Tuesday, July 11, 2006


When my father, a writer and academic, died about twelve years ago, I inherited a lot of books and papers. Yesterday I went through them to clear some space. While sorting out a long row of literary magazines to keep the ones he'd edited or published something in, I ran across an issue of The Green Caldron: A Magazine of Freshman Writing from the University of Illinois, December 1956. My father began there as an undergraduate just before he went into the war, and finished in the late forties just before I was born. Though I might not have seen it otherwise, in the close search for his name in the tables of contents (probably closer than it would take for my own name to jump out at me), I noticed a piece — "My Theory of Religion," apparently a set topic in Rhetoric — by Dennis Jay Zeitlin.

I've admired the jazz piano of Denny Zeitlin, who is also San Francisco psychiatrist, ever since what may have been his first recording session, on Jeremy Steig's Flute Fever. That LP has never been released as a CD; after many tries I got a copy on eBay last year. Steig's playing on his debut album is as great as I had remembered, and so is Zeitlin's: "accompaniment" doesn't give quite the right picture, and a couple of his introductions, as well as his oblique solo on "What Is This Thing Called Love," stuck with me well enough that during the decades while I didn't have the album I could replay an internal tape of those bits in my head. The web, bless it, confirmed Zeitlin's full name, gave me a birth date that matched, and even furnished an e-mail address, so I was able to write and ask him if he'd like to have the magazine.

What does this mean? Coincidences are meaningless, more or less by definition (otherwise we go all far-look-in-the-eyes and call them syncrhonicities), but confluences aren't. We seem to differentiate events that merely take place, so that if they take the same place they coincide, from events that constitute a flow, or more than one, so there can be a conflux of them. The things flowing together here flow only in my own mind's life. Also in Zeitlin's, but for him it's a moment's return to an earlier point in the main stream. For me there's the Father stream and the Jazz stream. It's not just that the magazine with Zeitlin's freshman essay turned up in my father's books (oddly, since my father had graduated a few years before). I heard Flute Fever as early as I did — it helped form my idea of jazz along with Kind of Blue, which I heard at the same time in the same way — because somebody gave my father a copy of the album on a reel-to-reel tape. I remember listening to it with him.

The topic of Zeitlin's freshman essay doesn't happen to enter into the confluence, for me, and it can only be in me that we're talking about here. If it did, the sense of a meaning would increase, both because there would be some third stream in the mix, and because there would be substance, something to substantiate the significant form of confluence.