Occupy AgeSong: An Intergenerational Evening of Jazz and Discussion

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For over 35 years, before I became affiliated with AgeSong, I rarely went to jazz clubs, maybe once every few years.  It’s a shame because I really love jazz and blues.  Years ago, as a young professional in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, listening to top blues and jazz for the cost of a beer at Ryles Jazz Club in Inman Square was my favorite weekly evening event.
Having lived in the San Francisco Bay area for about 30 years, I could have frequented the jazz clubs, but I didn’t – all sorts of midlife work and bringing-up-family reasons  – never enough time for jazz clubs. That is, until I met Nader Shabahangi, the Founder of AgeSong’s Assisted Living and Elder Communities in the Bay area.  Last year, he enlisted my help to launch the Poetics of Aging Conference.  In the process of coordinating the conference,  I was fortunate to meet many top Bay area jazz singers, musicians, poets, storytellers and other creative performers.

Tonight several of these jazz performers, plus others,  performed again to a live audience at the corner cafe between Hayes and Laguna, connected to AgeSong’s Hayes Valley Elder Community. This existing cafe space  is now open to intergenerational uses by the outside, community, as well as by AgeSong’s residential communities.  Nader envisions the location as “an Elders Academy, a place where elders can give back – where the old teach the young, the young the old, where we establish again eldership.” His vision is further described in the Pacific Institute’s Elders Academy Press. Hayes and Laguna could be the most up and coming corner in the city!

What was unique about tonight’s gathering is that young adults in their 20s mixed with elders through their 80s and everything in-between. They came from throughout the Bay area, as well as from AgeSong’s Hayes Valley and Laguna communities. There was  a mixture of artists and professionals, retired professionals, and others who refused to retire. What everyone had in common was a love of jazz and blues music. This was a lively audience, dancing and moving to the beat.

As I socialized with attendees at this impromptu get-together, I met Deborah Spencer, whose brother Daniel was tonight’s drummer.  A jazz musician for 55 years, Daniel recently lost his wife and moved into AgeSong’s Laguna community across the street. Danny is a very good drummer. Tonight’s guitarist Marlina Tisch accidentally ran into Danny while he was performing at AgeSong, and agreed to join the group. A third musician, Harvey Roff, played the saxophone.  He had been a member of the Pickle Family Circus for 20 years.

At the evening get-together, I also met Alvin, who used to run Club Babar in San Franciso and before that Alvins in Michigan.  He knew the drummer and saxophone player, both of whom had played in his clubs. His wife ran a Montessori School, where he met Faith Winthrop, the solo singer/songwriter at tonight’s gathering. Faith’s daughter, who is now married with a daughter,  attended Alvin’s wife’s Monetssori School when she was a child. Faith grew up in Boston with the mother of the guitarist Bruce Foreman.  Alvin sometimes gets together with Bruce’s mother, who has lived in San Francisco for many years.

The connections continued. Bonnie Weiss, a musical theater historian sitting in the audience,  said, “I’ve known Faith Winthrop for over 28 years – we both taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  Not only is she a wonderful jazz stylist, but she credits her songwriters whose sons she sings and often tells interesting stories about them.” Other members of the audience who, like Faith, had been presenters or participants at the Poetics conference,  included Katharina Dress, a mediator and facilitator specializing in working with older adults and their families and Gidalia Rothman, who works with the Family Service Agency (and is a Klezmer musician in her spare time).

Faith Winthrop has sung with such luminaries as Eddie Duran, Billie Holiday, and Tony Bennett.  She has performed at top jazz and cabaret clubs alongside Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand, and the Basse Band, has performed on the “Today Show,” was founding director of Glide Memorial’s choir, and served as a faculty member of the SF Community Music Center and the SF Conservatory of Music. She’s also a vocal coach who has taught Ben Vereen, and other acclaimed artists.  After seeing Faith perform at this event and a couple previous events, I decided to take singing lessons from her (a first for me).

While the musicians were taking a break, Nader asked Betty Goren, 89, from AgeSong’s Lake Merritt community,  “What should we do in 2012?”  She responded, “Get your nieces and nephews to write to Washington.” Betty also advised the audience to gain knowledge about themselves, to recognize their good points,  but not to over-analyze, to take chances, to take advantage of what is offered each day, and to act on the spur of the moment, “not to wait for your hair to dry” or to say, “yes, but.”  She suggested that if we listen to other people’s point of view, we might even change our own opinion about something.

Betty has been a professor and counselor/workshop leader for 20 years. She worked at a women’s counseling and cancer center, taught child development/psychology at several university schools of social work and law, and has been an early childhood educator.  Betty worked for the Commission for Women for 12 years, taught every grade from kindergarten through college, and also taught in jail. As later told to Paul Ethier, AgeSong’s CFO, who had worked at some point in his career in a similar role for The Clorox Company, she had also worked for Maidenform Brassiere Company as head of accounts payable. Wow! I wonder what kind of work I’ll do in 25 years!

I got the sense that at this intimate jazz get-together everyone knew everyone else in some past life experience, and as if everyone were coming together now to re-connect. This was an amazing inter-generational event, where adults at any age and stage were honored, respected, enjoyed,  and valued.  There was a lot of talent at this gathering.  San Francisco has launched a new creative old age.  Stay tuned for more. Occupy AgeSong.

Dr. Sally Gelardin, AgeSong Today Journalist

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