Way back in 1978, I was commissioned by the Rochester
Institute of Technology to compose original music for a film
promoting the five disciplines within RIT’s School for
American Craftsmen: Wood, Metal, Weaving, Glass, and
Clay, plus the four disciplines within the School of Art &
Design: Painting, Printmaking, Foundations, and
You see, I totally surprised music aficionados everywhere by
releasing my original RIT music score in CD format,
satisfying Jazz Fusion fans who favor CDs over Vinyl LPs.
Think about it! The first time ever putting the exact same
LP music on a CD!
The college remained closed for the remainder of the winter semester. When we returned in mid-January, I was notified that I had been named a recipient of the prestigious New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Frank, my departmental chairperson, had nominated me and supported my candidacy. In addition to the honor, I also received a $500 prize. Cass and I decided that we would use that windfall profit to take a much needed and well-deserved summer vacation with the kids in Disney World.
I remember being invited to visit the college president’s office on a Friday morning to receive my award and prize. I also remember attending a second meeting with the president that same afternoon to be told that 20% of the faculty would be terminated due to severe budget cuts brought about by the Ayotollah, not to mention declining revenues, declining enrollment, the gas shortages, the recession, the Blizzard of ’77, and probably even the lunar eclipse! A Proverbial Perfect Storm. Naturally, the teachers who were up for tenure were the first to go. Yep, I was one of ‘em. I questioned the president on the hypocrisy of rewarding me for “excellent teaching” in the morning, and terminating my employment in the afternoon. Is this how you reward excellence?
So, there we were, retrenched, as they called it. Our college president, of course, was suitably entrenched. None of this was very exciting, especially considering the house Cass and I had just bought. But, as I always tell my own kids, “when one door closes, another opens. All you have to do is find it, knock loudly, and walk through.” Looking back, I had an easier time of it than most of the other teachers who had been similarly let go without warning, justification, or compassion. For them, teaching was all they had ever done. For me, my work in the recording studio and in arranging would soon pay big benefits.
What strange times those were!
I don’t know how it happened. I was a student at the University of Buffalo, located, of all places, in Buffalo, New York. I guess that’s why they called it the University of Buffalo?
The year was 1968. Every word of this story is true. Well, maybe embellished a little to satisfy my creative urge. But it’s a story I remember as if it were yesterday. Then again, maybe it was. In the scheme of things. My two best buddies at UB were freaky, to say the least. Actually, flaky might be a better description. Stu and Phil. (I'm the handsome one).
The way I remember it, and you know how that goes after 50 years, I was walking on campus one day in early Spring on the way to a class I never attended, when I heard a loud roar along side me. That was Phil. Actually, it was Phil’s motorcycle. Turns out he had just bought an ancient Harley Davidson. Man, Phil was already a cool dude. Short, but powerfully built, given his years as a high school wrestling champ. His wrists were thicker than my thighs.
Like all of us, Phil had started out at UB with the traditional brush cut, and cleanly shaven face. Again, like all of us, that lasted for about a month. We did everything we could to look older, cooler, hipper, and dirtier. Like our comrades from The City, I guess. But it worked. On this day, Phil wore filthy jeans, torn in too many places. A leather vest over his bare chest. Tall black boots. Dark sunglasses, even though the sun had been hibernating despite end of winter. And, of course, the obligatory bandana over his now shoulder-length hair. And let’s not forget the flaming red fu-mustache.
“Hey, dude,” he said as he pulled to a stop next to me.
“Phil! Is that yours?” I asked.
“No, it’s my mother’s, you dork. Of course it’s mine. Just got it yesterday.”
By this point, I had walked over and now stood gawking at this ancient monstrosity. No fenders. Beat to you know what. Spewing exhaust. And loud. Deafeningly loud.
“Man, Phil. What is it?”
“It’s an old Harley, dude. 1,200 cc’s,” he added, whatever that meant. “Built in 1949.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“Bought it from a dude who rides with the Road Hogs,” he clarified. “I guess he needed the money more than the bike.”
“Really? How much?”
“Ready for this, dude? 75-bucks! So here I am, ridin’ a Harley Beast! Gotta split,” he shouted as he took off in a roar, smoke belching from the pipes.
