Different Modes of Exploration #8: Music — Part 2
Curtis Fuller sits on the edge of his padded stool, almost standing. He pulls the trombone to his lips, a brass instrument as tall as he is, but surely not as full of life or history or musical genius. This is a musician who shared the stage with John Coltrane, and has laid down recordings in eight different decades. Some of the musicians on the band stand with him tonight are half his age, some audience members here at Dazzle are far younger. But all of us are eager, sitting on the edge of our seats, leaned forward, making sure we hear every note, and every space between every note, and every moment before those spaces.
Curtis improvises with carefully chosen phrases and an energy that makes you forget his age; it appears that he has found the fountain of youth positioned gently by our creator inside a jazz solo. And in that same fountain, he’s discovered humility, and not just drops of it. We only hear from Curtis a few select times during each song. In fact, on the second-to-last tune he doesn’t even draw the trombone until the final time down from the top. Some might blame this on his age.
But they are mistaken. Curtis is not looking for glory or fame, (though with his talent he could have it all), he’s looking to honor the music in the only way he knows how: by making it the center of attention. He recognizes that the five other musicians on stage have important notes to share, that as a sextet, they must work together to bring jazz to its fullest life possible. And those of us sitting on the other side of the lights are the beneficiaries, receiving the profound beauty that is art, that is music, that is jazz.
When they play a composition by Curtis called “The Maze” we are taken back to the 60s, when notes flew out of soloists in rhythmic and a-rhythmic, in tonal and a-tonal cacophonies of pure poetic profundity. As the trumpeter plunges into his solo, we are caught somewhere between Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis.
And I am freed from my own inaccurate deciphering of what’s what when the bass player rolls out a thundering line, instantly reminding me of a song my own jazz teacher, Marshal Hawkins, played at the last concert in which I performed. In the matter of mere moments, I’ve traveled the length of the last century, and the span of our country from California to New York, and to a little town called Denver in between.
Music, like wine and beer, and the very breath you’re taking right now, stores within its physical presence a time machine prepared to move us to the past, but most prepared to refocus us in the proverbial now, the unknown present. Curtis seems to be well-aware of this as he thanks the audience at the end of the set. He reminds us to love one another, to smile, to count our blessings, to appreciate every moment, every note. We can’t help but nod in agreement, and realize how often we ignore such a simple approach to life.
Whether in the melancholic hold of the trombone’s deepest note, or in the misty clouds on top of a mountain, or while sitting on a plastic chair, six-inches from the ground leaned over a bowl of Pho in Vietnam, happiness is not some long and grueling trek or travel or wander, it’s right here, before our very eyes.