It's been a long weekend, and by that I mean I don't feel like I had a weekend. Weekend writing work, kids, ball games, errands, housework. So, when I had the chance to steal away for an hour or so to read a book at the downtown Decatur Starbucks, I jumped at the chance.
As I was walking toward the coffee shop, I heard a street musician - a lone trumpet player - warbling his way through a standard - something by Chet Baker, I believe. He spotted a family with a small boy walking past and immediately switched to "Three Blind Mice". As I approached, wearing my Jackie Robinson Dodgers jersey, he transitioned into "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". I tossed him a dollar and said, "You've been reading my mail." He thanked me and drifted back into the standard he was playing when I pulled in.
I bought my coffee, kicked off my shoes, and folded into a soft chair nestled in the corner of Starbucks. They were playing Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden through the store speakers. They were swapping solos on "Gone Fishin'". I opened my book and began reading. It was perfection. Almost.
For some reason, tonight, Satchmo wasn't enough. I knew Louis' story. I could recite it to you chapter and verse. But just outside the coffee shop, there was a man whose story was unfolding in real time. Tonight, that music mattered more.
I took my coffee outside and sat on a park bench in front of City Hall adjacent to Starbucks. For the next half hour, this sidewalk Marsalis serenaded the city with a tapestry of riffs and grooves. Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Dave Brubeck, Armstrong, "Eleanor Rigby", Coltrane, Diz, "Amazing Grace". For the kids passing by, there was the theme from "Sesame Street", "Won't You Be My Neighbor", and "Pop Goes the Weasel".
The segues were seamless: verse and chorus, or sometimes just chorus. It was the ultimate improvisation. But, rather than playing off of the spontaneity of bandmates, he'd turned the entire town square into his communal combo.
Ironically, I was reading a book on mindfulness and meditation, a Shambhala publication about being present, "In the moment". I put the book away. The lesson was going down on the street, offered up by this sidewalk bodhisattva.
As I left, I gave him another tip: a five spot. Seemed only fair. What he gave me this evening was priceless.