I just stood there, watching in disbelief as he faded into the sunset. Then again, there was no sun- to speak of, and it was mid-afternoon, so no -seteither. Like I told you, I’m known to embellish a little bit.
A week later, I’m sitting out on the second-floor porch of my apartment on Bailey Avenue, a mile south of the old Main Street campus.
And there’s Phil, pulling up on his Harley. Without noticing me up on the porch, he climbs off the beast and heads for the stairs leading up to my front door. I hustled inside to thwart his customary two knocks.
“Who is it?” I shouted, before he even had a chance to knock once, knowing what his answer would be.
“Who do you think, dork? It’s your momma! Now open the door before I kick it in!”
I did. Yeah, he would’ve kicked it in. With little effort. At my expense, of course.
“Want a sandwich, Phil?” I asked, since he had already seated himself at the kitchen table.
“Balogna, Balogna, or Balogna.”
“Okay, I’ll have Balogna. But don’t forget the Mustard.”
We shot the breeze while eating and downing some lousy instant coffee. Suddenly, two knocks at the door, probably the ones Phil hadn’t needed to waste. We looked at each other, eyebrows raised, knowing who it would be. Then, a muffled shout from the hallway.
“Hey, you guys, open the door, will ‘ya?”
“Stu,” Phil said with a grin.
I got up and opened the door, Phil following close behind.
“Took you long enough!” Stu complained. “You guys hidin’ somethin’? Or, someone?” he teased.
“If only,” Phil mumbled.
We three sat on the porch to peruse the chicks walking down Bailey Avenue. There weren’t any. Oh, well. Stu shot Phil a look, shook his head, then said, “Can’t do it man.”
Phil just nodded. No big deal, I guess. I looked at Stu and asked, “Can’t do what?”
Phil looked at Stu, shrugged his shoulders, then looked over at me.
“Today’s your lucky day, dude,” he said.
Looking over the railing, Phil pointed at his old Harley.
“How would you like one of those? Only better!” he challenged me.
“What’re you talkin’ about, man?”
“Just shut up and listen, dork! The Road Hog I bought mine from? He’s got a line on another one. Wants to buy it at auction, sell it quick, make a buck or two. Needs more bread, I guess.”
Stu shot me a glance along with an evil grin which, for Stu, was way out of character. Then he turned back to Phil, who concluded his little speech. Or, should I say, sales pitch?
“Anyway, I’m givin’ you second option, dude. A hundred-seventy-five bucks and it’s yours. But you gotta give me an answer, as in right now!”
“I’ve never even 'driven' a motorcycle, let alone 'owned' one, Phil. And where am I gonna get a hundred-seventy-five bucks, anyway. I don’t know.”
“Jeff, you gotta see this Hog!” Stu piped in.
“Hog?” I pondered stupidly.
“Ultimate Hog,” Phil chimed in. “My bike may be a Beast, but a Hog is outrageous! Big. Bad. Beautiful. 1,500 cc’s. More power than some cars. And it’s in mint condition, dude. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals.”
Shame on me, but Phil had my attention.
“Where’s the auction?”
“Police Garage,” he replied with a grin.
“Stolen?” I pressed.
“No way, dude. It’s a retired Police Cycle! Built in 1946, only 20,000 original miles. Knucklehead engine, still got the siren, flashing lights, single cop seat. And suicide shift.”
“What the heck’s a suicide shift?”
“You dork! It’s a stick shift, on the tank. Clutch on the foot pedal. Thing’s a monster! Double roll bars. Must weigh over 650 pounds.”
I stood there, looking over the balcony, taking in Phil’s beast in its full glory. The more I looked, the more I was hooked. Without even realizing my lips were moving, two words slithered out of my mouth.
Phil and Stu laughed loudly, patting me on the back with a sense of misplaced pride in my decision.
“Only one thing,” I interrupted. “You gotta teach me how to ride it!”
“Okay, dude. But I’m gonna need the cash today. You got it?”
“Yeah. I got it.”
