He was bending over the piano at 90 degrees when a drop of sweat rolled off his nose and onto the keys. Or did it? Close as I was, I still wasn't sure. Maybe it landed in his lap or on the floor. Or maybe it indeed bounced upon the keys and tickled Mark Templeton's fingers into some new jazzy breeze.
He kept playing, never missing a beat.
Josh Bruneau, on his far, left was standing with his eyes squeezed, his fingers dancing on the valves, trumpeting with ease.
In the middle stood Nat Reeves, the leader of the Nat Reeves Trio, his fingers climbing up and down the fingerboard of his ebony-colored, circa 1820 standup bass like a spider on silken threads.
His back was bothering him, he would later say. But you would never know it watching him, though I'm no regular attendee of live performances.
But on a recent gray Sunday morning, I did something different. I got into my car and cruised up I-91 north to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in downtown Hartford for what the program called "a hot jazz brunch."
I was one of the early arrivals at the first of two sets at the Atheneum's Café Eiko. Soon, about 75 people filled the room eating, talking, listening as the trio played. I sat at a table to the side in front of the trio. Thing is, I didn't come to write. I came to listen and watch, or rather watch and listen.
Jazz should be seen as well as heard. But that could be said about all music. It is good to imagine the performers as you sit at home listening to music recorded before you were alive at a place you've never been; it is good to listen and appreciate the sound and the feelings they inspire; it is something more to see the musicians doing what they do right before your eyes and ears tapping their feet, smiling to themselves, dripping sweat, nodding at each other, shutting their eyes, sharing private cues while making music.
Lucky are the musicians. Writers don't get to show how we write. Readers only see the end result after it is created. They don't see us as we make our words talk and sing and cry and scream on the page or screen.
Watching the fingers of the trumpeter pressing the valves, I am reminded of my first horn. A bugle. Green and plastic. OK, it was a toy. But it came with numbers and notes so a boy could play Taps and a few other things. I blew that bugle, though not very well. But in college, I picked up the kalimba and got pretty good skilled enough that out West in the summer of '77, I sat in on a jam session at a Sacramento jazz club.
I was so out of key. Kalimbas set in a particular key are not easily changed after a number. But the next night, the musicians set their instruments to my kalimba's key, and I felt it the other musicians nodding and the audience yelling as I went from "Breezin'" to "Papa Was a Rolllin' Stone" and I thought fleetingly that maybe this was meant to be.
No. Writing was and is my calling.
Still, there's nothing like watching musicians do what they love to do Templeton leaning his soul into the keys; Bruneau blowing air to dreams; Reeves thumping that big bass like a heart supreme.
Reeves, who teaches at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, has played and toured with a plethora of jazz greats, said he had recently come from a nice tour, explaining that it's the musicians you work with who make it nice.
Like writing, making music is work, but when you love what you do, it's not really work. It's just what you do and you put the time in it without thinking about the time.
Nothing like watching folks so into what they do that time stops and place doesn't matter and you forget where you are on a jazzy gray Sunday morning.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at