Hobbled as I am by residual injury—I wear an ankle brace and limp a bit—and wheeling a large cornet/flugelhorn case, I was grateful when a man much younger than I held open a door for me as I entered the lobby for Elkhart’s Lerner Theatre.  I was there plenty early to play a concert set, and he was coming out as I was going in.  He appeared in a hurry, certainly going someplace with purpose.  I thought I really should be holding it for him, and told him so.  No, he said, I was the important one.

I was?

Which group was I with?  How was I enjoying the festival?  Everything OK?

River Rogues from Grand Rapids.

I was enjoying it a whole lot.

Everything was more than OK.  In fact, I told him treatment such as we were accorded could go to my head.  If I let it.

Clean and quiet housing; breakfast, lunch, and dinner; doors opened for me while I was walking into a venue; prolific thanks for doing the thing I/we do; obliging technicians who helped us to do it the way we wanted; water, towels . . . oh, and pay, too.

And the guy holding the door for me?  Ben Decker, a volunteer, one of the three primary organizers of the 2018 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a late-June, three-day jazz extravaganza.  Decker is now in his fifth year, responsible for securing the acts.  He and the rest of the 150 volunteers have done it again.

This 31st festival is in the books now.  The audience was somewhere around 15,000 music lovers.  And you have to have something to put before that kind of an audience.  Try 39 musical groups from all over the country plus one from Japan (Bloodest Saxophone—some seriously hard bop) and one from Sweden (Jonathan Fritzén, smooth-jazz piano).  There are well-established jazz artists and new, upcoming artists.  The range is astounding, from Trad Jazz (Traditional or Dixieland—and that would be us) to experimental, to Cajun, to farmland jazz.  This year’s big-name acts included guitarist Lee Ritenour, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the United States Air Force’s premier Shades of Blue.  And we were there in the mix—like most others, playing four concerts over the weekend.

The venues are spaced along nearly the whole of downtown: There’s the vast and acoustically delightful Lerner Auditorium, the equally acoustically responsive Crystal Ballroom upstairs, the Civic Plaza outdoor main stage (for free events), New Life Community Church (a former Main Street movie theater), the Elkhart Knights of Columbus Hall, the State Theater, and the South Main stage.  Each venue was complete with tech crew and more than adequate equipment.  Most of these cats have been doing this work for a lot of years.

Even though it’s volunteer-powered, it ain’t cheap.  About $400,000 to produce, said Ben Decker in a telephone interview after the event.  Most of that—some 60 to 65 percent—comes from the 33 festival underwriters (this year).  Please forgive the list, but somebody needs to know who paid the freight: the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, INOVA Federal Credit Union, Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Gaska Tape, Inc., City of Elkhart, Welch Packaging, jj Babbitt, NIBCO, Kem Krest, Goshen News, Robert Weed Corporation, Dexter, Beacon Health System, D&W, Inc., Conn-Selmer, Inc. (more on them in a minute), The 90/10 Life Cookbook, State Farm, Barnes and Thornburg, LLP., 103.9—The Bear, MIX 106, Froggy 102.7, B100, Frank 1340 A.M., News/Talk 95.3 MNC, Dometic, Indiana Trust, Martin Marketing, MORryde, Thor Industries, the Greater Elkhart Chamber, the Rex and Alice A. Martin Foundation, WSBT 22, and McCormick Motors.

The rest comes from ticket sales.  Even the “Top Brass” ticket-holders are donors, paying $400 for access that gets them into pretty much everything a $100 “Basic” ticket will buy.  Oh, sure there are perks: preview parties, a patron picnic, VIP lunches, and entry to the headliners without an extra fee—but all the music is the same.  These high-priced tickets are really commitments to the festival.

So, what does the festival bring in to the community?  There is no hard-and-fast dollar number, agreed Andy Jones, director of downtown development for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, and Diana Lawson, CEO of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.  One reason is that businesses are hesitant to give out specific numbers.

“But they’ll tell me percentages,” said Jones.  Some businesses report five or six times the normal weekend volume.  One previous pop-up store transitioned to brick and mortar based on the festival business.  One upscale dress store declares the festival one of the five best weekends of the year; some festival visitors plan their clothing purchases for the yearly event.  Several restaurants reported double the volume.

And the Main Street food-truck concessions give back 20 percent to the city, which in turn underwrites the festival.  This year the City of Elkhart put in $75,000.  A city press release describes the festival as an event “with proven economic impact,” and a boost to tourism numbers, including those who stay several nights.

