in the suburban environs where I live. When there’s an all-day music festival featuring performers from all four of what we fondly call the Rivertowns, you go. If only to snoop in the luxe back yards where the performances take place. Musicians play an hour each. The first hour is Schumann, Piano Quartet in E-Flat major, Op. 44. I am in the shade but staring deep into an overgrown trellis, through which the music floats as if on wings. The koi pond on the way out is almost too full of blaze-red fish.
A folk singer at the Keeper’s House on the Aqueduct jokes about the poison ivy that is his backdrop, draping the Eastern pine.
We hop over to another back yard to see a garage band of our peers, the audience all men with carefully crafted five o-clock shadows and women whose hair is desperately trying to look natural. When we were teenagers, we thought our parents were all grizzled. Now I see it was no exaggeration, they are grizzled, and we are them. Everybody I’ve ever known from whenever I lived in this town is everywhere around us, my childhood friends all grown up, the parents of my kid’s friends…
And the plague is over. At least here, just outside New York, everyone’s vaccinated and hugging, sweating and hugging in the sun. We’ve come out of the cave.
The next stop is a scoot down Squirrel Alley, a village landmark that is somewhat secret outside our neighborhood.
We go to see a world-class baritone sax player, Gary Smulyan, and his trio, underneath a white oak and a northern red oak, with a Tuscan soft red wall in the background and rising above it a cloud of Kousa dogwood.
In the shifting audience, there’s a guy we once had a fight with but now is a good neighbor, another guy who helped run a campaign for local office I lost, his wife, who comforted me, the saxophonist’s wife, who was Maud’s piano teacher, a bit beleaguered by Maud’s unwillingness to practice, and their daughter, an unusual and precocious personality who remembers the names of every person she ever met. The horn swoops and blows and the drummer whoops and laughs. Across the lawn I see Josefa reclining in her camp chair without a care in the world.
More Kousa Dogwood overhead, a canopy with a bronze Japanese maple and a sugar maple with its delicate noses scattered over the fine grass.
I know the musicians, a band called Timbila, who play electrified music from Zimbabwe that is trance-inspiring.
Nora plays the Mbira, the thumb piano, for the band.
When she smiles on you the sun shines.
It is a well known fact that my nephew Jasper is the number one jazz pianist of his generation, at the age of 14. Before heading home to my cool apartment I stop at the basketball court for the teen segment of the festival, where Jasper backs up a seventeen-year-old girl interpreting standards.
She is amazing, but I have to say after seeing her belt out “I’m feeling good” that there ought to be some kind of mandate against people under the age of 18 rendering Nina Simone. Still, she’s trying. We’re all trying, on this day of almost too much music, overdue hugs and just enough Kousa dogwood.