As I write this, Harvey Rogers, Buffalo jazz's best friend lies gravely ill in a cancer hospital.
Harvey has been a welcome fixture at all the local jazz joints for decades, supporting celebrities and unknowns alike with warmth and appreciation, and, in my case, helpful critique.
It was my first public jazz gig and I was frozen with fear. In my previous incarnation as a folk singer I had played large and small audiences and had learned to work a crowd, but always with a guitar strapped on my chest, sharing original tunes. This was different. Just me, sound, audience — nothing in between — vulnerable.
Harvey sat in the front row, his brown eyes snapping with attention behind the thick spectacles. As I began, Harvey nodded to the music, inspiring confidence. After three songs, I confessed nervousness and that it was my first jazz gig, but was learning. At that, Harvey yelled out “Take your hands out of your pockets!” I laughed, and the rest of the gig went just fine. At the break, Harvey was complimentary, then suggested a list of songs I should consider in my repertoire — many of which have become favorites.
In the three and a half years since that gig, I’ve paid close attention to what I do with my hands and the rest of my body. Stagecraft is hard work. More importantly, I’ve learned to take my hands out of my pockets in other ways. I've played with guitarists in addition to wonderful pianists, occasionally incorporating a sax, gotten acting as well as vocal coaching, and, in a few days I'm going to Jazz Camp at Nazareth College. I’m stepping out from the familiar and hope to learn more about theory and improvisation — how to cut loose, scat and perform with creativity and courage.
Next week, whether Harvey is on this earth to delight us for more days or just living on in our memories, he will be with me at Nazareth, urging me to take chances, sing with wild abandon and take my hands out of my pockets for good and all.