A remarkable thing happened to me on my way to get lunch today. There was a man playing the saxophone at the edge of Campus Martius, the center of the business district in downtown Detroit. Now there was nothing remarkable about the man himself. He was of average build, he had a full beard and his hair was standing entirely on end. If happy tree painter Bob Ross had ever been homeless in his life I imagine he would’ve looked exactly like this man. He sat on a metal folding chair, his saxophone case open on the pavement ready to fed tips, like any normal street performer. The remarkable thing is what his music did to me as I crossed the street.
As I exited the First National building I heard a tune that is very familiar to me. It was the theme music from the Francis Ford Coppola classic “The Godfather”. Normally when I hear this music my head is filled with images and quotes from the movie, but not this time. This time that simple little saxophone melody transported back 60 to 70 years, to Detroit of better days. Before the years of political corruption that ultimately led to the recent declaration of bankruptcy. Before the rising burglary and homicide rates made it the second most dangerous city in America. Hearing that classic theme I could suddenly picture men in three-piece suits and fedoras walking down the sidewalks with their best dame on their arm. The buses became trolleys and the modern cars driving down Woodward Avenue became the classic Fords, Buicks, and Chryslers that made Detroit the Motor City. I could even almost see the old Hudson’s building still standing tall and proud in the heart of the shopping district. For the minute and half it took me to cross Woodward I was in Detroit of better days, until at last I stepped through the revolving door of the Chase building and back into the present. When I walked back to the First National building the saxophone player was playing a more contemporary piece of jazz music that, while still lovely, did not transport me anywhere.
Those few moments with the saxophone player and the theme from “The Godfather” reminded me just how powerful music can be. The right song or melody can unexpectedly take you to another time and place, while still leaving you firmly where you are. It is a remarkable thing to experience, and the musician most times never knows the effect they have on the random passerby that happens to catch a few bars of their melody. That saxophone player will never know the experience that he gave to me has I was just going to get my lunch, and had I of had any cash on me, I could not have afforded to give him enough to show my appreciation for the magical moment he swept me away in.