John Patitucci was a storyteller with his music. At the beginning of So What/Impressions, the rest of the band left the stage and gave John 10 minutes alone to tell his story. He sounded and looked like he was praying—pouring his heart out to God as he plucked deep, warm, notes from his strings.
John showed me that music is like a novel or a play—full of wit, rhetoric, surprises, and plot twists. As he was hunched over his bass, his fingers were plucking out his story, and it felt like he was leading us through a gothic castle by the light of a candle, showing the tapestries, the candelabras, the great halls. During his tour, suddenly and without any notice, he jumped hard on a low and inharmonic note. It startled me, like he was throwing open closet door with a skeleton inside. Surprises.
The band played for two and a half hours and finished with two encores. As the house lights came on people began to shuffle to the doors. I was in awe of what I'd just seen. I was glad I was alone because I didn't want to talk to anyone. I was speechless. I eventually left my seat and entered the already packed lobby. But before going out the door and leaving to find a motel, something inside me said, "Stop. Just be in this moment. Something is going to happen . . . " And there I stood, looking at ornate architecture of the concert hall, my mind poring over the concert and I wondered how I could put it all into words.
I hadn't paused for more than two minutes when my attention focused on a nearby crowd of about 10 people. They were gathering around the stage manager who had just came from back stage. I remembered him from the sound check. I heard the stage manager say to them in English, "I'll ask Herbie if he has time to see you," after which there was brief silence, a quick Korean translation by one better English speakers followed by an outburst of undefiled giddiness. I didn’t know who these giggling girls were but I decided that under no circumstances was I going to not somehow accompany them to see Herbie Hancock. A few minutes later, the stage manager came back and announced to them that they could come back inside the concert hall and after Herbie finished talking to a reporter, they could go backstage and meet them. I simply melted into their numbers as they slipped back through the auditorium doors to wait for the chance to go backstage. They were quite an intimate crowd and it wasn't long before they noticed the stray white guy hanging around. Instead of pushing me away, though, they warmly befriended me.
Apparently, they were part of an organization that is based loosely around Buddhism and celebrates world peace through music. They said that Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter (sax player and musical brother of Herbie for many decades) are among the organization's principle and most prestigious members. My new friends admitted that none of them knew Herbie Hancock's music very well. In fact, they admitted that they were only recently trying to learn to appreciate jazz so as to support Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. It was the first jazz concert that any of them had ever been to.
During the 15 minutes that we were waiting for the stage manager to come back, I swapped email addresses with at least five people as others flashed photos of me. I was the exotic stray white guy.
Eventually, the stage manager came back and said that we could go back stage. We rushed down back hallways to a posh and dimly-lighted waiting room. Herbie was standing, talking to a reporter as a photographer busily flashed photos. Roy Hargrove, in his usual stance, half sat, half lay on a low plush chair near the wall. He looked like he'd just hopped out of a hot tub after a hard day's work—spent. His long dreads were covered by an enormous bini and he was wrapped in a gray, wool, New-York-style coat that came to his knees.
My rule against pestering celebrities for autographs was overridden by the magnitude of this moment. Having unwrapped my CD and removed the insert, I timidly approached Roy Hargrove. I couldn't help but sound like an obsequious snail as I peeped out, "Mr. Hargrove, your music was very spiritual to me." He looked at me for a moment and paused, a little surprised by my words. "Thank you," another pause. "Thank you." I could sense that this was the end of our meaningful conversation and so I asked, "Would you please?" as I handed him a pen and the cd insert. He said nothing, only flashed his autograph across my insert. I thanked him and he nodded back in a tired response, only the way a jazz cat can.
I saw the drummer (damn, I wish I remembered his name) lingering about and he politely signed my cd sleeve.
Now Herbie was done talking to the reporter and my newly adopted family, the family of the jazz challenged, was showering him with flowers and gifts and snapping photos. He smiled and happily spoke to us as a group. Even after his long performance, Herbie was amicable and appreciative of our praise. He gladly signed autographs and smiled as he smelled each bouquet that was thrust into his arms. All I could do was stand there as part of the crowd. I wanted to blurt out, like a puberty stricken high school kid, "Herbie! even if these people don't know Hancock from Handel, I know you to be a musical legend and I understand this concert in context of the last 50 years of jazz and modern music. Thank you for this concert. It is a dream come true!" My thoughts must have been printed on my forehead because just as he said he couldn't sign any more autographs, he took my cd sleeve, signed it, and graciously bowed out.
HA! Triumph! I couldn't believe this was happening to me.
Michael Brecker was standing talking to some other stage managers, and understandably loathing us for keeping Herbie, and therefore him, from heading back to the hotel and getting some sleep. His was the only autograph I was missing. I had to do it. So I approached him and told him that I loved his music and that I was a saxophonist as well. I told him he was an inspiration. Without a word, he signed my cd sleeve. Cold. The way he looks. I don't blame him. I'd be annoyed too.
THE LONE AND DREARY WORLD
We watched the band leave and then we followed out the same doors. It had begun to snow. The wind had picked up and it was colder than before. My new friends began to ask me what my plan was for spending the night. I told them about where I planned to search for a motel. They informed me that I probably wouldn't find anything there and that they would take me to a stop on the subway where I could find good, inexpensive lodging.