A couple of weeks ago I was at a traditional/dixieland jazz festival in Three Rivers, California, visiting my musical friend, Bob Ringwald.
If that last name rings a bell, movie and TV star Molly Ringwald is Bob’s daughter. He never mentions that in passing conversation but he's proud of all three of his grownup kids and pleased to tell you about their families, careers and current projects if you ask.
Bob is the piano-playing leader of the very tight, very hot, Fulton Street Jazz Band based in Sacramento, which is home to both of us.
Ringwald has the happiest fingers that ever danced a keyboard. The fact that he is blind is no handicap for Bob but to those of us whose eyes work just fine but possess fingers like clay bricks, the way he can sit down at a foreign, rented piano and attack it without even appearing to search for middle-C is astonishing.
The funny thing about Bob and me is that we knew each other decades before we met.
When I was a teenager I never talked with Bob but enjoyed his jazz piano and singing at Capone’s Chicago Tea Room and Pizza Joint in Sacramento. Years later he would enjoy listening to me on the radio.
Bob's life took him to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Mine passed through L.A. and Memphis.
We both always returned to Sacramento and eventually we howdied and shook hands at the world famous Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where Bob has played piano since the Jubilee’s beginning thirty-five years ago and where I have been a volunteer go-fer nearly as long.
I've never been to Bob's home or him to mine. I can't claim him as an intimate friend but there is a unique closeness I think we both feel in the happenstance that we made ripples in the same pond and they eventually touched.
This year I’ve been invited back to emcee the Jubilee Opening Day Parade. It’s a great honor and a very special homecoming for me but the one moment I am especially looking forward to is when Bob rolls out in front of the reviewing stand on some flatbed truck, tinkling the ivories and grinning like some old ragtime Cheshire Cat, which he surely is.
I’ll see many other longtime friends in Sacramento that day. I’ll also recognize a lot of people whose names I don’t remember but whose company I fondly recall.
But seeing Bob Ringwald again will be as special as his rendition of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.
He’s a magical touchstone to my youth, my present and my future.