“The festival has built the reputation of this community,” said Lawson.  “It is the signature event and a true fit with the community.  It’s earned an internal reputation; getting repeat sponsors . . . we have found that not to be a challenge at all.”

“A true fit,” Lawson said.  Right.  The city is legendary as the Band Instrument Capital of the World.  Civil War veteran (and Andersonville survivor) Charles Gerard Conn started building cornets in Elkhart in 1875.  Other band instrument manufacturers soon joined him, and many trained in his factory: F.A. Buescher, J.H. Martin, E.K. Blessing, C.W. Osgood, William Gronert, and Harry Pedler.

The tradition continues.  Today, there is Conn-Selmer, the big dog.  The firm has subsumed so many brands that formerly stood alone: Vincent Bach, C.G. Conn, Holton, Leblanc, King, Selmer, Musser, Ludwig, Armstrong, Wm. Lewis & Son, Glaesel, and Scherl & Roth.  Conn-Selmer also distributes Selmer, Henri Selmer Paris, and Yanagisawa saxophones.  Elkhart also is the home to Gemeinhardt Flutes.

It should be no surprise that those involved in instrument building also are often instrument players, many at a professional level.  And the city has attracted gifted performers and educators.  Even Decker is a “rusty” violin and bass player, and a singer, certainly.  And he grew up at the event, where his father also played.  Dad is still a utility player: trumpet, keys, guitar, bass, vocals.  Still, Ben finds his satisfaction in organizing events for the downtown; after the jazz festival came a motorcycle show, and then classic cars.

In the beginning the festival was a way to draw people to an aging downtown.  Phil Miller, the original festival director and still active in it each year, has said that the gathering began in uncertainty (as all these efforts do) as a revitalization effort for the downtown of The City With a Heart.

But it may well have been an infusion for the art form, too.  There have been a lot of musicians who owe much to the festival.  They have a rapt audience, eager purchasers of CDs (or music files), fans who want to follow the musicians’ careers.  Most players realize that this celebration of jazz is close to pure joy.  Those I talked with were humbled by such a “star-attraction” welcome.

For Lawson of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, that has always been the goal: to treat musicians like the welcome visitors they are—visitors with talent.  She has been present from the start, even at the planning meetings two years before the first festival.  “This festival fits the personality of the community—it’s just like jazz.  I swear I’ve said this for years: The people here are independent, entrepreneurial, and they have their own style.  We may not always agree, but we come together and it’s like jazz: jammin’.  It’s jazz in action, and it’s who we are.”

To be at a place where you are wanted, where your live efforts are appreciated, where conformity is not required or even encouraged—ahhhh.

My first time performing at Elkhart was in 2003.  I was there with Claudia Schmidt and The Jump Boys.  (Sometimes we were elided to “The Jumbos.”)  I had a chance to listen to and talk with legendary drummer Ed Shaughnessy.  Bassist and violinist Johnny Frigo used me as a steadying-post in jumping down from a stage after a set during a late-night jam session at the K. of C. Hall.

My next time at Elkhart was in 2014 with The River Rogues.  I remember most vividly Bucky Pizzarelli sitting in the lounge area at the hotel after breakfast, going over techniques with a middle-aged wannabe.  Then in his late 80’s, Pizzarelli was infinitely patient giving a step-by-step guide to accomplishing a turnaround.  The guy just couldn’t pick up the lick, but he sure did try.  After watching that, I made sure to catch Pizzarelli’s set with guitarist/vocalist Ed Laub.  Pizzarelli was still magnificently able, but Laub, who is two generations younger and who has been one of Bucky’s students—and more lately his musical partner—was there to keep things on track, a great luxury for the senior jazzman.  They have worked together long and seemingly easily.  (The ties of this friendship continue, even with Bucky now well into his 90’s.)

And there were others, most particularly The Fat Babies—a Chicago-based Trad group led by Andy Schumm.  So good.  When I grow up I wanna be able to blow cornet like him.  Also, there was cornetist Geoffrey Gallante.  More pure ability.  He was maybe 13 in 2014.  (He appeared on the Jay Leno show when he was six.  In 2015 he was a Young Artist Award recipient from the International Trumpet Guild.)  Yeah, when I grow up I wanna be able to blow like him, too.  He sat in with us on part of our last set.  I sat down to give him space and to listen, and I didn’t mind it one bit.

