Jim Lundberg entertains longtime buddies and makes new friends at his local Panera Bread

Music On The Menu

With his translucent clarinet, Jim Lundberg entertains longtime buddies and makes new friends at his local Panera Bread bakery-cafe.

Eighty-six-year-old Jim Lundberg pipes out a few notes on his clarinet as he steps spryly toward a couple in a booth at the Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Jim plays a few more notes, and the pair tries to name that tune. "Moon River," they quickly — and correctly — guess.

Jim nods and finishes playing the song on his rare and eye-catching, see-through clarinet with gold and pink keys. For more than a year, Jim and his buddies (many fellow retirees) have met every Monday at this bakery-cafe, just south of Minneapolis. "We have a good time," Jim says. "We chew the rag and solve all the world's problems in an hour."

One Monday, on an impulse, Jim brought his translucent clarinet to the 9 to 10 a.m. coffee klatch. After that, the clarinet became his weekly companion - serenading Panera patrons, reconnecting him to his love of music, and making new friends who request songs and name tunes. His repertoire is vast. As the mood strikes him, he'll drift into a Latin tune or play songs popular during World War II. Often, those hearing these classics will share memories with Jim, telling him about where they first heard the songs or reminiscing about silver screen stars associated with the tunes.

"I'm trying to get billed as Jim and the Crystal Clarinet," he says with a hearty laugh.

Jim retired from being a financial executive about 26 years ago, and then plunged himself into the Twin Cities music scene. He has sat in with concert bands, played in the Bloomington Northern Winds, performed 20 years with a swing band, and formed his own trio that played at senior events. However, about a year ago, he had to give up those performances because of macular degeneration. His failing eyesight made it harder and harder for him to read music.

"This is a way for me to continue playing even though I kind of dropped out of music," Jim says. "I'm doing it just because I get a kick out of it, and it's very good for the lungs. The way I figure it, the longer you breathe, the longer you live."