A couple of weeks ago my family spent a few days in Washington, DC, and as is always the case when I travel I love to search the local record stores for unusual finds. This time, I found a conversation.
ou have to be careful back here… this music will make you weep.”
I looked up from the rack of CD’s I’d been flipping through in the jazz section at The Melody Record Shop, a classic little independent store on Washington’s Connecticut Avenue, to be met by the eyes of a thin, graying African-American man.
“Yeh, I know,” I replied, though given the casual, almost distracted nature of my search through the discs, my reply was maybe just a little too automatic. He was on to something, this guy.
“Like this,” he said, holding up a copy of Bill Evans’ The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961. “This man can play.”
“I love Bill Evans,” I responded, “particularly from that era. I don’t have the complete sessions, but I’ve got the single disc edition, which I’ve listened to a lot.” And so we talked a bit about the music we each owned, and what moved us. He seemed to like the fact that my tastes were mostly rooted in the 1950s and 60s. And then the conversation shifted.
“I have a nine year old grand-daughter, and she’s a dancer. You should see her dance when I have Evans on the stereo. Once she started to dance as we were walking across this bridge… she was just humming this song, and dancing… made me cry. I’ll start now, if I think about it too much.”
A long pause.
“You know ‘Waltz for Debby?’ He wrote that for his neice. Have you ever heard it done with the words?”
To which I responded that I hadn’t even realized there were lyrics.
“Tony Bennett; he sings that song like no one else. Its hard to find that recording, but if you ever see it you should buy it. It is really something.”
Another long pause.
“And you knew that Bill Evans was a heroin addict,” he continued, his eyes now locked firmly on the disc in his hand. “He played with such beauty—and such sadness—through all of that pain.”
Still another long pause.
“Heroin killed a lot of them,” I said, and now it was my turn to hold that long pause. “But I love the music of that time. I got to see Sonny Rollins a couple of months ago, at our jazz festival back home. He was astonishing.”
“Oh Sonny, he plays with such power, and at his age too.” Slowly shaking his head from side to side, looking as if he was receding into some sonic memory. “Son,” he said, “I’m going to have to leave you here on your own, before I do start to cry.”
And at that, he turned and shuffled off down the narrow aisle, out the door and into the heat of the August afternoon.