I was nineteen years old, playing in a wine cellar. I’d spent two hours bringing the audience to this point — chatting them up, telling stories about the composers, mixing in a Classical Gas here and a Jobim number there.
Everything was set for the knockout. The waiters had stopped serving, the cash register had stopped cha-chinging, and a full house of patrons had put down their forks and stopped talking to hear me finish burning through Leyenda.
In those days, playing Leyenda, I used to picture a great wheel rolling across the Spanish countryside in darkness, with the landscape periodically lit by a flash of lightning when the big chords were struck.
So there I was, racing across Andalucia with the audience in the palm of my hand, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a sweet little old lady shuffling toward me. She had a kind smile on her face, one hand holding her cane and purse, the other hand extended toward me.
Now she was right in front of me. I still had a minute to go in the piece, but she wanted to give me a tip right then and there. She began nudging my right hand with her own outstretched hand, smiling sweetly all the while.
Still furiously rolling through the arpeggios and banging out the lightning, I motioned with my head to indicate where the tip jar was, but she just kept smiling and nudging until she finally separated my fingers from the strings.
I gave up, smiled at her, and opened my hand to receive the offering. She smiled even more sweetly and dropped five dimes into my hand. Then she wished me a good night and slowly made her way out of the room.
I couldn’t think of anything to say or do, so I just put my guitar down, thanked my audience, and wandered outside for a walk under the stars, wondering what I had learned.