As I reach for the proverbial pen and paper, the light of reflection begins to penetrate into foggy, half-forgotten memories of the past, stacked like so much cord wood, soon to warm remembrances in the dim firelight of thoughts to come. Reminding me of deeds done. Kismet. How destiny inextricably intertwines with life. I can tell you now, looking back, I wasn’t thinking in any way like that in the summer of ’71.
Another magnificent “SoCal” day, as I found myself shipwrecked in the parking lot of the Newport Beach pier. (As the song goes) I didn’t have any phone, pool, or pets. . Didn’t have any cigarettes, and certainly I was no king of any road! Surly southern skin poppers (a sad scourge of “seventies” reality) as nearby neighbors in their funky Florida van.
But I had the beach. Oh, yeah! Every day “stepping into liquid”, searching for the ever elusive perfect wave. No board, just body.
How did I end up here in a ’57 Chevy Nomad wagon, crashing in the back seat with my two mad gnome car mates? One month and counting, as the ’70 recession continued to grind down upon us, feeding our feckless fate, at least for the time being. Now, alone on the beach, (or so I thought),
Haiku: Couldn’t wait to ride.
Oh wonderful, windswept waves.
Surfing is sublime.
I was then startled by a woman’s shriek, as it shattered the calm.
“He’s going to drown” she screamed!
Talk about jumping out of your skin! I knew immediately I had to “fit” back in. I looked up to see that woman and her male companion gesticulating wildly and pointing out, past the pier. I spotted a dark, distant dot, bobbing in the blue. He appeared to be swept out to sea even further, as we watched in horror!
Not thinking, I hurled myself forward into that briny deep, surrendering to the strong riptide that surrounded me, taking me out ever so quickly. Finally I saw him again, literally going down for the last time! When I finally grabbed him, he tried to climb me like a step ladder. I had to “clip” him with my forearm to keep him from drowning the both of us.
Only then could I scoop him up and cradle his upper body with one arm, then swim side stroke, as he sheepishly acquiesced. By now we were so far out, the pier appeared like a small toy in the distance. I plotted an angle to try to get to the pier where the riptide might be broken up by the wooden pylons. It was like I was a cork that day, fueled by fear-based adrenaline and gritty resolve. So buoyant, unsinkable!
The ocean by now was rising with an unexpected swell, as we made it under the boardwalk of the pier, then slowly worked our way, body surfing the now large waves and scraped past the pylons until our feet finally touched the warm sandy bottom. Whew! Once on the beach again, the man I had carried for well over a half an hour, hurriedly took off away from the beach and never looked back, never even said a word, and was gone.
I stood there alone again and looked out on an empty beach, thinking to myself that no one had come to help us. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of that tan, tall young man and the future that now awaited him.
I didn’t notice him in the rear of the hall. Sitting with his daughter, I would later learn. My performance this day would be at a seniors community specializing in memory care. The lesson I was about to learn would prove startling. You see, never having performed at such a facility, I was understandably nervous about the people with whom I was about to share my gift. Would they be able to grasp the very nature of my modern, electronic performance? Would they all simply fall asleep before I played a note? Would anyone recognize any songs in my repertoire? Sure, in these performances I featured the Music of the 1930’s, ’40’s, 50’s, and ’60’s. The great songwriters. Cole Porter. George Gershwin. Harry Warren. Duke Ellington. Billie Holiday. And yes, even the Beatles. To my surprise, a crowd of 100 people awaited their free concert, all dressed in their Sunday best. As I set up my equipment, they sat patiently, watching my every move. Several asked if they could help me. And asked again. And, yet again. I chuckled with those close enough to endure my corny jokes. Not corny to them. Funny. They laughed. And wanted more. No closed eyes yet.
The beginning of a show is the toughest for any Musician. Wondering what to expect. But I began, as usual, with a short verbal introduction. Who I am. What I’m doing here. What Music I’ll be playing. A brief description of my EWI . . . Electronic Wind Instrument.
Not to mention the "teeny, tiny musicians contained within my iPad Mini!" Yeah, they got it! Mostly. I began with a song from 1927. A song now known as the most recorded song ever written.
“When you hear this song,” I teased, “let me know if you recognize it.”
While performing Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, I saw it in their eyes. The memory of a song so long ago experienced. The rekindling of emotions so deeply enjoyed. Now tumbling through age-damaged minds. Tears flowed. First from them. Then from me. And I reveled in their “Gentle Rekindling of Emotions so Long Ago Experienced and so Deeply Enjoyed.” And that’s when the essence of this story flashed into my conscious thoughts.
For the next hour, we journeyed together through their songs of life. They applauded after each one. Enthusiastically. Those who could, stood to let me know their appreciation. They held hands. Retreated to their past lives. Remembered, as best they could. Searching for the partner no longer sitting at their side. Realizing they were now alone. Yet, together.
When the concert ended, most remained seated, seeming to enjoy watching me dismantle my electronic gear. Many asked questions. Some were led back to their rooms by caring staff members. As I walked towards the door to leave, one lovely lady, unable to get up from her wheelchair, waved her hand in a gesture meant to ask if I would spend a moment with her. When I arrived at her side, she was wiping tears from her eyes.
“I could tell, just by looking at you when you came through the front door today, that you possess a gentle and kind soul. And I was certainly right! Thank you for sharing your gift with us today. It made a difference in our lives.”
The Activities Director who had invited my performance, approached me with the broadest smile on her face.
“I can’t thank you enough for performing for us today, Jeff. Everyone enjoyed your Music. But most of all, they enjoyed you. This is a rare treat for them. Did you notice the old gentleman in the back of the hall? Sitting with his daughter? Holding hands?”
“You know, I can’t say that I did,” I responded.
“He wanted so much to talk to you. He’s been a resident here for many years. He often tells us stories of his years as a professional Clarinetist, performing on the road with some great big-bands of years past. I know your performance was very special for him. He couldn’t stop talking about that instrument you play. What’s it called again?”
“The EWI,” I answered.
“Well, it actually looks like an oversized Clarinet to me. Anyway, I’ve never seen him smile as much as he did today, especially when he saw that Clarinet. I have no doubt he saw himself in you. And wished he could perform with you! Next time you play here, I’ll make sure to introduce you to him.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “I’ll look forward to it.”
A week later, I received a lovely eMail from her, telling me how much everyone enjoyed my performance. But her last sentence caught me off guard.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you that The Clarinetist died the day after your show. He spoke non-stop about you and your talent after you left that day. It was his time. You should know that you made a difference in his life. You allowed him to remember who he was. And wished he still could be. That is a rare gift.”
by Jennifer Resnick
18 years ago today I was working at my store,
helping women buy beautiful clothes,
trying to focus on my business,
because thinking about my scheduled
C-section the next day felt too scary.
I remember eating dinner and going to bed that night,
telling myself to get a good night’s sleep
because I wouldn’t get one for awhile.
Flash forward to the next afternoon.
I remember looking at Chelsea
right after her birth and thinking,
“Oh, it’s you”!
I knew her, the way I knew my
mother and father and sister;
instant recognition and instant fierce love.
You Make My Life Complete!
It was another after-hours, early evening, in the Autumn of 1969 at the Tonawanda Seneca Indian Reservation Community House, located near Akron, New York. I was the volunteer project coordinator (and Biology major senior) at State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNYAB), part of the Alternative Education Department. Per routine, I was, as always, the last one to leave the building. The program developed and directed academic tutoring, vocational counseling and recreational activities for Native Youth on the Reservation.
On this day, instead of taking the usual transportation, a SUNY-owned vehicle, I decided to ride my recently acquired 1946, 74-cubic-inch, 600-pound Harley Davidson Motorcycle, named HOG (thank you, Jeff Resnick!), rather than the State-owned vehicle. Such a difficult choice.
I hopped on HOG and within a few minutes came upon a long, winding left curve, one I’d taken many times without incident, but this time I was riding on two wheels, not four! In the distance, I spotted a rather large, dark and gnarly-looking DOG about 200-yards away. Or should I say, he spotted me! He was near a barn, 100-yards from the end of the curve. In an instant, he took off but, strangely, in the opposite direction from me. I thought to breathe a momentary sigh of relief. Not for long, though, as I realized my now horrifying predicament. He was running to where I was GOING TO BE! At the end of the curve where the road narrowed.
