This story comes to JAZZ LIVES from veteran bassist and writer Bill Crow, who writes “The Band Room” column for members of the New York City musicians’ union, Local 802 — but non-members can read it, too, at :

When Ed Koch was mayor of New York City, he instituted free concerts in nursing homes in Queens. The free concerts took place under the title “Project Sunshine,” and were made up of volunteers. Bill Zinn’s “Ragtime String Quartet” played gratis in nursing homes all over Queens.

During one concert, Zinn noticed an elderly man keeping time to the music by tapping on the armrest of his wheelchair. While packing up the stands and sound system after the gig, Zinn struck up a conversation with the man, and suddenly a nearby nurse began to yell, “He’s talking!”

The man, a Long Island physician, had been in an automobile accident, was in a coma for months, awoke with a loss of memory, and had been incommunicative for about a year, just sitting in his wheelchair all day staring at a blank wall. The ragtime beat of the music played by Zinn’s group somehow jolted him back to awareness. When Zinn was offered a reward, he said, “I’ve been already compensated by the smile on the face of the doctor in the wheelchair.”

Music makes it possible for us to be reborn time after time, if only we are able to listen to its beauty deeply.


  1. Such a beautiful story Bill and Michael. “If I may” (a Joe Thomas expression)… sharing without boasting, drumatiCymbalism plays at surrounding nursing homes in Central New York. One might wonder what 3 drummers can do for people confined to wheel chairs and the use of walkers. We first remind them of the significance of the beat that exists inside them- their hearts… and the rhythm and color in nature exisiting all around us… EVERYDAY! A brief history of the drum- then we play! We play what we feel inside us… at times there are only tone evoking moods from our drum kits… other times a chaotic frenzi of excitement… again “licks” from the likes of drummers who went before us. Their response is humbling- rolling a bit in their wheel chairs or tapping the handles… a beaming smile here and there. I like to think these dear people “old folks” at one time filled dance floors. Now frozen in time perhaps- but we thaw them with rhythm if only for a moment. Like Zinn states above, we are the ones blessed.

  2. Inspiring story! An inborn talent, yeah it is!…And I am so glad of it…..thanks for sharing…

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