I went to the jazz concert on Sunday (see "The power of words," Feb. 10), in a part of Philadelphia that I would never go to alone: unfamiliar, dark streets bearing signs of advanced decay of Western civilization.
When we arrived at the address, it turned out to be a small art gallery with a few works of art on the wall that I could not decipher the value of. We seemed to be the very first to arrive; we saw the musicians unpacking their instruments from the van.
Inside was a man at a card table collecting $6 a head, and about 25 folding metal chairs, such as you find at AA meetings. In the shadows was a solitary figure occupying one of the chairs, a black man anywhere from 40 to 60 years of age, dressed in nondescript layers and a knit cap. When we got close enough that silence was awkward, I smiled feebly and he mumbled: "I'm cold." (It was indeed chilly in there; only one of the baseboard heaters was working.)
In that instantaneous judgment one makes upon taking in a scene, I concluded that the man was a person down on his luck, drawn into the studio by the promise of a little warmth and possibly coffee. I hunkered down with my two companions and spoke only to them while gradually the room filled with patrons. I had come to see a friend's son perform in a trio, but it turned out there was an opening duo that played first for about a half hour.
When they had finished, and people were milling about, the "homeless" man in the knit hat (for that is what I supposed he was) slowly arose and started opening bags from which he retrieved long metal poles that became the legs of a music stand. From another case he brought out a saxophone, and took his place with the keyboard player and the double bass player (my friends' son). He played very well.
Afterward I thought, with chagrin, of that passage in the book of James:
"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears find clothing … have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4)