Stepping from the car in the hospital car park meant not hearing the Stravinsky piece John Kelly was about to play on yesterday’s afternoon programme on Lyric FM. John Kelly prefaced the piece with an anecdote about an encounter between the composer and the jazz musician Charlie Parker. Igor Stravinsky and a group of friends had gone to a club where Parker and his band were playing and had taken a table in front of the stage. The band had come out for their performance and Red Rodney the trumpeter had spotted the group, “Stravinsky’s sat in the middle of the front row”, he whispered to Charlie Parker. Parker stared into the middle distance and began the opening piece, interpolating the opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The composer had been so delighted that he had raised his glass with such ferocity that those behind had been showered with ice and liquor.
It was one of those delightful stories that suggested true genius brought with it a true humanity, Parker being mischievous in pretending a world famous figure was not sat in front of him; Stravinsky making no attempt to conceal his childlike delight at Parker’s tribute to him. John Kelly, not lacking in a touch of genius himself, said he had many more such stories, but hearing them would mean joining him in a snug in a pub somewhere.
The anecdote recalled a story about Sir Thomas Beecham, perhaps another of John Kelly’s collection, where the world renowned composer was rushing across a hotel foyer when he met a woman he felt he should have recognized, he bade the lady a good day and went to get into the lift. As he was stepping through the lift door, he remembered the woman had a brother, so he leaned out of the lift and said, “By the way, what is your brother doing these days?”
“Oh,” said the woman, “he’s still the king.”
True genius comes with a true humility, people so caught up with their field of expertise that they do not worry about trivial priorities of the materialistic world – the photographs of Albert Einstein illustrating how a true genius displays an indifference to the sort of values now regarded as important.
Had Charlie Parker and Igor Stravinsky behaved as some of the celebrities in our time, they would have been on stage together, stroking the ego of each other, they would have engaged public relations companies and held press conferences and had followers on social media. Except they wouldn’t have done so, true genius doesn’t need to prove itself.