‘Ah, he’s done this before and had planned well,’ I thought to myself. Instead of retreating (the safe choice), I decided to GO FOR IT and see what HOG could do. I cranked the throttle and ran through the suicide hand-shift gears. Suicide, indeed! I quickly accelerated, lurched forward, and barreled ahead. And now DOG began his run at me as I tried to pass by. His feet skidded furiously on the asphalt as he tried to position himself right in the middle of the road next to me, rapidly biting the air, coming perilously close to my left leg. That gaping maw brushed up alongside my pant leg, spewing saliva out onto the pavement. I simultaneously turned HOG and myself away from those giant, bristling teeth. DOG forced me to slow down a bit and boxed me into the curb, where I almost LOST IT! I righted myself, had one trick left and jammed on HOG’s horn over and over, as I accelerated again, blaring out shrill, HIGH-pitched, powerful blasts that only an old Harley can make. At that moment DOG was DONE and loped off, a wounded warrior, wincing, defeated. No harm done, just “counting coup” (as any honorable warrior would do). Saved by a “sound-bite!” All hail this reservation DOG!
By the way, I never drove that way again . . .
In July, 1967, only five months after meeting Cass at Meyer Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, New York, we drove to Niagara Falls to spend the day with a group of my friends that Cass had yet to meet. It seems they all wanted to meet her, though, either to protect me from her, or her from me. No doubt their second choice was their ultimate goal!
About 20 of us enjoyed picnic basket lunches while relaxing on lawn blankets on the American side of the falls, always a beautiful sight. An 'Alpha Male' in the group made his first mistake when he began teasing Cass, asking about her childhood in Buffalo which, to him, was the armpit of Western New York. Extremely shy and introverted in those days, Cass merely said she enjoyed gymnastics. 'Alpha Male' had never been my favorite person. In a word, he was a bully. Always had been. He was also aggressive, eager to verbally attack anyone who had the nerve to ignore his insulting remarks. Little did he know what was in store for him.
He made his second mistake when he pressed Cass for more details about gymnastics, challenging her to expand upon the story of her youth. Now uncomfortable, she admitted that she had attended a well known Buffalo gymnastics school as a teen-ager. Indeed, she had actually trained there with several olympic medalists, as well. 'Alpha Male's' third and final mistake was telling Cass he didn't believe her, all the while belittling her childhood story. And that, friends, was the first time I saw something in those baby blues that I can only describe as a fierceness you best not awaken. Three strikes and you're out, as the saying goes. This girl wasn't afraid to fight back! Her gift is the ability to cut to the heart of the matter without saying a word. Must be part of her Irish heritage, I guess. So what do you think she did? Yep. She stood up, smiled, removed her shoes, raised herself tall on her tiptoes, leaned back, and took off in a full-speed sprint across the grass, arms pumping furiously. All at once, she executed a perfect round-off, back hand-spring. Twice. She flew backwards and forwards, twisting over and over, executing flawless singles and doubles, before jogging back to the rest of us still sitting on our blankets. She wasn’t even breathing hard. ‘Alpha Male’s’ jaw dropped as his face turned a bright shade of crimson. Eyebrows raised, my true friends merely smiled and winked at Cass, by now fully taken with the 18-year-old lass who would become my wife less than two years later. Not a word was spoken by anyone. I learned something important about Cass that day. She could really put you in your place without uttering a word. She still can! Lucky for me I'm not an ‘Alpha Male.’ Speaking of which, that was the last time any of us ever saw him again. And good riddance.
Cass is an athlete. I’m not. She has always maintained a rigorous daily routine of aerobic exercise and weight training. As the years passed, she finally managed to convince me to join her on daily walks and bike rides to keep in shape, both physically and emotionally. I fought it for a long time, until she finally convinced me exercise was a pleasant benefit of growing older together. As usual, she was right! We now walk and ride our bikes daily. When we miss a day, I feel out of sorts. Best of all, the activity has enabled me to achieve at least a basic level of fitness that helps maintains my good health in the fourth quarter of life. We usually bike several miles to the park, then walk several more miles along the wooded park trails, and bike several miles back home, bringing a wonderful sense of peace to the soul.
