. He offered “three for five” and I replied truthfully I had no fives. He said it was his birthday and he was thirty-six years old.

He summoned the number nine (those who understand will understand, those who don’t will not) and I offered up a ten.

Resuming my walk, I wondered if it was karmic test.

I found my car where I had parked it – much to my amazement. The gentleman who had promised to take care of it had kept his word. He found an old parking pass and placed it on my windshield. Apparently, it did the trick.

I wanted to thank him but he was not to be found. Anyway, it might be a little awkward.

Lessons learned. You cannot judge a man by his costume or station in life.



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