Layers of meaning – Part Two

After our serendipitous visit to the famous (but previously unknown to us) music store, Stein on Vine in Hollywood (the “Vine” being the same street, by the way, of “Hollywood and Vine” fame), we headed back to my in-law’s house.

We gathered my wife’s parents into the living room and reminded them that our function while down there was in part to provide a diversion from concerns about my mother-in-law’s upcoming surgery. I could read a combination of curiosity and skepticism on their faces.

Then, my son Sumner emerged wearing the baritone saxophone we’d just rented. (You don’t carry a bari sax; you wear it, strapped on with a harness that we jokingly note looks like a training bra). Quickly, the story spewed forth in excited words regarding the reason for getting the sax, how we found it, the discovery of Gary and Michelle’s store, all the jazz greats that have been there, etc.

Everyone was then talking at once, asking questions, telling their version of it as if Christmas has arrived unexpectedly ten months too soon. But the real treasure of this day came later that evening when Sumner did his concert for them.

He spent the rest of the afternoon out in the garage practicing so no one could hear him. And then, after dinner, the performance began.

The big performance for grandparents: Sumner on bari sax and Connor on piano

He played some songs new to his grandparents and some very familiar to them, for they have loved jazz all their lives. At one point, my son Connor got on the piano and joined Sumner in a 12 bar blues improvisation. As they were playing together, my father-in-law leaned over to me and whispered, “There is nothing you could ever have done for us better than this.”


The next day, we invited my father-in-law to join us as we returned the sax to Stein on Vine. We arrived there and immediately, he and Gary got into lively discussions on various musicians, concerts, bands and memories, a shared passion for the music and the entire sub-culture of the jazz world.

Gary Chen and my father-in-law comparing notes on jazz

As we event prepared to leave, I asked Gary who the “greats” of jazz were today. Wistfully, he noted that while there are numerous talented musicians playing today, all of the greats from the past shared the experience of having come up through the Big Band era.

Even artists like John Coltraine who were known more for their solo or small group work, trained with the big bands. That environment, that fusion of ideas and practice, of spark and response in a large band context just isn’t available today. It belongs to an era that will likely never occur again.

As Gary commented on this, I realized that such is the case for those of us who travel.

The past and the future intersect on this day at Stein on Vine

Moments like this one, this combination of discovery, of new relationships and connections to common interests and joy, these are fleeting moments. We can mourn their passing or we can celebrate them, realizing that such is the nature of travel, life and even jazz. We can’t hold onto these magical moments or replicate them in the future. Like a jazz improvisation perfectly played, we can’t repeat what was never meant to be more than ephemeral.  

But we don’t have to.

We can simply enjoy them and rest in the knowledge that the One who orchestrates such meaningful moments will bring us other such experiences in our travels and in our lives. And we can trust that the timing for such moments will be perfect.

Sort of like this past day in LA.

Sort of like jazz.

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