As I was pushing my kids on the swing at the playground, a white man, in his mid 70s, sat on a bench blowing his cornet. His tone was sweet and mellow. He was with his granddaughter. I complimented him, “Your playing is beautiful. You have Miles’s touch.” He replied, “I met Mr. Davis at a jazz workshop in 1964 and I asked him if I could shake his hand and he said ‘hell no.’” I smiled and responded, “Yes, that’s Miles.”
We talked about Pops, Bird, Trane, Cannonball, and other jazz legends. I said to him that in addition to Miles, I also love Brownie, but he didn’t know Clifford Brown, the golden boy of jazz trumpet. I told him that Brownie was one of the best bebop trumpeters in the 50s. Unfortunately he died in a car crash at the age of 25; therefore, not too many people knew about him. He asked me for my age and if I played any instrument. He was surprised that I knew so much about jazz. Although I am 43 and don’t play any instrument, I listened extensively and read voraciously on jazz.
He told me that he served during the Vietnam War and he played for hundreds of funerals for fallen soldiers. I also told him that I am Vietnamese-American. We talked about Nam a bit then he asked for my wife’s name and he improvised a short tune for her. I asked him if I could record him so I could share it with my wife. It would be a nice gift for her since we reached our thirteenth anniversary yesterday. He agreed. His improvisation was beautiful.
We talked some more about music and Vietnam then he switched to politics. He said, “The current president is a mess. He looks half drunk most of the time. Donald Trump was a great president who loved every American, but I don’t want to get into politics.” I replied, “Let’s not go there.” I thanked him for the tune and for his service.