I was lucky to play piano with the great UK bluesman Long John Baldry when he played the Nelson School of Music a few years ago.

 Over six feet tall, he had played the whole tour up until that night wearing a long black coat and a very tall top hat in the style of a nineteenth century New Orleans undertaker. On this night however he strode on to the stage wearing a white suit and panama hat. He held up his hand and stopped the band mid-vamp and announced to the audience: “I regret to inform you that last night the Rialto Theatre burnt down. Whereas last night there was a panic in a cinema, what you see before you tonight is a cynic... in a panama”.

The mental agility and joy that great musicians give out is inspirational.  I met Kurt Elling at the recent Easter National Jazz Festival in Tauranga. He is possibly the world’s greatest living jazz singer. Phenomenal.  I asked him if he was enjoying touring with Rodger Fox’s Wellington Jazz Orchestra. Without missing a beat the Chicago hipster replied: “The band swings hard, the band plays loud. What’s not to like?”

It was a special privilege to hear Elling in concert with the Tui award winning WJO. He not only sang us into the stratosphere but also spoke eloquently between songs. After vocally exploding John Coltrane’s difficult A Love Supreme Elling addressed the young musicians in the audience saying, “It’s a sign of great community intelligence that kids have instruments in their hands and that they are studying how to read and play jazz”.

He went on:” When those terrible things happen in the world – when a kid gets a gun, shoots  and takes a few people out - I always think: why didn’t he have a saxophone in his hands instead of a gun? He would have had a much better outlet for his emotions.”

His words drew applause from the audience. Jazz educators and the long suffering parents who taxi their kids to music lessons were silently punching the air. It was a powerful moment.  Here was a great musician and thinker preaching the Good News about music.

In the same concert US sax player Eric Marienthal blew us out of the room. As one of the WJO members remarked: “Just when you think he has peaked in a solo he finds another gear”. Watching Elling and Marienthal playing off each other was breath taking - a master class in high end jazz performance.

Other moments in the Tauranga festival reminded me of the laughter that music brings. Like New York jazz diva Patti Austin backstage howling at the huge Easter moon as it rose above the outdoor festival concert site. Or the Earth Wind and Fire band member who salaciously whispered a request behind his hand to his cute Kiwi minder “Do you know where I can get some… KFC?...’Cause, baby you know I want some”.  Burger Wonderland right there.

Almost without exception the great jazz musicians I have met over the years radiate joy. Humble, mentally nimble, kind-hearted and articulate they exemplify the best we can be. Perhaps too the road brings out the best in people. “Following the white line on the free, freeway” ( Thanks, Joni). Touring, interacting with new people every day brings  the hustle : a world of  wit, intuition, empathy and honing the ability to listen – all tools in a good jazz player’s tool box.

 Renowned musicologist Oliver Sachs calls the awakening effect of music the “quickening”. Any kid who takes up a musical instrument will expand their emotional intelligence. With a sax or guitar in their hands they can rage against the machine, blaze their own trail, battle with the discipline of music. Music gives kids a ticket to ride, an edge. Music  can be their constant friend and, importantly, music can be a key to  happiness - for  both them and the people around them.