You know, the job you thought would last a lifetime? I sure remember mine! As college graduation approached, me with a newly printed Masters Degree in hand, and a wife with new baby at home, I faced the immediate reality of needing to find a job, quickly. I’m afraid my rock band days weren’t going to cut it financially! Yep, that’s me on the top right with all the hair, holding my trumpet.
While everyone else was pounding the tread-worn pavements of the Buffalo school system, I decided to cast a wider net. So, I prepared a cover letter and sent it out to schools that were advertising for Music teachers in the Chronicle of Higher Education. At first unsure where to start, I sat down and began the process of writing about myself. To my surprise, the words flowed easily, especially when I wrote about my graduate teaching position at the University of Buffalo, where I founded and directed the UB Jazz Orchestra. I not only arranged the music but also booked concert tours for the ensemble. And I taught college classes in Jazz Theory & Composition. Yep, that’s me waving my arms like I knew what I was doing.
Then I hit the library to look for listings in the Chronicle. There was no Internet in 1971, of course, so the library was a necessary daily visit. Over the first weeks of my job search, I found a total of three Music job postings. Here it was, already July, and baby was demanding milk and honey. Yep, that’s Mama Cass and Baby Jennifer in our Buffalo apartment.
So, I decided to send a blind cover letter to every school district within a five-state area around New York State, which amounted to literally hundreds of letters sent. This process turned out to be a valuable learning experience, and a priceless exercise in Marketing, a skill that would eventually play a very important role in my career path.
Sure enough, the first week of August I received a telephone call from the band director at a high school in southern Connecticut! Cass and I threw a packed suitcase in our little Toyota Hi-Lux and hit the road, baby Jennifer snuggled on the bench seat between driver and passenger. We arrived in Connecticut about midnight, exhausted from the long ride punctuated by several wrong turns and too many stops to consult gas station direction-givers. Jennifer slept most of the way with not a peep, which was pretty standard operating procedure for her. We found a hotel, checked in, and set the alarm for seven o’clock the next morning to give me enough time to prepare for my nine o’clock interview. Those who know me today will undoubtedly be shocked to hear that I actually shaved off my bushy beard and cut my hair to a very reasonable length in preparation for the first teaching interview in my life.
Before I even realized my head had hit the pillow, the alarm was jarring me out of bed. I wasn’t surprised to find Cass already feeding Jennifer. Cass was a cat-sleeper then, and she still is today. Fifteen minutes at a time is all the sleep her body and mind will allow her. I don’t know how she does it. I shaved, showered, and completed all the other necessary morning rituals before opening the suitcase to begin dressing for my nine o’clock appointment with the Band Director and the Board of Education members who would also be in attendance. Let’s see,
“Don’ worry, only a few minutes from da high school,” Sal enthused as he told me how to get there.
“How much do I owe you, Sal?”
“Fifty bucks oughta do it,” Sal laughed.
I had never paid more than five bucks for pants I liked, let alone for these outrageous blue, green and red checked golf pants. But again, I was in no position to bargain. I reached into my pocked . . . I reached into my pocket . . . I REACHED . . . oh, no, these weren’t even my pants! I grabbed my jeans from the floor and dug hand into pocket. Empty pocket. 8:57.
“Don’ worry ‘bout it, kid. You gonna be late . . . get outa here! You gonna pay me later. Jus’ get da job, okay?”
I stumbled out the door, flew down the road, and scrambled into the high school by 9:02 AM. Not too bad, I guessed. I barged into the school office, huffing and puffing, facing a friendly enough looking crowd of people enjoying their morning coffee and doughnuts. Alex, the band director who had called and invited me here, got up, walked over to me, smiled, shook my hand, and said, “You must be Jeff. Welcome to our school.”
“Thank you, I’m sorry I’m late, but . . .” I stammered breathlessly.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Just relax,” he comforted me, one hand on my shoulder. Then, stepping in front of me, he leaned close and whispered in my ear, “but I think it might be a good idea if you zipped up your fly.”
‘Oh . . . my . . . God . . . I . . . can’t . . . believe . . . this . . . is . . . happening!’
