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Toots and Grace


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The first section following the introduction of my 1989 book Jazz Matters is titled “A Common Language." It ends with this: Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who practice it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources and “head arrangements" evolved over time without being written. Mutual access to this community body of knowledge makes possible successful and enjoyable collaboration among jazzmen of different generations and stylistic persuasions who have never before played together. It is not unusual at jazz festivals and jam sessions for musicians in their sixties and seventies to be teamed with others in their teens or twenties. In the best of such circumstances, the age barrier immediately falls.

If I were to write that today, I'd change “sixties and seventies" to “eighties and nineties." The aging population contains a number of active jazz octogenarians and nonagenarians. Jimmy Heath at 85, Joe Wilder at 89 and Dave Brubeck at 90 are three cases in point. Toots Thielemans, 89, is another. Thielemans recently played a duo gig at Sculler's in Boston with Kenny Werner, who is 59. One evening, they asked Grace Kelly to sit in. She is 18. This is what happened.


“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself." —Eubie Blake (1887-1983) on his 96th birthday.

“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough." —Groucho Marx

“To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am." —Bernard Baruch

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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