Since our 2014 appearance a lot has changed.  Our drummer died, and I had a major back surgery that involved eight screws, two rods, cadaver bone, my bone, a trombone, and a backhoe.  I say I have more hardware than Ace.  And I have a drop foot.  At least I’m walking, sort of, and I am no longer in the constant exquisite pain that I had been in 2014.  And hence my appreciation for any help at any portal.

And until late May we had no idea we were headed for Elkhart again.  When Mr. Decker held the door for me and then introduced himself, I asked him if The Rogues were filling in for a group that canceled—not that we’d mind one bit.  No, he said, he just realized that he had more slots in his 100 hours of musical offerings during the weekend than groups, and he went through his list of “We should invite these guys again.”  And then he got hold of us in a hurry.  I told him we were very grateful to be considered.  We all got back to our leader, trombonist Dave Wells, within an hour of getting the invitation.

And so, by various ways we drove from western Michigan to northwest Indiana.  Just about two hours.  We made it in plenty of time to get checked in to a perfectly suitable Microtel—nice, clean, quiet accommodations and breakfast included.

I was there to blow, first and foremost, but this time I wanted to see if I could be even more effective at catching as many other groups as possible.  I had set out to do that during the previous two trips as well, but there is always one group or another I really wanted to hear that I couldn’t; most often a result of a conflict in schedules.  That’s what you call a high-class problem.

One of the perennial standouts is clarinetist Dave Bennett.  I remember seeing him in 2003, when he was a child prodigy.  Entirely self-taught, Bennett had taken on the persona and musical sensibilities of Benny Goodman.  Didn’t hurt a bit that with his round glasses and hair slicked back he was a dead ringer for a young Mr. Goodman.  And his sound!  Where did this come from in a young teenager?  I listened with great appreciation to his prepared materials but maintained some reservation when he was tossed into a young-lion jam session.  He was blowing through some chord changes on bop tunes that I thought he should have caught.  Still, the music was likely unfamiliar, a far distance from “Don’t Be That Way.”  I wondered if he were a one-trick pony.

I needn’t have.  The next time I heard him—in 2014—he was a fully mature musician and could play anything, often at outrageous speeds demanding extraordinary dexterity and presence of mind.  There never would be time to think those solos through; it had to come from some very deep place inside and lots of practice.  I knew I was never gonna get there—and I also realized that he still had decades to go and grow.  Elkhart had properly recognized his promise and put trust in what was to come.

I think Dave has been there every festival since I first heard him.

“He has such a great dynamic on stage,” said Decker, who noted that Dave Bennett would probably be coming back forever, or maybe a little longer.  “I’m not going to be the one to tell him not to come.”  He is true Elkhart stardom.  And he has grown to include so much more in his shows than just the Goodman presentation, even playing rock ’n’ roll guitar during one of them.  Kind of “Johnny Be Goodman.”  Whatever he plays, the audience loves him.

They also love his pianist, Jeff Kressler.  I have had the great good fortune to work with Jeff over the years.  He is kind enough to play with those of us who are lesser talents.  But as he says, “You pay, I play!”  Seems reasonable enough, but it’s not entirely true.  He has a heart for good causes, too.

Bennett was my first stop on Friday afternoon, and he was even better than four years before.  Sure, there were the audience-pleasing shticks of playing a little drums with the drummer, a lot of piano with the pianist, but the clarinet playing is still at its full bore.  I watched him closely; I have been taking lessons that concentrate on releasing unnecessary tension, and I wanted to study this master as he jumped on it.  I couldn’t see any squeeze.  Later I talked with him about this.  No, the tension is not in his face (my problem).  “It’s right here,” he said, indicating a place above the thymus, dead center in his upper chest.  Everything I looked at was relaxed, loose, but with enough essential tension that every note sounded perfectly.  Yeah, go ahead and try that at home.

Dave and Jeff and their contingent were in the Crystal Ballroom of the Lerner Theatre—and what a place the Lerner is, saved from ruin after the city bought it in 1990.  The structure was elegantly brought up to date in 2008 with an $18 million restoration/renovation/expansion.  I’ve seen the before and after.  The result is simply elegant.  The first-floor Lerner Theatre proper seats 2,000 and serves as the hub of the city’s performing-arts district.

After that concert I wandered down Main past a whole block of food trucks, the main stage, and to New Life Community Church.  That’s where we were to play at 7:30.  But I had time to catch Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles.  We were counterprogammed against Lee Ritenour, so there was no getting to hear him.

