PLAYING THE CHANGES
The country's top neurosurgeon, an unfeeling man, sees his perfectly ordered life unravel and, after hitting rock bottom, reinvents himself as a jazz saxophonist in an effort to recover his heart, humanity, and possibly his estranged wife – who is determined to resist his persistent and unwelcome attempts to win her back.
His lonely and despairing wife, CATHY STARK, pours all of her frustrated love and hopes for the future into her relationship with their ten-year-old daughter MAUREEN (or “MO”), who suffers from leukemia.
Weakened by a year of chemotherapy, Mo dies of heart failure during an operation, and Ray locks down his emotions even tighter. Without Mo to hold their marriage together, Cathy and Ray drift further apart.
After Cathy moves out, Ray’s downward spiral intensifies. He botches a procedure in his arch-rival’s presence and is ordered to take a sabbatical.
With all his free time, Ray starts playing his old sax after a twenty-five-year layoff. He tracks down CLEMENT “OZZIE” OSWALD, a legendary jazz saxophonist and protégé of John Coltrane, who becomes his new mentor.
Ray determines to win Cathy back. He persuades her to meet him for Valentine’s Day dinner, but she leaves abruptly after he starts pressuring her to get back together.
Meanwhile, in their bi-weekly lessons, Ozzie mixes gruff criticism with inspirational and humorous stories. Ray, enthralled, gradually opens up. Over the following months he makes tremendous progress, both on the saxophone and as a student of life.
Ray visits Mo’s grave on her birthday and finally breaks down, realizing that his emotional distance, physical absence and egotistical self-absorption for so many years were simply the flip side of his father’s incessant bullying.
Ozzie thrills Ray with an invitation to join him for a gig. Ray joyfully invites Cathy, but she responds with divorce papers.
At rehearsal on the afternoon of the gig, Ozzie suffers a massive brain hemorrhage while blowing an intense solo. He dies on the operating table. Ray, distraught, arrives back at the club shortly before he and the band—now minus Ozzie—are due to perform. He is crushed that Cathy hasn’t come to the gig, but he dives into the music nonetheless.
Deeply ambivalent, Cathy finally decides to check out Ray’s show and bursts into the club just as Ray finishes an impassioned solo before an enthusiastic audience. She fights her way to the front of the crowd.
Ray sees her from the stage and is overcome with emotion. He dedicates the next song to his wife and plays a tender ballad with tears and sweat streaming down his face.
Cathy, stunned at the “new” Ray, reaches into her purse, unzips the inside pocket, and slips on her wedding band as Ray continues his blissful soloing.