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jazz — The Meaningful Traveler


Magic, music and Montreal – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 19, 2011

Just Sumner, me and several hundred of our closest newfound friends at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

In Part 1 of this series, we saw that I wasn’t as wild about jazz as I’d like to be. In Part 2, I told of a trip to New York as a teenager that was magical for me, but mostly a soggy trial for my parents. And through it all, I’ve raised the question of how these two issues relate and why I would want to spend time this summer at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Here’s the scoop.

I went to the jazz festival not because I like jazz, but because my son Sumner does. You may recall the story of Stein on Vine and Sumner’s surprise baritone saxophone performance for his grandparents. That was just one manifestation of his passion for this music.

When we found out we would be in Montreal this summer during the famous Jazz Festival, I was just as excited – well, almost – as Sumner was to try and catch at least one or two shows there.

The festival runs for a few weeks with multiple performers playing at various venues in a central area. The music goes non-stop from afternoon to late in the evening. Thus, while we weren’t able to make any big name performances (we were traveling with my parents and my brother’s family, so time with them took priority), we did catch some wonderful acts in the afternoon on two days.

There we were, Sumner enraptured by a big band performance, oblivious to everything else around him and me, well, I was enjoying it for reasons other than the music.

I wasn’t thrilled to be standing – there are no seats for most performances – in the hot afternoon sun, surrounded by hundreds of other perspiring bodies. But that didn’t matter. We were there together, my son and I and all these other strangers who, for that moment, weren’t total strangers.

Like a jazz ensemble itself, we came together for a time and were all part of that performance, swaying almost as one to the rhythm, smiling and nodding to each other like old friends after a particularly accomplished solo.

As I stood there with this crowd, I thought back on my trip to New York and my parents accompanying me through the rain to the various magic stores and the Broadway performance. And then it struck me.

Was I now just modeling something I’d seen my parents do for me? Putting their own interests aside because they knew how much the experience meant to their son? Perhaps. But it’s not that simple.

Or maybe it is.

Maybe what I realized there in Montreal was something that lies at the heart of being a parent and is central to meaningful travel: Our best trips – our best selves – aren’t necessarily found in pursuing what we think we most enjoy.

Instead, we find a deeper satisfaction, perhaps even a reluctant joy, in seeing the delight of another and knowing that we made it possible. It’s an act that is both simple and yet not easy to pull off, all about us yet not about us at all. Sort of like a certain form of music.

I’m beginning to like jazz.

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Magic, music and Montreal – Part 2

by Steve Brock on September 14, 2011

Last time we saw that I wished I liked jazz more than I do. So then, why would I go out of my way to attend the Montreal Jazz Festival this summer?

The answer lies within another trip taken when I was 14.

At that age, my family took a trip to the East Coast. One of the highlights – at least for me – was our time in New York City.

This photo taken on a trip to NY many years later reflects the vibrancy of the city, but none of the magic that rainy day when I first visited Manhattan.

Back in The Journey to the MagicCastle– Part 1, I explained my passion for magic as a teenager. Hollywood may have had Hollywood Magic and The Magic Castle, but New York had Al Flosso’s and Louis Tannen’s, two of the most famous magic shops in the country. You can read the history of Al Flosso’s (the oldest magic store in the US which was at one time owned by Houdini) here.

So when we found out we were going to New York, I begged my parents to go to these two stores, both of which were in mid-town Manhattan. They agreed.

What, in their minds, should have been a quick in and out of some specialty store for their son became a journey of Odyssean proportions. Even though this was the middle of summer, on this particular day it rained. Not this wimpy spittle we call rain here in Seattle, but a Noah-like deluge. We were soaked within ten seconds of leaving our hotel.

Then there’s the whole issue of using the subway and finding your way around when you’re a first-timer to Manhattan. It seems so easy once you know the layout and systems, but on this day, it took us what seemed like forever just to find Al Flosso’s.

Once we entered the upstairs store, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed at first. Somehow, I expected a labyrinth of stacked books, ancient and mysterious illusions and cabinets filled with gaudily-painted tricks. Instead, the place had a worn, thread-bare feel to it. Al, I learned years after the fact, died later that year, so perhaps we caught him at a bad time. Or maybe this was the way the store always appeared.

Still, I bought a book on card tricks and left pleased with at least having visited this well-known establishment.

