Years ago I used to go to the local club in Ashfield on a Friday night, have a meal and listen to the jazz band that played there. My favourite number and weekly request was St James Infirmary, the band would effortlessly blend into that number when I walked in.
There were 3 sets on the night. The first set consisted of the band playing favourites, slower pieces interspersed with faster ones. In the second set, after a break, people who wished to join in were invited onto the stage. Often they had pianists, banjo players, guitar players, trombonists (is that a word?), trumpeters, cornetists (is that a word?). Once I saw an elderly lady, probably near 80, do a very good rendition of Georgia. For the third set, everyone joined in, good raw loud rollicking jazz numbers.
Each week a man, German, about late 60’s, came up from the audience with his cornet and played with the band during the second and third sets. He was able to improvise and he was worth listening to. I recall that his name was Urdo and I also recall that he was quite nervous, fearful almost, at the prospect of playing in front of an audience. A band member told me early on that Urdo was always fearful of playing in front of people but it didn't stop him.. Once Urdo began playing there was only he and the cornet. Urdo closed his eyes as he played, his nervousness gone, oblivious to the crowd. Only the music mattered for him when he played.
I sat with him one night and we shared beers and conversation. In his German accent Urdo told me some of his history, of having come to Australia, the loss of his wife, his love of jazz. He told me that he used to go to various venues to listen to jazz bands, much like I was doing, and that on one occasion he had sat and chatted with the leader of the jazz band he had been listening to.
I will use his words, as closely as I recall them, for the rest of the story:
"I told him that it had always been a deep regret in my life that I had never learned to play a musical instrument, that I loved jazz and that I would have loved to play."
"He asked me what instrument I would have chosen if I had learned and I said ‘the cornet’."
‘Then buy one and learn it,’ he said to me.
I was more than 50 years old but I did what he told me, I bought a cornet and I learned to play it."Years later Urdo met the band leader again and was able to jam with him on his cornet. Urdo had also played with other jazz bands and had travelled overseas a couple of times to take part in jazz festivals.