Oct 2017 The Columbian
I played the saxophone in various dance bands while attending high school and college in Arizona. The best band I played with in Phoenix was Freddy Duarte’s 15-piece band that played only Mexican music, which at that time included a lot of mambos. Our piano player, when asked about his day job, always said he worked for the city. The truth was, he drove a garbage truck, and the guys in the band irreverently called him “G-Man.”
After I was married and had two young sons, they would laugh at their dad’s funny music when I played my jazz records. But when we attended a Newport Jazz Festival that included some of the best jazz musicians of that era, it was a life-changing event for Steve, our oldest son, who was inspired to pursue a musical career. He quickly learned to play the tenor saxophone I had bought when I was in college, and he put in many long hours of practice to develop his musical skills.
When Steve was in high school he, like his father, played in several dance bands. One of these bands played a lot of Mexican music. One evening, my wife and I went to hear that band play at a local club.
A very special moment occurred when we got up to dance to a Mexican polka, played by our son on the same horn I had used to play that very same polka a generation earlier. I call that a musical echo, with a 25-year delay.
Steve later majored in music at Arizona State University. My wife and I attended his senior recital, a requirement for all music majors. That evening, we were invited to hear one of Steve’s bands, playing for a traditional Mexican wedding. During one of the breaks, Steve introduced me to the bandleader, who knew I had once played with a Mexican band in Phoenix. He asked me who I had played with. When I said Freddy Duarte, he told me his father had also played with the Freddy Duarte band. We must have been in that band at different times, because his father and I had never met. Yet, two fathers, who played in the same band, had sons who — a generation later, with no planning or even awareness — also played in the same band. Life often takes us in interesting circles, which in this case I call another musical echo.
Since then, Steve’s musical career has included more than 20 years of performing and recording with Lyle Lovett’s Large Band, as well as touring with Mel Torme and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Unfortunately, as Steve’s musical career blossomed, an inherited genetic defect caused my hearing to deteriorate until I had too little residual hearing for a hearing aid to amplify. So, eight years ago, I got a cochlear implant, which bypasses normal ear functions and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. The minor implant surgery was an outpatient procedure. After two weeks to allow for healing, my new implant was activated. I’ll never forget, as I was leaving the hospital, hearing birds chirping for the first time in more than 20 years. So grateful. I try to see the glass half full, rather than half empty. So, in spite of my hearing loss, I have much to be grateful for.
I’m grateful that I had 40 years of normal hearing before my hearing loss began. I’m grateful that I chose chemistry instead of music for my career; unless your name is Beethoven, there’s not much demand for deaf musicians. I’m especially grateful that my inherited hearing loss affects only males, and is passed on only by females, which means my two sons, both professional musicians, will be spared. And finally, I’m grateful for the availability of high-tech cochlear implants. Although what I hear is distorted, and is nothing like normal hearing, it’s much better than the alternative of silence.