Beliefnet

A story from The Push. (Excerpted from Strings magazine.)

I've always loved jazz, partly because its essence depends on improvisation-musicians completely tuned into each other responding with original yet harmonious replies.

One of the most gifted improvisers around is jazz violinist Zach Brock. Barely in his 30s, the jazz world was already beyond a buzz and edging toward a roar. A Chicago Tribune review applauded his "rising stature as the rare jazz fiddler with something significant to say."

Zach's life was-and still is-pretty great. But despite his enormous gift, Zach once fiddled around with abandoning music. That's when Myron Kartman, Zach's music professor at Northwestern University, stepped up with his own brilliant improvisation.

Here's Zach Brock's story:

Two months into his sophomore year at Northwestern, Zach was crushed by a car. "It was October 30th, 1993. I was riding my bike and was the victim of a hit and run accident," he recalls. "My femur came out the side of my pants, my eye socket was broken, my kneecap was smashed into eight pieces, my tibia and fibula were bent. This man heard the crash from inside his house. He called an ambulance and saved my life."

Police eventually arrested the hit-and-run driver, but Zach's path spiraled downward. Bed-bound for six months, he dropped out of school and moved back home. It took years of physical therapy and multiple surgeries before he could walk without serious pain. "I played violin as soon as I could," Zach says. "Somehow, nothing happened to my back or hands, so at points during my recovery, sitting in a chair and playing was all I could do. Everything else was pain and misery. I was crippled with depression. Even when I got better physically, I got sicker and sicker mentally. I became a puny, fragile, 130-pound mess. But, I could still play violin."

At one point, Zach tried going back to school, but it was too hard to navigate the campus and he was too depressed to focus. He dropped out again. "I didn't want to go home," Zach explains. "My parents were frustrated and scared for me, and I was really messed up. All we did was fight. So I moved into an apartment near the Northwestern campus. Myron Kartman told me he'd still give me lessons anytime I could show up. Myron taught me for three years without taking a cent. It's not like I was the darling of the studio. He's just that kind of guy."

Those words "anytime I could show up" meant that Kartman's door remained always and unconditionally open. Zach's teacher's words may not have been the common encouragement of "you can do it," but they were the perfect words, giving Zach exactly what he needed: time to heal. And eventually Zach's wonderful spirit responded... with an original yet harmonious reply.

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