That first set of ours was the result of a little delving: Dixieland tunes and songs by Michigan-based composers.  Bet you didn’t know there were any.  Among the first of our tunes was “Darktown Strutters’ Ball.”  Before I got down to some scholarship I had thought the tune likely was another example of race music—highly speculative tunes about African-Americans written by whites who were intent on stereotypical portrayals.  Oh, to be sure, there are plenty of those—but not this tune!  The composer, Shelton Brooks, was born in 1886 in Amherstburg, Ontario.  His family moved to Detroit in 1901, making him a Michiganian.  His first big hit was “Some of These Days,” picked up by Sophie Tucker in 1909.  “Darktown” came along in 1916 and was intended to describe the annual dance in Chicago financed by high society, but with a guest list that included pimps and prostitutes.  Yeah, it was race music, but it was his race.  (Brooks, by the way, lived until 1975.)

We also included music by Hughie Cannon (“Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?”), Isham Jones (“Spain” and “Down Where the Sun Goes Down”), and Gerald Marks (“All of Me”).

During the performance there were a couple notable occurrences.  We regularly feature banjoist Dave Kadwell, tubaist Paul Keen, and pianist Jim Everhart as the “Gentlemen of Ragtime,” the band within the band.  The trio was playing “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” a banjo tour de force, when Dave snapped the A string on his mighty Vega Vox IV.  It was toward the end of the solo, and Dave picked up his Gibson ES-120T (thin body) guitar and finished out.  (“I could have played on three strings, except when a string goes like that the whole instrument is out of tune,” Dave said afterward.)

But the real kicker was that, during the concert, the solder on the bell of Paul Keen’s Miraphone Model 185 five-valve CC (that’s double C) tuba came undone.  “Plunk,” went the five-pound funnel, right onto clarinetist Kenny Huisman.  No injury to Kenny or his instruments, nor further injury to the tuba bell.  Paul, though, limped through the rest of the performance, kind of holding the bell in place.  He said that if he’d had duct tape he’d have used it.

We had plenty enough music for the full hour of that concert and more.  But time was the master of us all, and we vacated the stage just about on the dot; we didn’t want to jam up Tom Rigney and Flambeau.  (I didn’t stick around then, but I heard them Sunday morning.)

That night, two of us had to make repairs.  Dave replaced the A string and brought the banjo into a first tuning.  (Strings stretch, especially when newly applied.)  Paul and I went to the Conn-Selmer booth in the Lerner Center.  Our initial thought was to beg them to put the tuba back together.  But we were late getting there, and the booth was unattended.  So, just to be sure, that night Paul drove another two hours to go back and get one of his other tubas.  (Imagine having more than one tuba.)  He returned early Saturday morning, bringing a Wessex compact four-valve BBb—that’s a double B-flat.  (That also means that the fingering for any particular note is different than it is on the CC.)  It has a large, symphonic sound.  And, woof!  Our lows had never been lower, fuller, rounder.  But the instrument lacked a little of the edge Paul is known for and was more work to play.

My own 1967 King Silversonic cornet and Kanstul flugel played perfectly.  The only requirement was liberal valve oiling.  Ken Huisman’s Buffet clarinet (circa 1963) and Buffet alto sax (circa 1966) also stayed the course.  But, then, Ken is a retired instrument technician; he can fix almost anything if he has the tools.  Reeds can be problematic for reed players, but not this weekend.  And trombonist Dave Wells, a retired public-school music teacher, found his old standby early 1990’s King 3B seemingly impervious.  There is some pitting on the slide, though, and he says it’s time for a new horn; horns that aren’t closet queens do not last forever.  The next one will be a King 3B as well, now made in Elkhart by Conn-Selmer.  Our drummer for the festival, Chris Bookey, and pianist, Jim Everhart, were supplied instruments at each venue.  All Chris had to bring were his cymbals and sticks.  All Jim had to do was adjust the height of the bench.

On Saturday we had a 12:30 and a 9:30 p.m. hit.  The first one was in the Crystal Ballroom.  Banjoist Dave had wanted another chance at “The World . . . ” (it would be the only tune that we played more than once during the festival), but this time, just in case, he’d brought in a second banjo, a 1924 Paramount Style A.  I mean, what were the chances that a string would snap two days in a row?  He made it through, and the Paramount sat beside him unplayed.  (That extra banjo would be there for the next two concerts, too, just in case.)

