Lawson had been asked to account for his presence in New York in 1954, at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street, sitting in on trumpet with Ralph Sutton at the piano, Jack Teagarden on slide trombone. A joyful noise
in Chicago and well regarded as a recording-studio instrumentalist, Lawson was
unknown to a jazz-club reporter looking to compose a program note. Was Lawson
come to town to make for himself bigger money and a brighter name? Cut a
record with Tommy Dorsey? Climb the stairway to the stars?
Lawson’s answer didn’t see the light of print, but Condon delighted in the
tempo and the phrasing, scrawled it on cards sometimes stuck in a lower corner
of the mirror above the bar. Where at the age of twenty in 1955 I found it with a
sense of thanksgiving and relief. The next day I was returning as a senior to Yale
College, where for three years my undergraduate questions about the purpose and
meaning of life had most of them come back marked address unknown or return
to sender. All but one, and that one off the books, the assurance that when bound
up in the embrace of music, I knew and felt as fact—as in other times and places
I assuredly did not—that yes, Virginia, and if it please the court, I am a human
being. And if to become a being at least in some part human is the object of the
lessons taught by poets and philosophers, then why not and better yet the high
note hit by Lawson? Why else is mankind here on earth if not to dance to the
music of time, make a joyful noise unto Chicago or the Lord, help out with the
labors (Promethean and Pythagorean, Apollonian and Dionysian) of creation?
by Lewis H. Lapham
I’m just here to make some music and help out with the fucking.
Bo Ya Plays the Qin as Zhong Ziqi Listens, by a painter from the circle of Kano Motonobu, c. 1535.