I visited my mother’s family in Belgium the summer I turned twelve and went to the seaside with my uncle, his girl and a bunch of their friends, all in their early twenties. We were sitting on the boardwalk one grey, typically overcast afternoon and heard somebody playing the saxophone. My uncle’s best friend, Beniot, a Germanic-looking guy with short, blond hair and round glasses that made him look like Thomas Dolby, began to cry. He told me that the saxophone, the jazz saxophone, always made him cry.
Tonight I heard a guy playing the trumpet on the uptown platform of the 7th Avenue and thought about Beniot. Dude was playing In a Sentimental Mood, slowly and beautifully, when I passed him by. The sound of his horn made me want to cry. But it wasn’t just that. It was what he was playing. That song, a standard that is almost unbearably melancholy when played right. For close to a minute the sound drifted down the platform uniterrupted before being drowned-out by a passing downtown express train.
Then my train arrived and I couldn’t hear the trumpet anymore. But I could in my mind’s eye and I still felt like crying as I got on the train to come home.
This is my favorite version. The Duke with John Coltrane.