Glen DaCosta played “Imagine” on his saxophone in a corner of the indoor playground, with his CDs for sale nearby, as one little girl in a powder-blue Cinderella dress wiggled to the music and two boys scrambled up a climbing wall.

The 72-year-old musician helped popularize Jamaican music around the world in the 1960s and ’70s. On this December evening, at the holiday party for Greenlight Studio, a play space in Portland, DaCosta’s audience included about a dozen children and their caregivers.

Some in the audience were told DaCosta played with reggae legend Bob Marley, including on some of Marley’s best-known albums. But few knew of his pioneering role in the development of Jamaican music or that he once survived a shower of bullets meant for Marley. They wondered why he was at the party, or in Maine at all.

“Bless his heart for doing this. It can’t be easy with all the kids running around,” Louise Tate of South Portland said as she sat listening to a mix of holiday songs and DaCosta originals. His sound was soft and fluid, the notes flowing smoothly from the saxophone. “His music is amazing.”

A children’s holiday party in Maine seems an unlikely gig for a musician with the kind of resume DaCosta has. But a chance meeting with a Maine musician a decade ago has blossomed into a special friendship, and DaCosta is now finding that a cold Maine winter feels like home. So much so, he’s chosen it as the place to start the next phase of his life and career in music.

His years of recording and performing have left him with only a meager income from royalties, and he finds himself struggling to get by and without health insurance. For the past four months, DaCosta has lived at the Falmouth home of his “best friend” and musical collaborator Kate Schrock, where he’s known as “Uncle Glen” to Schrock’s 7-year-old son, Roosevelt. He spent many days this fall busking in Portland’s Monument Square for “survival” money. During this stay and other visits to Portland over the past decade, DaCosta has accumulated a network of Maine friends and supporters.

In Jamaica, DaCosta is seen as a talented musician and an important part of that country’s musical legacy. In Maine, people who meet him see him not as a session musician at the end of his career but as an irrepressibly optimistic soul with enormous talent and a bright future. Sometimes it takes people looking at you with fresh eyes to take a closer look at yourself.

“I feel like this is a good place, a platform, for me in the future,” DaCosta said. “I feel, in some ways, like my life is just beginning. I have so much to do.”

DaCosta’s immediate plans include performing with Schrock, who plays piano and sings, at St. Lawrence Arts in Portland on Saturday. The next day, he leaves for Florida to rehearse with members of the Wailers – Marley’s band – including bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and Marley’s son, Julian, in preparation for a tour of Brazil. When he returns to Maine in March, DaCosta hopes to start giving lectures, play concerts with Schrock and perform with local reggae group Royal Hammer.

He also would like to reunite his band, Zap Pow, which had hit records in Jamaica and England in the 1970s and helped spread Jamaican music around the world. Plus, he has tentative plans to create a fantasy camp in Jamaica for reggae fans and two books in the works about reggae music and his life.

Part of what allows DaCosta to think big about his future is that he’s had a life, up to this point, that many musicians can only dream about.

“Most people only know about him from his years with Bob Marley, but being an active session player in Jamaica from the 1960s on means he made a very important contribution to the growth of the music,” said David Katz, the London-based author of several books on reggae music and musicians, including “Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae.”

DaCosta feels his contributions, to music and to society, are nowhere near an end. And Maine, he says, is the best place to help him stay vibrant.

‘BEAUTIFUL PLACE, SO MUCH TROUBLE’

DaCosta grew up in Jamaica, around the capital of Kingston, at a time when it was still part of Great Britain. He remembers being drawn to American pop music of the early 1950s and credits Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz” as the song that first stirred his passion for music.

Because of family financial struggles, he spent much of his childhood at a Catholic school called the Alpha Boys School. Known for its strict discipline and heavy emphasis on musical education, reggae historians say, the school played an important role in the music’s development, since so many of its pupils, including DaCosta, were among the first wave of Jamaican musicians to spread the island’s music worldwide. Other notable musical alumni include several founding members of the Skatalites and one of DaCosta’s Zap Pow bandmates, David Madden.

