It may seem strange to write about a jazz band on a blog about service, but hear me out.
I first heard Blue Street Jazz Band at Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. When we got there, we didn’t know there was a festival going on, but we met an acquaintance as he was hurrying off the ferry with a clarinet case in his hand. Blue Street had just lost their reed man and he was sitting in. This acquaintance had played with a lot of traditional—some call it Dixieland—jazz groups and was used to the wholesale improvisation that makes traditional jazz such a dynamic art form. But, he said, Blue Street was way out of his league, and we really needed to give them a listen. We did, and my husband, Derrill, and I became instant Blue Street groupies.
After that, we started attending one or two jazz festivals each year, always checking Blue Street’s web site to make sure they were playing. Coos Bay was when I really got the full measure of Blue Street. I already knew that the leader, Dave Ruffner, and two of the other members were music educators. I knew that they had an incubator in the Fresno schools for young jazz musicians and gave lots of hours outside of school time to this endeavor. I knew that they were unabashedly Christian and always insisted on doing a gospel set on Sunday morning. But that evening in Coos Bay blew me away.
Usually there are two or three bandstands where groups play simultaneously—separated by as much real estate as possible so the sound doesn’t overlap. One of the venues that night was a high school gymnasium, and Derrill and I took the shuttle over to hear the last half of the set just before Blue Street, thinking that we could grab good seats during the changeover.
When we arrived, we found the gym practically empty. There might have been a dozen people in the audience, and although the band was still playing, it was obvious they had given up. If the saints were marching in, they were wearing Velcro boots. By the time the band was through with the set, I had tired blood.
The numbers didn’t increase when Blue Street took the stage, but the enthusiasm level ratcheted up about twenty notches. It didn’t matter that we were only twelve, they played as if we were a roomful, and what a show they put on!
The reason I write about this is because it happened again, just last weekend, at the jazz festival in Chilliwack, B.C. The last set in the Cajun Cabin was about as sparsely attended as that one in Coos Bay, but Blue Street used the occasion to come down among us and put on a less formal, but just as energetic and enthusiastic, show. “What d’ya want to hear?” Dave would yell. Someone would shout out a song, and off they would go.
They didn’t quit early because numbers were few. In fact, they played over, since there was no band following. They made us feel like friends, and if that’s not service, I don’t know what is.