Editor’s notes: A rainy night, an old trumpet player … and an art lesson I won’t forget | Magazine

Years ago, on a rainy night in San Francisco, I got a vivid art lesson.

My date and I — let’s call her “R” — had just had dinner and were walking through a steady drizzle in Chinatown. It was February, and the wet streets reflected red, green, yellow and blue lights. Car tires hissed and splattered as they passed.

A block or so up, we could hear the echoes of a lonely trumpet.

As we got closer, we saw a white-haired man in a soggy black derby and soaked clothing. He sat by himself on a concrete step, eyes closed and played a slow, bluesy version of the 1930s classic, “As Time Goes By,” on his battered brass horn.

I stopped to listen, transfixed by the heartbreakingly sweet notes. But in less than a minute, R was tugging at my sleeve impatiently.

“Come on,” she said, irritation rising in her voice. “I want a hot mocha — it’s freezing out here.”

So we moved on, finally coming to a large chain hotel with a fancy lobby, waiters in white jackets and black bowties and a live string ensemble.

It was perfect, R immediately concluded, and we were soon seated under a large golden chandelier. R was in her element.

With sweeping politeness, one of the crisp waiters brought our orders — a hot mocha for R, an ostentatious-looking flute of beer for me.

That’s when I realized the string ensemble in the lobby was playing the same tune as the old trumpet player — “As Time Goes By.”

They performed flawlessly, of course. Smooth phrasing, pitch-perfect intonation … but with no more heart than a fire hydrant.

It was the difference, I’ve since come to believe, between proficiency and art.

The ensemble’s skill was impressive, but they might as well have been building widgets. They were painting by the numbers, following the instructions on their sheet music with soulless precision.

But the trumpet player’s notes came from the depths of his soul.

To me, it was art. Truth.

And the truth was, that night made it clear that things were never going to work out with R.

The art lesson was worth it, though. Maybe I should look her up someday and thank her. Buy her a hot mocha or something.

Meantime, we’re focusing on the power and value of art — not just proficiency — in this month’s issue.

From the images of longtime Yakima painter Duane Heilman to the community transformation of Mighty Tieton, our writers have been exploring the many ways creativity enhances our lives.

We hope you’ll enjoy what they’ve found.

— John Taylor

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