My friend Effy described himself recently as having been in a coccoon all his life, and he’s just recently emerged from it. He is in his mid eighties and a demon piano player.
But it’s hard, being in your mid eighties and emerging from a life-long coccoon. Of course, I accented the positive when he told me this. But you’ve spent all this time playing and thinking and becoming this incredible musician that you now have the freedom to be, I said. You did not sit around on your arse inside your coccoon! You did stuff! Lots of stuff! He said yeah but he kind of blew that off. I think it bums him out that he spent so much time in a coccoon and that is fair enough.
Effy doesn’t talk a lot and I am enormously fascinated by him so I like it when he does talk. He said he has to think of himself as being in his forties because he has so much to do. He puts covers on all the mirrors in the house and avoids looking at reflections of himself.
He is the sole carer for his wife, who he has been with for sixty years, divorced her at least once and married her twice, lived on different continents for a decade in between and now they live on different floors of the same building, which worked out well for him at least, until four years ago when she fell and hit her head and now he spends every waking moment looking after her, when he is not working or doing essential household things. She is very dependent on him, completely dependent really.
But his main passion in life is what happens to him when his fingers engage the piano. Music is the passion, and the piano is the perfect expression for his musical ideas. This is interesting because though he has been playing piano all his life as a second instrument, it was only a few years ago when he started to lose his chops on the trombone – an instrument he played professionally all his life – that he concentrated on the piano. He plays it furiously, with intense connection, and his ideas are sophisticated, beautiful, playful and often deeply surprising.
He plays a regular gig three times a week in a local old folks’ home, where he gets to play many different roles: sometimes he is accompanying a vocalist, others he is playing piano for a dance class, other times again he is playing solo. He likes the work very much.
Effy’s sole outing these days other than necessary household things and work is to go to Charly’s jam on Sunday afternoons. Charly is a 94 year old former society dance band leader and he hosts jams in his apartment on Fifth avenue on Sundays between noon and three. Everybody loves Charly, it is ridiculously easy to love Charly. He is, and always has been – according to everybody – a tremendously civilised, pleasant, intelligent, sophisticated, lovely, funny person with an incredible memory of his life and times. Effy plays the piano at our jam. I am the girl singer at the jam, I sing a few songs but Charly is the main singer and our bandleader.
I love to watch Effy play the piano. He is so intense about it, and wildly inventive. He is an extraordinary player. I told him two weeks ago that I think he is cresting a huge peak in his creativity and powers at the moment and it made him cry but he liked what I said. I think it’s true, and long may his peak last.