We all know that there’s two sides to every coin. Nowhere is this more true than with our global culture these days. On the one hand, the internet is giving us all access to the same information and culture. We all see the same (or similar) YouTube ads, music videos and fashion photographs. Pop music all over the world is sounding more similar than ever and it’s inevitable that this trend will continue. And the Euro, for all it’s advantages, has served to accelerate this movement even more, by giving the same monetary system to cultures that are, in fact, very different from one another.
In this vein, I’m always amused when I see a British person proclaim their love of coffee, because their culture was associated so strongly with tea until very recently. (Yes, by all means, enjoy your coffee!) But to show how much things have changed over the past few decades, I’d like to relate an incident that happened to me concerning coffee and tea that would be unimaginable in today’s world.
As a recent college graduate in 1987, I had the good fortune to spend a year working as Gerry Mulligan’s band assistant. Gerry wasn’t so famous in the States anymore, but in Europe he was still revered as a baritone sax-playing celebrity. So much so, in fact, that I saw people approach him for autographs with tears in their eyes, ecstatic beyond words to have a chance encounter with their long-time idol.
At one point we were doing a long string of “one-nighters.” Each morning we’d wake up at 5:00am, have breakfast, go to the airport, take 1,2, or 3 planes to another city, check into our hotel, and have dinner. Then Gerry would perform in a concert, we’d get to sleep after midnight, and wake up at 5am the next morning to begin the cycle again. This went on for weeks.
I remember one period when we were traveling through Italy for about a week straight. I got in the habit of ordering their wonderful espresso first thing every morning to wake me up a little. Early each morning I’d roll out of bed, go down to the breakfast room and ask for espresso.
But after doing this for about a week I went downstairs and ordered my espresso, only to hear a very proper British gentleman say, “Sir, you’re in England. You’ll have tea.” I looked around and sure enough, I was in London! A little surprised, I drank my tea. At 5:00 the next morning, having learned my lesson, I promptly ordered my tea, only to be urged, “Signore, you’re in Italy… espresso!” Unbeknownst to be, I was back in Italy!!!
I always get a chuckle out of remembering this story, and yes, there’s a lot more to it than just coffee and tea!
Get my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration