Walking down Pacific Ave in Santa Cruz last Friday, I was lucky enough to stumble someone playing musical saw in front of a bronze sculpture of Tom Jefferson Scribner. During the 1970’s and until his death in 1982, Scribner was a common sight on the Pacific Garden Mall where he played his musical saw for passersby’s. He was something of a counter culture celebrity, for he was a man of many talents: vaudevillian, editor, humorist, philosopher, educator, logger, and a labor organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”).
His namesake, Thomas, was busy playing the saw. He asked me what I’d like to hear. I said Girl from Ipanema. He’d not played it before but did a pretty good rendition. At least I recognized it. Apparently he’d won first prize in the International musical saw competition. I asked him about the musical saw playing event in Felton’s Roaring Camp. Yup, he said. It’ll happen the second weekend of August. This year and every year. But the number of participants are dwindling from attrition. Busking, particularly musical saw or jug band type instruments, is a dying art.
Thomas was happy to have an audience. Several other people stopped and he jauntily asked them for requests. One couple was visiting from overseas. They asked for the French national anthem. He ended with America the Beautiful, and said that he lives with a friend in Lompico. Without such kindness, he said he’d probably be homeless. As it is he has to take a bus to Felton, and then hitchhike the rest of the way to Lompico. Not exactly an easy journey. I hoped that he made enough to make the trip worthwhile. I saw him later that day as I walked down the mall toward Santa Cruz Roasting Company. He had set up in front of the Palomar, but being a windy day, business was slow. So he packed up his saw and made his way to the bus station. As he walked away, I reflected on the magical musicians I’ve had the luck to run into. A guy playing Liszt as his piano was pulled down the street by a friend; a jug band from Texas with a real wash board and jug bass; a man playing glass goblets filled with varying amounts of water; and a lively band of one talented Santa Cruz family. I love music. Meeting people dedicated to keeping alive a tradition are precious gems and deserve all the support they can get.