Learning to read and write music helped DaCosta earn a job as a musician in the army in Jamaica. While in the army, he worked as a session musician with bands that played ska and had hits in Jamaica and England.

DaCosta believes reggae reflects the struggles of Jamaicans and is a reaction to the oppression and violence of his country’s history – tragedy with which he had firsthand experience.

His brother, Dickey, was shot dead by police in 1969 after a confrontation over a summons. DaCosta said his brother, who was in his early 20s, didn’t understand the summons and argued with police. Later police came looking for him and shot him to death in the street, DaCosta said.

At the time, DaCosta was still in the army and had access to guns and ammunition. He said his rage at Jamaica’s “out of control police” sparked him to consider a shooting spree aimed at killing as many police officers as he could – hard to imagine given his gentle and soft-spoken demeanor. A friend convinced him to think of his wife (at the time) and his young children and to reconsider.

“What they did to Dickey, …” DaCosta said, his voice trailing off as he began to softly sob.

In the early 1980s, another brother, Denton, would be killed when he wandered into a part of Kingston fought over by feuding political groups. In what DaCosta said was a case of mistaken identity, members of one group thought DaCosta’s brother was from the rival group. They captured him and burned him to death, DaCosta said.

DaCosta was out of Jamaica at the time. Though he was devastated, he reacted differently to this death. The event seemed to strengthen his passion for promoting peace and understanding through music.

“I was older and wiser,” DaCosta said. “A lot of people get killed (in Jamaica) and the government does nothing. Such a beautiful place, so much trouble.”

A TALENT AND A PASSION

Around 1969, DaCosta and schoolmate Madden helped form Zap Pow, a reggae band that would have several hits in Jamaica and England in the years that followed, including “This Is Reggae Music,” “Mystic Mood” and “Sweet Loving Love.” DaCosta played saxophone and flute, and also sang and wrote songs.

“They were one of the most talented groups in Jamaica at that time, and Glen and the horn section were really in demand for sessions because they were so good,” said John Masouri, a British music journalist and author of “Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley’s Wailers.”

One musician who wanted DaCosta on his records was Marley. Partly because he was a session player, DaCosta is not always listed in online sources as playing on the Marley songs he played on. But the Marley albums he contributed to, according to DaCosta himself and other sources, included “Natty Dread,” “Confrontation,” “Kaya,” “Exodus” and “Legend.”

DaCosta and his fellow horn players helped define Marley’s sound on songs like “Exodus” and “Trench Town.” On the former, bursts of saxophone and trumpet give the song an extra layer, beyond the steady beat of reggae. In “Trench Town,” the horns have an R&B flavor and seem to infuse Marley’s vocals with more power.

When DaCosta was working with Marley, the two men often took breaks to kick a soccer ball. What DaCosta remembers most about Marley, he said, is Marley’s laugh.

Marley would “cock his head to the heavens and smile,” said DaCosta, whom Marley called “Zap Pow.” “It was like a ridiculing gesture, but it was beautiful the way he did it.”

DaCosta’s close working relationship with Marley certainly helped his career and was personally fulfilling, but it almost got him killed.

On Dec. 3, 1976, a group of musicians was rehearsing at Marley’s home studio in Kingston when they heard a burst of gunfire from outside. As the bullets tore through the studio, musicians scrambled for their lives. DaCosta hid in a bathroom with Marley, who had been grazed by bullets on his arm and chest.

“I saw the blood, and I asked him if he was shot and he said, ‘It look so.’ He said, ‘You get shot?’ and I said, ‘No,’ ” recalled DaCosta. “He say, ‘Zap Pow, you are a real soldier.’ ”

The shooting happened just before a concert called “Smile Jamaica,” which had been arranged to ease tensions among rival groups. Masouri said some groups saw Marley’s agreement to play the concert as an endorsement of the government – thought to be the reason for the attempt on his life.

DaCosta did not share Marley’s Rastafari views, which included the central tenets that Haile Selassie I, once emperor of Ethiopia, was an incarnation of God who would bring African people home and that marijuana use could lead to spiritual experiences. But DaCosta admired Marley’s determination to make a difference in social issues.

