Leaning in, leaning out
My old college friend and I sat in his home office and talked about how the machinery of commerce and the tools of recreation have come together in the 30 years since we first met.

Gary is a film producer and his study is full of the high-tech equipment he requires to edit the many educational and otherwise instructional films he produces to make his living. Naturally, he was connected to the Internet as tightly as a cheek to a tear, and, as we reminisced about the old days and compared notes on the changes that have affected both our professions, I got a pretty valuable lesson on how our workaday lives and our recreational lives slowly have merged with the growth of technology.

The computer has, in many ways, blown into full flame the spark that attracted us to our various pursuits in the first place. Both Gary and I have been fortunate in that we both have made careers of activities we used to perform merely for recreation.

I've been a writer since before my age went into double digits and Gary has been a film buff for as long.
But Gary summed it up better when he pointed to his computer screen and said, "Remember, Freddo, how work was the thing we leaned into?" In the context of our conversation, Gary meant "leaning into" as in huddling over typewriters to do term papers, or getting writer's cramp from a ream of paperwork. And we did all that so we could go home, lean back and enjoy the television or the radio or the stereo.
Remember? Indeed I do. And my friend cut the bull's-eye in observing that our postures in relation to our tools of work betray how we regard the activity at hand, especially now that so many of us -- myself included -- have abandoned television and taken to the Internet for one-station-stop entertainment, aurally and visually.

The early days of my newspaper career were characterized by the clacking of manual typewriters and the newsroom was a very noisy place. And the noise, even in an area as open as the typical newsroom, brought with it a peculiar kind of privacy. In those days, it was entirely possible to have a telephone conversation in a room full of people without being overheard.

But, with the arrival of computers in newspaper journalism, a silence descended upon the newsroom, and one found oneself whispering into the telephone if he did not wish to be overheard. And the great satisfaction that had attended watching one's hard copy pile up in the editor's basket faded as well. Filing copy became not so much a matter of feeling a sense of accomplishment. It was more like flushing a toilet -- push the button, the copy goes away.

Gary has similar stories about planning, producing, shooting, financing and editing films. His tools, like mine, have changed dramatically and our initial good fortune has become a holistic way of life.
Following up Gary's notion, I thought on my long drive home of a great many of the fillips of life that bear out his observation -- those of us who wrote for fun as well as a living did indeed approach our old manual Olivettis and Underwoods with a backbone planted against the office chair in a way that betrayed whether this was work or play.

And because Gary and I have another quality in common as amateur musicians, my thoughts naturally drifted into the realm of jazz and how musicians approach their obsession with their art on a professional or recreational basis.

For example, I pondered, how different is an after-hours jam session at my favorite jazz club in Toledo, Ohio, from the performance itself, which may have ended only 20 minutes earlier. I know a lot of musicians, and very few of them are uptight types. They are as comfortable in a tuxedo and on the bandstand of a paying gig as they are on a circle of lawn chairs around a Sunday afternoon barbecue grill. That is a mark of professionalism.

But there is a palpable difference in the approach to, let us say, "Honeysuckle Rose" when the band is on the clock from when the same band jumps in after the working gig is finished and they get down to the real business of stretching out without fear of alienating an audience or irritating the man who signs their paychecks. And, if we throw into the mix the addition of a few casual musician friends who drop by to sit in, the possibility arises that "Honeysuckle Rose" will become an ever more exploratory operation that cuts a path into new musical territory.

John Coltrane is famous for the constant presence of his saxophone, even to the point where he'd fall exhausted into bed after a gig -- by his side, his axe, the axe with which he earned his living and fulfilled his life, the tool of one function morphing into the tool of another. At some point, Trane, the social human being, and Trane, the artist, became indistinguishable.

The breathtaking speed of technological advance has opened vistas in all potential areas of achievement that may lead even practical humans into thickets previously open only to, and comfortably inhabited only by, artists.

The Internet is, nowadays, my very nearly constant companion. For example, I am sitting at a computer owned by my sister and her husband in a town an hour's drive from where I live in Ohio. As I write, I am listening to "Straight Ahead" on SkyJazz, hosted by Mike Smith up in Toronto, Ontario, where, in a few hours, Mike will read this and have it ready for posting early Monday morning to begin a new SkyJazz week.

In the meantime, I will head home, catch a nap, work on a short piece of fiction to the music of jazz from Theresa's "Light And Easy" SkyJazz program, check my e-mail, answer whatever is required and retire for the night to the sound of yet more music from my computer. When I rise Monday, I will check the delights to be found at SkyJazz with my first cup of coffee and go about my day without the necessity of leaving my home, either for work or entertainment.

It is delightful that my friend Gary's figures of leaning in and leaning out have become indistinguishable. And the prospect of ever-widening circles of overlap in our daily pursuits is exciting rather than merely daunting, because it gives us all a taste of what jazz musicians always have known: that the pursuits that capture our passions are far more important than the merely necessary. Jazz is a constantly evolving monument to that philosophy and, as an added attraction, has been among the leading art forms that enabled passion to pay the bills.

Now the rest of us have a shot at it as well and we have ready models in musicians about how to approach this new way of life.

I like meeting you here right after the gig. That's when the real blowing begins for me.