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Chapter Nine Carolyn and Sarah Somerville, September 1986 I allowed plenty of time to find my way to the 1369 Club. Contrary to my usual practice, I didn’t get lost and wander down any of Cambridge’s winding side streets. Also contrary to my usual practice, I found a legal parking spot only a block away from the club. I checked my watch—7:30 p.m. The jam session didn’t start until 8 and no self-respecting musician would even think about trying to sit in with the band until after 9. I was way too early. I could have gone into the club and had a drink or two while I waited for the session to get into full swing. But I am not much of a drinker, and the last thing I wanted was to get tipsy before my performance. From my vantage point down the block, I could see the musicians and audience members beginning to arrive. I was just far enough away that their faces were not clear to me, only the shapes of their bodies and those of the instruments they carried. As I watched them go into the club, I thought about the people I’d played with back in Tacoma. If my piano teacher, Jerry Gray, had not suggested it, I never would have played in a jam session at all. One day shortly after my divorce was finalized, Jerry had stopped in the middle of my piano lesson to ask me a question. “So Carolyn,” he said, stretching his long legs under the Steinway grand piano in front of him.“What are you going to do with yourself, now that you’re a free woman?” I was stunned. Although I’d been studying with Jerry more than a year, we had never talked about personal issues. I was not even aware he knew about my divorce. “There’s so much going on,” I said.“I don’t really know just yet.” “Don’t give me that crap, Carolyn. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about going back into the music business.” Of course I had. Truth was, I thought about it day and night. But, as Jerry apparently knew, I was too scared to give voice to my ambitions. “You have the talent to become a fine jazz piano player,” he continued.“But here’s the thing. In order to be really great at something, you have to have a hunger. A hunger so strong that nothing less than greatness satisfies you.” 34 35 Carolyn and Sarah, Somerville, September 1986 He fixed me with a gaze so intense I turned away in embarrassment. “I can tell you’re hungry, hungrier than you realize. But the question is, are you hungry enough?” That was indeed the question, and for the next several months, I thought of little else. Was I truly hungry for a career in jazz piano? Hungry enough to push through all the obstacles that I face as a single mother starting out at the advanced age of thirty-five? To find the answer to this question, Jerry encouraged me to play at a jam session run by Patti Summers and Gary Steele, two old friends from Jerry’s playing days back in the 1960s. Week after week when I came to my lesson he would ask me. “So, have you been by Patti and Gary’s club yet? No? Why not?” One night I had a dream. I was standing by the side of a broad tree-lined street holding a bicycle. Hundreds of people moved in slow motion past me as I stood. Some were walking, some were running, some were riding bikes. Jerry, riding at the head of a large group of cyclists, waved to me to join the group, but I hesitated. All the riders were dressed in white and moved silently, gracefully, as if they were floating. As Jerry gestured to me again, I could feel Grandmother Alberta standing next to me. And clear as anything, I could hear her telling me,“Go on, Carolyn. Get up on your bicycle.”Suddenly Jerry, myself, and all the other cyclists were airborne—light as feathers, we were floating easily among the clouds. At the end of my next lesson, I told Jerry I would definitely go down to Patti’s club that Sunday and sit in.“Wait till the second set,” he advised me.“That way you can check out the band and...


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