After our hit, I stayed put and listened to what has become my favorite new band, the Huntertones.  The core of the group started at The Ohio State University.  The core members more recently moved to Brooklyn, where the band fleshed out to the full complement.  I have never heard music like this.  Tight.  The three horns—trumpet (and Sousaphone), trombone (and beatbox), and tenor sax—are so good that surrounded by keyboards, drums, guitar, and bass they rival anybody for creative harmonies and precision playing.  Oh, and they move really well, too.  Like almost all the other groups I’ve described you can sample them on YouTube.  (I call it YouTune.)  I’d suggest you start by listening to their “Camptown Races.”

I made sure that after every performance I went up to the players and told them what I thought was best in their playing, and with the Huntertones there was so much!  I am nearly old enough to be a young grandparent to this lot.  I thought it necessary that I share with them that I hear them, I see them, and that I attest them as the rising generation.

Then came the Mike Smith Quartet, a take-no-prisoners, serious-as-a-heart-attack, straight-ahead jazz group.  Smith can do anything he puts his mind to on that horn.  This jazz master has played with so many greats.  And his colleagues were at a like level.  “Love for Sale” claimed me.

Ed Laub again was at Elkhart—not with Bucky Pizzarelli this time, but with one of Bucky’s sons, Martin, on bass; a wonderful pianist, Bill O’Connell; and a monster tenor saxophonist, Harry Allen.  I again told Ed how superb I thought his singing and playing.  My favorite was the 1958 Antônio Carlos “Tom” Jobim song “This Happy Madness.”  I heard them just before our last set of the evening.

That set, by the way, was accompanied by the sound of fireworks going off just outside.  Well, you gotta have fireworks.  And we had fun in any event; not badly done by.

On Sunday we were allowed to nosh at the VIP brunch.  Oh, that was good.  At the same time I had the chance to hear Detroit’s Rob Crozier 5tet (quintet).  And I think our Sunday performance was about as good as we get.  I was able to blow easily and sometimes prettily.

Dave, Paul, and Jim were again featured, and this time they were taking on “Under the Double Eagle,” a 1902 Austrian march by Josef Wagner that’s been adapted as a Dixieland or bluegrass banjo or guitar feature.  Dave had set a breakneck speed, his favorite.  He’d had his first solo, Paul had taken a seemingly impossible turn at double tonguing, running up and down the whole range of the horn, and Jim had laid hands on an almighty passage.  Dave was driving to the conclusion and—WHANG!—there went another A string.  He swapped out the Vega for the Paramount in about five seconds, if that.  So aside from a change of the tenor in the tenor banjo, he was right with it.  We all laughed mightily.  That’s why you wear belts and suspenders.  (Dave took his banjo into Lansing’s Elderly Instruments for a tune-up on his return.  The bridge was just a little off, and there was a sharp edge that had developed that allowed it to gnaw through an A string.  It’s been fixed.)

I grabbed a little lunch in the musician’s lounge—salad and tender chicken breasts.  Fudge brownies (three) for dessert.  Stuffed.  And then it was time to bid a fond farewell to Elkhart and beat feet back north.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the festival ever since—the Midwestern warmth and welcome, the appreciation of artists and what they bring, the encouraging audiences.

The kind of music we’re playing—this Dixieland—is endangered and increasingly scarce.  There is the inevitable greying of our audience, one of the reasons Decker is programming to a wide range of tastes and, he hopes, ages.  But it’s also true that many people his age—he is 33—are not taking part in live music.  “I have to find ways to get my friends involved at a family level, not just come down here for the free events and some elephant ears,” he explained.  “We have to have diverse enough musical groups to hook them.”

He has a big challenge.  The ubiquity of recorded, not-live music has done much to cripple what used to be pure vitality.  People want to hear something just the way it was laid down in some studio, the result of multitracking and many knobs.  Over the last 20 years, the deejay has put the live band out of business at wedding receptions, the former mainstay for working musicians.  More recently, tech-savvy couples might assemble their own play lists on cell phones and patch that into a PA system.  That’s a lot of work, too, but it involves no local or live musician.  Sometimes, as a bone to convention, a wedding planner will include a band for the cocktail hour, but by the time there’s dancing, it’s all down to the person with the technology.  I can’t tell you the number of times senior audience members have bemoaned that, by the time they were ready to dance, the musicians had been paid, packed up, and gone home.  The couple-dancing audience was left with rap.

