Later at the same festival, I saw the man having a similar conversation with another youngster, passing an old cornet between them. Curiosity taking over, I approached the guy to ask about what appeared to be spontaneous music lessons. He turned out to be trumpet-maker Jason Harrelson, being consulted for advice on adapting instruments for individual needs.
For me, these scenes defined the music scene in New Orleans: collegial and cooperative, not competitive and cutthroat. At The Spotted Cat Music Club, players would see other musicians in the audience and invite them to sit in on a number. At Jackson Square, ensembles waited for other groups to finish before starting their own song.
I found this so heartening. Too often, the competitive ethos of business has infected activities that are better served by sharing and mutual support.
Let's face it, despite all its talk of teamwork and loyalty, the modern business world is all about "I win; you lose." That's just sad when it comes to the humanities or even certain areas of science. Think of how much more advanced medical research would be if drug companies collaborated instead of rushing to corner a market.
My husband tells me that practicing law today is very different from the way it was when he started in the 1970s. There were always sharks and egotists, he says, but more often there was collegiality and respect for the law. No matter who won the case, it didn't preclude sharing a drink later with the other side.
We all talk about the polarization of politics, but the us-them dynamic has gone far beyond its usefulness in other fields as well. Maybe it's time to stop and listen to the music ... and take a few lessons from the musicians.