From there, it took another seeming forever to go the ten blocks or so to Louis Tannen’s. Here was a more modern, efficient showroom that offered more choices than my budget or my parents’ soggy patience allowed. So I quickly settled on an Okito Coin Box and we departed, my magic shopping spree satisfactorily completed.

We had two days in New York and we’d just spent half of one of them wading our way to places that meant nothing to anyone else in the family. Teenagers don’t show their appreciation all that often – I know I didn’t display as much gratitude for this wet morning as I felt inside.  But something must have shown through…

After a late lunch, the skies remained as porous as ever, so we decided to do something indoors: we were going to see a Broadway matinee. When we checked the theater schedules, my heart practically beat in reverse. One of the shows that had tickets available was The Magic Show starring Doug Henning at the Cort Theater.

Now my parents referred to Doug Henning as “that long-haired hippy-like rainbow guy” due to his hairstyle, mannerisms and attire despite his being one of the most famous magicians at the time (yes, this whole story dates me, I know). So when they agreed to get tickets to see his Broadway play (really, a musical/magic show with a minimal plot), I couldn’t believe it.

Yet an hour later, we sat freezing in our wet clothes in an air-conditioned theatre on Broadway…and I couldn’t have been happier. Even my brother and parents admitted afterwards that they enjoyed that part of the day.

So again, what does this have to do with jazz and Montreal?

You can probably guess. But I’ll fill you in on the details next time…


If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here


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Magic, music and Montreal – Part 1

by Steve Brock on September 9, 2011

I watched this jazz trio at the Montreal Jazz Festival while surrounded by people drinking coffee and wine. A perfect trifecta for someone like me...

I must confess. There are three things in life that I wish I liked better than I do: wine, coffee and jazz.

All the cool people I know like these things. Each has its own special locations, job titles, sub-cultures and arcane lexicons barely decipherable to the uninitiated. When you’re in, you’re in. You can converse with the barista, discern the vintage from a whiff of the cork or sway to a cool riff with equal panache.

When you’re not in, well…you’re me. You like the concept but not the actual experience.

With wine, for example, I wish I could pull off lines like, “This Merlot envelopes my tongue in a dusky oakiness with a crisp yet mellow finish.” But I can’t. Not without some serious snickering. Or hang out at the wineries which are intentionally located in gorgeous locales where the scenery and architecture seems to enhance the flavor…or at least the experience.

But then I’d have to drink the stuff and that, alas, would be a bad thing: an unfortunate (and yes, regrettable) experience with a bottle of white wine on a ski slope in Germany in college ruined me for wine for life, or so it seems.

With coffee, I’m not sure what the resistance is, especially hailing from the Seattle area where, if you cut the average person on the street, they would bleed brown. I guess it’s the belief that I don’t need another attachment or new addiction. I’ve already got more bad habits than a run-down convent.

With jazz, I have these childhood memories of hearing my parents play a continual stream of Muzak-like faux jazz on their stereo. At the time, it felt as enlivening as a five-hour lecture on sinus cavities. Today, those associations still make jazz – or certain kinds of it – seem a tad depressing to me.

With all three – wine, coffee and jazz – if you sweeten each up, I like them. But then you have grape juice, chocolate milk and rock music. That kind of misses the whole point.

To make matters worse, with jazz, I love everything about it…except listening to it. I love the history, the theory and concept and even the metaphor of jazz: a group of individuals coming together with their own distinct sounds, gifts and personalities yet contributing toward something greater together than they’d achieve on their own.

Thus, I can respect and appreciate the music. I’m just not wild about listening to it.

So why then did I go out of my way to attend the Montreal Jazz Festival on a trip to Canada this summer?

Ah, that is one of the mysteries of meaningful travel. And alas, you will need to wait until next time for that mystery to be revealed…

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Layers of meaning – Part Two

by Steve Brock April 20, 2011

In the second part of the story of visiting the music store Stein on Vine in Hollywood, CA, we discover that meaningful travel, like jazz, is made up of special moments – moments with multiple layers of meaning – that can’t be replicated but can be enjoyed if we learn to live in the moment and appreciate them for the gift that they are.

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Layers of meaning – Part One

by Steve Brock April 14, 2011

A recent unplanned journey to the music store, Stein on Vine, in Hollywood, CA exemplifies how many layers of meaning can be found in a single discovery on a trip.

Read the full article →