Also, many people I’ve spoken with say they don’t like that jazz stuff; too hard to understand or even whistle.  As someone who plays both sides of that coin I don’t know what to say except that I find meaning in both the highly melodic and the stylized improvisations that would result from something like “Moment’s Notice.”

Another part of the disinterest in Dixieland has to do with the issues of race that surround it.  What is a group of more-than-middle-aged white men doing playing the kind of music that originated in the brothels of New Orleans’ Storyville?  Who told us we could play this music?

Nobody.  We just do it.

I cannot apologize, but I can acknowledge all the minds and souls—so many of them black Americans—who have gone before, carrying melody, harmony, rhythm, pace into a world that is so often inimical to the artist and historically even more so to the black artist.  So, we play, mindfully.

To be on the inside of a band is so very different than it is to be in the audience.  Things sound different; there are the discrete parts of the sound, and it comes from all around, not just from the front.  That sound is interactive.  Oh, sure, we often use sheet music, but that’s for the roadmap: to show us who has a solo when or any special licks or arrangements.  But we all pretty much know the tunes and can play them, individually or together.  Each member of our band is capable of hearing a lick—any snatch of a song or phrase—and playing it back in the right key, and then adding to it.  What sets jazz musicians apart from others is that reliance on our perception.  They call it having big ears.  Only once in a while do we rewrite a tune.  (“Oops, I didn’t mean to do that.”)  It happened for me on “South,” one tune during our second set.  Instead of a D.S., meaning dal se gno or “to the sign,” I made a D.C., da capo, a return to the top of the tune.  The result was awkward, not as musical as it might have been.  But I caught it when what I was playing as a melody line did not fit with the chord changes that were moving underneath.  I caught up.  Well, the band that plays together ends together.

There are a lot of times when we play a head chart: Here’s the tune, and most of us don’t need the notes, and we make up the arrangement as we go.  There is an internal communication, bolstered by hand signals and head nods.  Very often the music tells us what to do.

What does that feel like?

Good.  Mostly.  There have been times—but only rarely—when we were so intent on performing correctly that we somehow missed the connection with the music.  Those are unsatisfying gigs, even if technically proficient.  Most often we realize that our full presence is the important part of playing.  That extends to how we make the music, too.

As a cornet/trumpet/flugelhorn player I am one of those who makes sound with my breath.  We wind players have different challenges than those who strike keys or skins, or those who strum and pluck.  I don’t mean to take anything away from drummers and pianists and banjoists, but our faces are involved in a most personal kind of way.  Our inspiration and exhalation are every moment with us.  Our bodies become the sound.  Reed players control a vibrating element—the reed—with their lower jaws.  Brass players’ lips take the place of the reed.  And the capture of that flesh against a mouthpiece allows the lips—mostly the top lip—to vibrate and sound.  The horn itself is really just a device for controlling pitch by sending it through various lengths of tubing and amplification.  Our sound is limited by the length of our breath.  Also, the louder we play, the less time we can sustain a sound.  There are ways to play economically; the better the musician, the more effectively he plays.  Tired chops are the curse.  And the little muscles about the mouth have to sustain a heck of a load for a full-hour set.  Or four full-hour sets.

It always comes down to making the right sound at the right time—sweet or harsh, loud or soft, round or edgy, dead-on in tune or sliding up or down to bend pitch.  And if I do it right there is no conscious thought, just the deep response to the call of the music.  We are trying to reach out, to share what seems ineffable, and something that is certainly ephemeral.

We have something to give to our audience, something like a gift or what we hope they’ll experience as a gift.  When we’re linking the music with the audience, the feeling is being at the center of creation.  And for a cornet player all the music rides on the breath, the blow.

And after the performance, audience members usually come up—they certainly did at Elkhart—to talk about the performances.  Most often it’s to share their love of music and tell us how they experienced it.

A couple of advanced years came up to us at Elkhart.  They had driven down from Lansing.  I thought it was nice that they were taking in the whole festival.

But then they followed us and showed up at our regular twice-a-month gig at Harmony Hall in Grand Rapids.  We have our coterie of local followers, faithful and supportive.  But for this couple it meant they drove two hours (both ways) to follow our music.  They redefine what it means to have fans or groupies, and it’s very nice.

Their presence was an affirmation that this gift of music goes both ways.  How can we not respond to that kind of appreciation?