I’m writing this letter from Victoria, at the front edge of a festival tour with Curtis Nowosad’s quintet. As often happens for me in other cities, I found myself looking for the unique yet unspectacular things that are here, that somehow help the place feel comfortable, loving and appealing.
I was talking with some of the locals, and they pointed out a guy who was in his late sixties, dressed like a businessman from the series Mad Men, right down to the tight brimmed hat. He was carrying a basket of roses. They said, “This guy is great—we love him.”
He just sells flowers, and has been doing that for decades, but every now and then he’ll sing for us. He’s a phenomenal singer actually—world class. But the main thing he does is come down the street with his basket of flowers, and people feel like they’re in a very special place.
I am charmed by the singing flower guy. He makes me stop and think: who is like that in my city? Who does the small things in a beautiful way and makes the world special for everybody else?
I realize I have many in my circle like that. One of those people is a guy named John H. He comes around spreading good cheer and philosophy, and when we are doing our musical job properly, he dances. It’s a beautiful thing. Every musician I know likes it when John shows up because he’s so keened in on what is positive—he just shows up and appreciates. Then he moves on down the street to see what other perfect moments are around the corner.
Another guy is Antero L. He’s the phantom of Winnipeg. He quietly goes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood throughout the whole city, hanging up posters and delivering handbills and magazines. Everyone in the arts community depends on him, and he makes it possible for regular people to connect to the cultural life here.
Another guy is a teacher named Bill K. He’s like glue for every demographic in the jazz community—a book can be written about what he does and how he does it. Then there’s Donna T. who cheerfully tackles a million small details to make the Summer Jazz Camp run smoothly. These people aren’t doing glorious things in a public way. They’re like our pancreas or our kidneys—nobody glorifies those, and you’re not likely to think about them when you feel good. But when they don’t work? BAM! Your quality of life just plummets.
A lot of people in my inner circle are like the flower guy—people who come down the street carrying out various unremarkable jobs in a positive way. We breathe in the atmosphere they create, and everything seems more doable.
I think that one of the greatest things we can do is appreciate the small things that make where we live a special place. I tip my hat to the people who brighten my life every day. For my part, we’re gonna continue to put our efforts toward connecting all the dots that make the jazz scene hum along like a good little engine. We hope that all of you who play a part, visible and invisible, take some solace in knowing you’re appreciated!