My dad was introduced to jazz when he was 23 and needed a job while he was courting my mother. Classically trained at Julliard on oboe, he was hired by none other than Charlie Parker to tour for six months accompanying Bird and Strings. This morsel of serendipity profoundly impacted his life, and he even went on to found the jazz program at New Paltz College a number of years later. His passion for jazz was evident in his teaching, and by the expression on his face when he played jazz on piano. Some of my favorite family times involved jam sessions with friends, or when he accompanied my mom singing the blues.
Last weekend I was home in Littleton, Massachusetts in between visits to my mom in New Paltz, New York, a three and a half hour drive away. Friday had been the extensive pre op testing, and I would return the Monday evening before her aortic valve replacement on Tuesday. They would be doing a newer procedure, going in through the groin, and essentially placing a stent with a valve inside which they inflate. This trans-catheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure is hugely less invasive than open heart surgery, but is still a major deal for a 90-year-old. It had been a long three months preparation leading up to the procedure, and that weekend I was taking a breath in my own space with my spritely four leggeds and my blue-eyed fella before heading back for the week with Mom.
My radio popped on leaving yoga Saturday morning, while heading to the post office and supermarket for two quick errands. I listened to three or four stations, and it happened to be tuned to WICN, which plays primarily jazz. Within a minute of stepping in the car, Howard Caplan announced a Charlie Parker tune, “Love is in the Air,” and there was my dad’s oboe solo emanating from my speakers. It’s an obscure recording from that tour with my father, and Dad was in the process of trying to get credit for the “oboe unknown” when he died quite suddenly 25 years ago.
Right after my dad’s solo, Howard interrupted the cut to apologize that “the recording is not in good enough shape to continue,” and he promptly started Amanda Carr’s, “It’s a Big Wide Wonderful World,” a great uptempo piece.
So, I was in the car for just a few moments, but long enough to hear my dad play before the tune was stopped and replaced. I sat in the supermarket parking lot, staring at my radio, willing it to speak to me when I realized it already had. I felt my dad there with me, aware of my mom’s vulnerability, and sending a signal in a way that was unmistakably him. My mom likes to tell the story of how my dad played with Bird, at every conceivable occasion, including those which are irrelevant to Charlie Parker. All her doctors were aware of this choice piece of their past, because she worried that she would not be seen as an individual if she did not regale every person on her team (or not) with this snippet of fame.
There are many ways to look at those few moments in the car, but there is too much at play to put it down wholesale to coincidence. Jazz was threaded through our family, and I choose to allow the mystery to stand, savoring the possibility of connection to someone so dear to remain in the air. And on the airwaves.