Thankfully, Alex stood protectively in front of me while I turned around and zipped up, my audience chuckling with me, not at me. I think. The president of the Board of Education broke the ice by saying, “Jeff, I’m sorry, but those are without a doubt the ugliest pants I’ve ever seen.” Red-faced though I must have been, I took solace from her conspiratorial smile. Everyone enjoyed a gentle chuckle as I recounted my morning. I would find out later that Sal, the pro shop owner, was her husband. And another board member published the local newspaper, so this story was destined to make the community headlines . . . which it soon did.
We met and talked for about two hours, covering a wide range of topics from my experience to my goals to my family, Cass and Jennifer waiting ever so patiently at the hotel in isolation, since I had the car. The board members departed with handshakes all around so I would have a chance to talk with Alex alone.
“Are you retiring from your band director position, Alex?” I asked innocently.
He feigned surprise. “No. Why do you ask?”
“I just assumed you’re here to interview your replacement,” I answered, hoping to cover my tracks in case I had asked the wrong question.
“No, no, no, that’s not why I want to bring you here, Jeff. I won’t be ready to retire for a couple more years. I want you here as a magnet.”
“Yes, a magnet. You see, many of our students are dropping out of school because we’re not giving them good enough reason to stay. Unfortunately, some of these kids are our best and brightest. I want you, my young friend, to be their reason to come back to school and stay the duration.”
I sat in stunned silence, trying to absorb what I had just been told, which was very far removed from what I expected to hear in my first interview.
“And what makes you think I could be that magnet?” I probed.
“Look, Jeff, I won’t beat around the bush. These kids are talented. They need someone close to their own age, someone with a solid background in their own music, someone to look up to,” he explained, quickly adding, “someone other than their old band director. I’ve read your resume, and I’ve talked with your references at UB. They told me I’d be crazy not to hire you. So, if you want it, this job is yours for the taking.”
“I’ll take it!”
Alex stood and we shook hands in agreement. Salary? That was the farthest thing from my mind and I didn’t even know enough to ask!
“I can’t tell you how happy I am you’ll be joining us, Jeff. Speaking of which, school starts in two weeks. Can you get here that fast?”
“I’ll be here!” I answered, not bothering to think about finding a place to live, then driving home to pack up our little apartment, leaving one life for another in such a short span of two weeks. But that’s one advantage of youth. You think you can do anything you say you can do. After meeting with the payroll supervisor to sign my contract, I drove back to the hotel, on cloud nine, arriving in our room to find a frantic wife worried sick about where I had been for so long and what might have happened to me along the way. Jennifer was napping in the portable crib we had brought with us, so Cass and I had the time to share my morning’s events. She, like me, was thrilled at the opportunity. Unlike me, she was the practical one on this team, and the thought of moving so far from her parents weighed on her mind heavily. You see, she had never been away from Buffalo. In fact, the first time she left home at all was when we married and went on our one-week Florida honeymoon. When I told her the $8,500 salary I had been offered and had accepted, we both thought we’d be rich. We soon found out that New Haven, Connecticut was nothing like Buffalo, New York, when it came to cost of living.
After looking at dozens of apartments in town and nearby, we quickly realized that we couldn’t afford to spend 80% of my salary on rent! So, we extended the radius of our search, eventually finding a nice apartment, albeit in farm country an hour north of the school where I would be teaching. We grabbed it, signed the lease, and drove back to Buffalo to pack our things and say our goodbyes.
I confide that the coming year proved very difficult for this young couple. While I may have complained about spending two hours every day driving to and from school, Cass was indeed the brave one, imprisoned in an apartment in rural Connecticut, with a baby, no money, no friends, and no car. Yep, that’s Jennifer again, always smiling, in our Connecticut apartment.
What Cass would face that year had never even crossed my mind. In 1971, the times still dictated that the husband was expected to make the career decisions and go to work, while the wife was expected to do whatever was necessary to hold the family together. Looking back, I had married a saint. We made it through the year, more through her efforts than mine.
