Saturday, December 24, 2011

Visiting Doc for the Holidays

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, THE BERKSHIRES, MA – If you’re lucky enough to afford to travel during the holidays one of the highlights is always meeting up with family and old friends. We were able to take a drive up the mountains in Western Massachusetts to visit Doc. We met Doc years ago in Albany, NY at the now closed Half Moon Café where he was playing a gig. Bernie and Doc became fast friends. They got together often to jam, and Doc always had a new complicated riff to teach Bernie. Listening to their music made the drudgery of dissertation writing almost bearable.

Doc grew up in Harlem during the 1940s, honing his chops playing rent parties. After serving in Korea he moved around picking up gigs wherever he could and making ends meet as an auto mechanic. He had been in Albany for quite a long time when we met him in the 1990s and by the early 2000s was thinking of retiring to Paris. Going to Paris was a dream he had always had. In 2005 he was sponsored by a musician’s association to spend time there doing what he loves best: playing the sax. But his enthusiasm for Paris dampened as he witnessed the riots and so he came home, ending up in Western Mass, with a bio diesel fuel business on the side. Not too long ago he had to get dentures, but they made playing sax difficult so now he has two pairs, the latter that he chiseled himself and uses to play.

There’s something else conveyed in these photos worth noting during this holiday season: deep respect for the elder mentor and the knowledge that there will always be more to learn. In our youth-obsessed society where older people are dismissed as not being relevant anymore, watching Doc and Bernie jam -- and the look on Bernie’s face as he learned yet another new riff -- made me think about how important experience is and how it comes with age. So America, instead of worrying about a few more lines are your face and another gray hair, why not reflect on this for the holidays. And Doc, thanks for everything. Keep on playin’ that sweet smooth tasty jazz.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be reached at

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