I had been looking forward to the night since he sent the invitation out a week ago. My dear friend was performing. He used to perform regularly. Over the ten years in which we’ve been good friends, he’s been in a variety of musical groups. He’s been in plays, he’s performed spoken word. But he’s been on hiatus lately. This was his first performance in over a year. He received an artist in residence fellowship, an opportunity to develop work, perform, solicit feedback, rework, and perform again.
We arrived at the theater early. We didn’t have to wait long before he sauntered to the stage, with that distinct bounce that announced that Cedric was performing. The one, the only, the incredible Cedric Brown.
His feet were shoeless, as they always are when he performs. He gave the audience a quick once over, his eyes sparkling with recognition when he spotted a friend in the audience, of which there were many. A hush fell over the cozy space as he bowed his head, closed his eyes, then whipped his proud face back and belted out the first few notes of “Almost Like Being In Love.” Within a few bars, I felt my foot tapping, heard myself, unconsciously, humming along. Normally his performances are a conversation with the those present, banter bouncing back and forth, flirtation in and among the notes, a little bit of cuddling with the lyrics.
Tonight, however, was different. More of a scripted performance, not that intimate experience with the audience to which I was so accustomed. He sang. A narrator commented, revealing those thoughts in Cedric’s head, his own personal dialogue with the music, with the artists who created the music, with the audience who watched him interpret the music. He shared how he was told, from early on, “You sound like a woman.” And why shouldn’t he? His role models, those he emulated, both in and out of the realm of music, were women. He shared his adoration of the greats, of Dizzy, of Miles, of Max, and what they did to him, for him. He playfully mocked his singleness with the notes of “Never Will I Marry.” And he brought each and every body in the Jon Sims Center to a common point of hushed anticipation with an unforgettable rendition of the Portuguese classic “Dindi” which slowly, carefully, purposely evolved into an inimitable scat session, the beautiful sounds, beats, utterances, rhythms hypnotizing the collective soul present.
After the magic of the performance subsided, he returned to the stage, soliciting feedback: what worked, what didn’t, what should be revised. This was the painful part of the evening for me. Maybe it’s because I absolutely adore him and his joy, how all is right with the world when he is near. Maybe it’s because I see in him what I covet, someone who can take words and notes and make them come alive, make them capture whomever is near. Many suggestions were offered. He received them all graciously, nodding and smiling and trying to thoroughly understand the giver’s meaning.
As we prepared to leave, I sidled up to him, encircled him with my arms, stood on tiptoes and whispered in his ear, It was perfect, dear. Don’t change a thing.