When Cass and I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, we built a house just down the road from the College of William and Mary. Naturally, my father always joked that the school had actually been named after him (William) and my mom (Mary). They were still living in Florida, both of them in rapidly declining health. My Father suffered from all variety of physical ailments, my Mother from the mental ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Struggling against all odds to remain together in life, they found solace in the gentle rekindling of emotions so long ago experienced and so deeply felt. With the relentless and unavoidable pursuit by age and disease, memories disappeared quickly. But the emotion of Music never died. For Music alone possesses the absolute power to comfort the soul. For me, this epiphany struck in the last year of my parents’ lives. What I couldn’t have predicted was their reliance on my own recorded music. 24 hours-a-day. 7 days-a-week. It gave them comfort. Until no more time remained.
Dad passed away at the age of 89, only a month shy of reaching his goal of 90. Despite his many serious ailments, he remained a strong and determined man until the end. When our telephone rang early that Monday morning, I knew who it was before I even answered the call. Cass and I had become all too accustomed to such calls. We caught yet another plane to Florida, as we had so often done to accommodate my father’s recurring fear that ‘this time I know I’m going to die.’ His last words to me? “Remember Me.” That plea not only surprised me, but opened a new chapter in my own life. I cried deeply at the funeral of this man who had suffered so painfully during the last 40 years of his life. My wrenching tears were necessary. And cathartic.
Our biggest concern was how my father’s death would affect my mother. Surely she would be inconsolable, given his sudden absence. It seemed so strange to be grateful for her loss of memory, but she didn’t even realize what had happened.
“Mom, do you know where Dad is?”
“Oh…he’s at work…but he’ll be home soon.”
Only then did we truly comprehend the depth of her mental decline. Yes, one final phone call. One final flight to Florida. One final funeral. For this one, I felt only relief, grateful that her suffering was finally over. Like my father, she had lived to be 89, just shy of 90.
All things happen for a reason. Though we rarely know that reason. For me, this whole experience has taught me important lessons. Many of them about myself. And my family. Mostly, it’s a way to remember my Mother. Mary Resnick. Such a vibrant and loving person. Growing up in our house, she was always singing. Or whistling. Despite the many challenges of her life. Music was her salvation. It kept her sane, I’m sure. And happy.
The last few times I saw my Mother, I asked her, “do you remember me?”
“. . . no…”
“That’s okay. I’m your oldest son. Jeff. You know. The musician.”
“Oh…hello. . .nice to meet you…”
I decided to share my gift of music with people who needed it the most. People like my parents. I found them in senior citizen communities, memory care facilities, nursing homes, and homeless shelters. Desperate for momentary escape from loneliness. Hungry for the soulful comfort that music alone can offer. My performances helped them cope with their lives. Their sincere appreciation helped me cope with my own loss.
Out of the blue, two years later, a strange realization invaded my soul. ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s too painful.’ I abruptly canceled all my scheduled performances. I sold all of my musical instruments and electronic equipment for far less than their monetary worth. And I abandoned the one thing that had been the creative foundation in my life: Music. Just like that. No second thoughts. I convinced myself that I could make up the creative slack with my creative writing projects. And that seemed to work for a while. But I was foolish to believe that I could thrive again without my music to guide me.
Once again, Cass came to the rescue. She introduced me to a word I had never given much thought to: Depression.
“Me? Depressed? Can’t be!”
My doctor advised me to start taking ‘happy pills’ to overcome my depression. After much discussion with Cass, we decided I would be better off tackling the problem head on. As I had written in one of my books, ‘I often speculate that musicians respond so emotionally for the very reason that makes us so able to feel music. Our emotions are close to the surface, easily felt, quickly delivered, rarely controlled. Blessing, or curse?’ My greatest fear was deadening the very emotions that had sustained me for a lifetime.
During the ensuing months, I came to understand that the cause of my sudden change in behavior was a direct result of all the emotional trauma I had internalized after the loss of so many family members over such a short period of time. But even more important, the loss of my Mother had impacted me more deeply than I could have imagined. You see, Music was her gift to me.
Then, one day, Music returned to my life as quickly as it had departed. I’m still not performing again, at least not yet. But little by little I’m back to creating music in my mind. And in my studio. With new instruments. New ideas. New reasons. A new understanding of the complexities of life. And a new appreciation for the emotions I still feel in my heart.