When I was a young boy, I loved Christmas. Still do. You know why? Because it’s the season with a huge spotlight on “hope.” My birthday signifies a very special day of hope for me, but Christmas represents hope for millions of folks all over the world.
I enjoyed my 92nd birthday recently, and I got some hip “goodies”. A few of my students surprised me and came to my party. They played some swinging music for me. Justin Kauflin on piano, Cameron MacManus on trombone, Quincy Cavers on sax, and Alan Hicks on drums. I was very happy that some of my tunes were included in their repertoire. You know how proud I am of my students. They played beautifully. They’re all professionals, now, and they can p-l-a-y! You’d better believe it! After that great music, I blew out my candles.
My party was very cool. And my neighbors, Monte Coleman and his family, surprised me and came over. He’s the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) Coach of the Year, you know. Played pro ball with the Redskins. So, it was beautiful that he took time out of his hectic schedule, just to come and hang out with me and the cats. Man, I really enjoyed it!
Speaking of Christmas, back in my childhood, I recall that my dad didn’t have extra bread to buy gifts because it was all he could do to raise ten of us children, with him being a widower. So, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come, when we could get some “goodies” from the Forrestel family. They’d give big boxes of Christmas gifts to kids like us. My brothers and I pulled our makeshift sled for what seemed like miles and miles to the Forrestel’s house, and we had a ball. We didn’t say, “No, it’s too cold to go way over there. And when we get there, we’ll have to stand in the snow until our name is called.” We didn’t complain at all. It was fun, because we had high hopes.
Now, at this time in my life, I realize that those gift boxes were much more than dolls for my sisters, clothes for me and my brothers. More than the really cool Tom Mix cowboy gloves that I got one year – replicas that Tom wore in his popular black-and-white movies. Those boxes were actually gifts of hope, because they represented something for all of us to look forward to. Something to inspire us to keep on keepin’ on.
The love and the gifts I’ve received this year have kept my hopes alive. And I want to thank you, again, for all of those beautiful things. To my friends who played for me, Lynne Mueller and other friends who helped to organize that fundraiser last April; man, I’m eternally grateful. The Jazz Foundation of America (JFA) and other friends and fans have given donations that helped to pay for my health aides round-the-clock. I can’t thank you all enough. All of your kindness. Man! I appreciate it more than any words I can think of.
JFA has been helping jazz musicians for two decades! I call their leader, Wendy Oxenhorn, “An Angel on Earth,” because she oversees their business of helping our cats who are in need. Musicians like Freddie Hubbard, Cecil Payne, and hundreds more. Cats who are sick and can’t work. Having hard times. Period. I’m talking about help with medical and dental care, rent money, food, basic needs. Man! JFA helps to get replacement instruments for our musicians who lose their axes in storms. They helped Fats Domino to get a new piano when Katrina destroyed his. They’re really busy now, helping our jazz musicians who suffered losses from hurricane Sandy, and other cats who are down on their luck. Talking about spreading hope, that’s what they do on a regular basis.
So, during this holiday season, I’m wishing you all a very Merry Christmas full of hope. God bless you all, and I love you!