The short version is that 35 years ago I had a life-changing experience when Dizzy Gillespie and his band descended on my elementary school and played a short show for us in the multi-purpose room. It was that moment that made me want to play the trumpet and learn how to play jazz. For years I have been searching for a photo or article about that day, which I have not found yet. However, my search has led me to talk to many people along the way, one of whom is the Community Engagement Manager at Stanford Lively Arts, the organization that I believe made that day happen. She was so thrilled with my story that she invited me to come play in the very same multi-purpose room last Friday.
My wife and I made the trek down to Palo Alto and I played in front of hundreds of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Addison Elementary School with my new friend Rob Michael. I met Rob through Twitter and we became friends exchanging thoughts on the music business and being a working musician. We met in person for the first time about 10 minutes before we played, and immediately I knew I was going to love playing with him. I had heard his music (go get some for yourself here) and knew he was a great player, but he’s also one of the nicest, warmest people I’ve met in a long time. His easy smile and laugh tipped me off to a kindred spirit.
After a short introduction where the Dizzy story was told to the kids Rob and I played a few tunes and took questions from the audience. For a group of pre-teens they had some amazingly astute questions about the music, the process, making a living and more. If this crowd was indicative of the future, we’re in good hands! One of my favorite comments was from a girl responding to another student who said that the blues is sad music. She said, “Not the one in Monsters Inc!”. And my favorite question was to Rob, when one boy asked “Why do you nod your head when you play?” These kids were paying attention!
Here’s two of the tunes we played, captured by Rob on his MacBook:
Bashert by Jason Parker & Rob Michael
Blues by Jason Parker & Rob Michael
I can’t tell you what an amazing experience it was for me to be on that stage playing for the students in the exact same manner that Dizzy did 35 years ago. We don’t often get chances to give back like this in life and I was grateful for the opportunity and humbled by the experience. If we provided even a fraction of the inspiration Diz gave to me that day when I was in the crowd it will stand as one of my proudest moments.After the performance Darrah and I headed to the Palo Alto Library to search for evidence of Dizzy’s performance. We looked through many months of microfilm of the now-defunct Palo Alto Times for a photo, article, any mention of that day, to no avail. But I have to say it was a kick to see the headlines and photos from 1974! Lots of news about Nixon, Veitnam, womens’ lib, Patty Hearst and the SLA, etc. And the ads were a riot! Lots of sideburns, plaid and transistor radios!
Even though we didn’t find any evidence of that day I have not given up the search. I am narrowing in on the date that it happened and I will be back at the library next time I’m in Palo Alto to search more film. This whole experience is going to make a great book someday!
Many, many thanks to Rob for playing the gig with me. It was so nice to meet you and an honor to share the stage. I look forward to many more opportunities to play together. Incidentally, you can read Rob’s thoughts on our gig here.