A jazz pianist pleads guilty to child-porn charges – and tries to explain 

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"There were a few people saying 'How can you throw him a goodbye party? He's playing on your emotions. This is evil.' But not very many. Most people stood by him."

There was food on the table and music on the stereo. Some of Laursen's students came with their parents. The only thing that might have seemed unusual was the poster-sized photo of Laursen being signed by the attendees. After the party, it would be given to Jess.

Among those who showed up was trumpeter Stan Kessler, 57, who has played trumpet in groups with Laursen since the late 1980s, starting with a funk group called Baby Leroy.

"It was a really joyous celebration," he says. "You'd never guess what it was for. If you didn't know and just walked in, you'd think it was a party."

The guests made small talk and discussed Laursen's situation. Many of those who attended, including Kessler, had written letters to the court speaking of his character and asking for leniency in sentencing.

"You have a guy here who is basically one of the best human beings you're ever going to meet on the planet and who has always dealt with people with kindness and compassion," Kessler says. "Everybody he encounters, he makes them feel good. And it's a shame. It's a shame there's no flexibility in the law for people like him."

Kessler goes on: "The fact of the matter is, it is private, and as long as it's not hurting anybody, my feeling is, I wouldn't do it but I'm not going to condemn a whole person's life because of an odd hobby. To me, it's akin to wearing a fur coat. People think that's OK because they didn't kill the animal ... . Every time I see a Hummer on the road, I get upset, but that's me. I think people that drive them are jerks or stupid or ignorant or all of the above. Why are you driving a fucking military vehicle in the city? You're fucking the Earth driving this gas-guzzling thing."

At the party, Kessler says Laursen played some music and told him, "I hope they let me take my synthesizer with me. If nothing else, as least I'll have time to practice."


Jess never doubted that Laursen was a good father, even though the girls he was looking at were mostly the same age as Jess and her friends.

"He doesn't have that kind of mind," she insists. "He doesn't look at people and go, 'Ooo, look at her.' Even with women his own age, he's respectful. He doesn't like relationships. He's had a few girlfriends, but they always fail because they get too close. He loves kids; he would never hurt anyone, but he had problems. He's dealing with them now."

The night before Laursen went to prison, he and Jess stayed in the house together. The furniture was gone, and the bank had sent a notice of foreclosure, but they had a mattress on the living-room floor.

"That was the best night I had with him," Jess says. "We stayed up till one in the morning. We talked. We took pictures and stuff. We talked about Mom, the past. He's telling me stuff that I should do, like never give up music or fall in step with the rest of the world, just be yourself. But that morning was probably the hardest. He started crying and couldn't stop."

Jess will live with family friends who have agreed to care for her. She'll continue at the same school, thanks to an anonymous donor who has provided the tuition.

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