Tuesday night, my friend Nikki took me to a jazz night at Coyotes in Hillsboro.
So we get into the bar and see things getting set up for the jam session. Nikki runs over to an older gentleman. I could have sworn he looked familiar.
He wore a bulky red 49ers sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that were just a little too loose to be intentional. His shoulders slumped forward, a permanent positioning from years of slouching. Wire rimmed glasses wrapped around his eyes and they seemed to magnify the happiness that lit up his weathered face as Nikki asked him how he was doing. She told him about her wedding, the puppies that her mom’s Jack Russell had given birth to less than two weeks ago, and random idle chatter.
I joined in to a certain degree, chiming in with upbeat things to say. He apologized profusely for missing her recent nuptuals. He had heart failure and needed to be cracked open and worked on. He lifted his shirt to show her the deep angry purple bruising along his side. I watched him make a weak fist with his left hand. He admitted that he could only feel two of the fingers on his left since the surgery.
At that, I would have expected him to curse the heavens or at least grumble a little bit. Instead, he smiled and asked Nikki who her friend (me) was.
“Oh shit,” she replied with a shake of her head. “Dick. This is Ali. Ali? Dick Berk.”
I practically felt my knees buckle. Dick Berk? did she mean the Dick Berk that drummed for Billy Holiday when he was a teenager? Dick Berk, who played with Allison, Hubbard, Mingus and countless others? It was almost as if she had heard the thoughts in my head, because she leaned over and said “yeah. THAT Dick Berk.”
I stood in stunned silence for a moment, standing in the presence of a man with a prolific career in jazz as he talked with my friend about their mutual friend Laura’s applesauce.
A few moments later, Nikki pulled me to a table by the stage and we ordered a drink.
Without an introduction or fanfare, Dick stood from his chair and ambled over to the drum set. You could see him having difficulty getting himself situated behind the kit at first, but once he hit the seat, his pain on his face lessened. He took his wire brushes into his hands and I could tell he was getting frustrated because he couldn’t fully grasp the one in his left hand.
He laughed it off and he and Laura started playing. For fifteen glorious minutes I got to watch a man STILL in love with jazz after all these years. It was so beautiful, I wanted to cry.
When he was done, they took a quick break before the jam session started and Dick removed himself from the stage.
I turned to Nikki, practically in tears, and all I could utter was “thank you”.
It was poignant to see that someone in such agony could leave it all behind when doing something they are passionate about. It makes me realize that I need to let go of some of my pain and replace it with passion. I didn’t realize how much I missed jazz until that night.