Anyone who has made or attempted to make a living pursuing their art knows it is far from the path of least resistance. At times, I have felt that musicians have a thankless task and wondered where exactly they fit into the society. Are we merely entertainers or is something more to it?
Every so often, I have a performance that affirms, in every way possible, my decision to do what I do for a living.
Five years ago, I was called to perform for a gentleman hospitalized at the City of Hope. His girlfriend hired me to perform as a surprise birthday present for her boyfriend, Turk. He was a jazz enthusiast, and she felt the live music would elevate his sprits. I suggested having an acoustic bassist accompany me. She agreed, so I hired a great bass player and friend, Jiro Plutschow.
Turk's girlfriend said she would not be present for the performance. Although she informed me that he was very sick and could not get out of bed, it was not until Jiro and I arrived when we realized how terminally ill Turk was.
When Jiro and I arrived, we were ushered into his room and, at the first sight of him, I froze: he was hooked up to nearly every medical machine imaginable. As horrible as he looked when we entered the room with our instruments, his entire being lifted up when he realized we were going to perform for him.
The nurse took some pillows and used them to prop him up so he could better see us. After we took out our instruments, I told him, "We have been asked to come here and perform for you on your birthday. We hope you enjoy what you hear." When we finished the first song, Turk was in tears and asked the nurse to hand him his diary that he began keeping after being admitted into the hospital.
I found it very difficult to maintain my own composure, but somehow I managed. Throughout the performance, Turk would write in his diary. Every so often, he would stop writing to tell us about his illness, and how he had not felt anywhere near to as good as he did since being hospitalized four months earlier.
Shortly after we began playing, other patients began gathering outside of Turk's room to listen. To describe the feeling I had is impossible. Never would I have imagined that the music we were playing would have such an effect.
Before leaving Turk, we asked him to please come out to a performance when he was better. He smiled and promised he would. As much as I hoped I would look up one day during a performance and see him, a part of me felt this was the only time I would ever see him.
Two months later, my phone rang; it was Turk! He called to inform me that he was out of the hospital. He said our performance inspired him to get out of the hospital. Apparently, his recovery astounded everyone.
He asked when I would be performing again. I told him I had a performance the following Saturday. As you might have guessed, he fulfilled the promise he had made at the hospital.
Turk passed away a half a year later. Although his girlfriend did not inform me of his passing, a friend, who had initially referred me to her, did. My friend added that Turk's girlfriend felt the music was a large part of Turk's recovery. At the time we met Turk, it turned out the doctors expected him to live only another week or two. Turk ended up living over a half a year.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson: just because music cannot be measured in a laboratory does not take away from its potential as a healing agent for the body and spirit alike.