ForeverMissed
Stories

Jay's Gifts

Shared by Cynthia Gair on June 1, 2021
I don’t think Jay knew the importance of the gifts he gave me over the last few years. I was a fledgling bass player and a newly-retired person who’d only started playing music in mid-life. I wasn’t classically trained. He was a lifelong musician, a musically sophisticated composer with far-reaching talents and knowledge. He was farther along than me in both music and in a life he’d shaped on his own terms.

In ~2014 Mary Ellen and John Mynatt bravely suggested I try playing bass with their trio, dubbed by Jay “The Forgettables”. Once a week, in The Woods’ Clubhouse, the trio played American Standards (pop and jazz songs from the 1020s through 1950s) for whoever showed up to listen. I became a regular; the trio became a quartette. Later, Jay invited me to accompany him at another weekly session, a gracious lunch program hosted by the Mendocino Presbyterian Church. Our piano-bass combo worked. Our love of the old standards drew us together. From then on, that’s where you’d find us on Tuesdays – along with the open-hearted church hosts, their street-wise wallet-poor guests, as well as Jeanne Duncan, Jay’s close friend who often came with him. This sweet mix of very diverse people, good food, comraderie, and music was a highlight of the week.

Somehow Jay maintained high musical and interpersonal standards while keeping his wide-ranging curiosity and acceptance. He mentored me with – I suspect – little realization that he was a mentor. He welcomed me into his musical life, making suggestions now and then, chuckling at my (and his own) mistakes, opening up new musical opportunities for me without pressure or judgment. Jay’s whimsical piano improvisations could made me laugh out loud. He gently pushed me to explore new ground. Early on, in a Tuesday session, he asked me if I’d like to take a solo, responding to my “but I don’t know how!” with calm assurance “just play a few notes…try it, you’ll see…” Soon we had a process established: he’d look over at me, eyebrows arched, dropping his playing to allow room for a bass riff. I learned to watch his eyebrows. Playing music together was pure joy.

We started taking walks after Tuesday sessions: down the steep bluff steps behind the church, along Big River Beach. We talked or just walked and absorbed the ocean air and sounds. We puzzled out questions of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Occasionally we ranted to each other about the rightward slide of US politics.

Jay’s unassuming generosity and kindness, his intellectual honesty, his view of himself and others as equals, his quiet affection, his musical modeling and guidance – these are gifts from him that will live on with me. I’m still amazed at my good fortune to have traveled beside him down a small part of his path. I’m so glad that he could leave as he wanted to, in his own home. But oh, how I’ll miss him.

Thank you, dear Jay.

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