DaCosta continued to work steadily through the 1970s, including on Marley’s “Survival” tour in 1979. But Marley’s death from cancer in 1981 proved to be a blow to DaCosta’s career. Marley’s music and his legacy became tightly controlled by Marley’s family. Members of the Wailers, as well as DaCosta, were no longer included on Marley-related tours or recordings.

He did one tour after Marley’s death, in 1984, with the Wailers and the Marley family. But Marley’s wife, Rita, made it clear that she was in charge, telling DaCosta not to “make any wrong notes on stage,” he recalled.

STRUGGLES WITH FINANCES, HEALTH

The Wailers toured for a while without horns. In the past decade, DaCosta has performed off and on with various Wailers. Wailers members have also struggled financially over the years, unsuccessfully suing Marley’s estate for money they feel they are owed.

DaCosta said he does get some royalties, including for songs he wrote or played on over the years. Often those checks are less than $10,000 a year, and they are unreliable. As a lifetime session musician, he didn’t have the kind of contract that a star like Marley might have. He was mostly paid for his time on a recording or at a show.

Akila Barrett, the son of the Wailers’ late drummer, Carlton Barrett, said session musicians in Jamaica were often exploited by record labels and have little recourse because of weak copyright laws.

“The studio musician doesn’t know copyright and publishing, and they get taken advantage of,” said Barrett, 42, who considers DaCosta a close friend. “Selfish and greedy people have destroyed reggae music. But Glen has a young spirit, a good spirit, and you don’t find many musicians like that.”

Though DaCosta played on hit records, he said he “never really made much money” in the music business. Adding to his struggles when he was younger was the fact that DaCosta for a while was a single parent. He said the stress of that period led him to alcohol, an addiction he says he has overcome.

In the early 1990s, DaCosta contracted Lyme disease. He couldn’t work and was evicted from his home for failing to pay rent, he said. He went to New York, where his sister was a nurse, for treatment. He did not have health insurance and spent about $60,000 to get well.

Now, while he’s been staying in Maine, he rents a home in Jamaica. With little steady income, utilities and other monthly bills are mounting. He has eight grown children, scattered around the world, but said he sees them infrequently because he rarely has money to travel.

A SOULMATE FROM MAINE IN KENTUCKY

The question everyone who meets DaCosta in Maine asks at some point is, “Why is he here?” The short answer: Kate Schrock. The 49-year-old Maine musician met DaCosta in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2003. The longer answer involves DaCosta’s financial struggle and his desire to find new opportunities, but any answer begins with Schrock.

Schrock is from a family with a wider worldview than the average Mainer. Her grandfather, Dan West, founded the humanitarian group Heifer International, which provides livestock and training to farmers in developing countries and in rural parts of this country. Schrock’s mother, Jan, also worked for the group.

Schrock grew up in South Bristol and began playing piano around age 9. At 16, she moved on her own to New York City and worked as a model. She later began singing in a rock band, and then as a solo act. By the time she met DaCosta, she had performed her music all over the country, sharing stages with acts that included Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, Stephen Stills, the Samples and BoDeans.

Schrock was doing a sound check at a club in Lexington in 2003 when DaCosta walked in. He was scheduled to play the same club the next night with a contingent of Wailers. There to check out the venue, DaCosta heard Schrock tuning up and stayed to listen. Both say the friendship was deep and instant, despite something of a language barrier.

They met at a time when both were “soul searching,” Schrock said. DaCosta was trying to find more “personal” ways to convey his music, besides playing with the Wailers. And Schrock was questioning many aspects of her life.

She said she had been asking herself: “Is there more to this life than crossing the country, playing to intoxicated crowds in clubs? Am I really doing anything substantial with my life and voice? With my music?”

Schrock calls their connection “a bit mystical.” She said she was imagining the chorus of a song one day, in her head, in the first-floor family room of her home. DaCosta, who stays in a small room above the family room, came down the stairs and said, “I hear music.” And she said, “It’s in my head.” DaCosta grabbed his sax and she went to the piano, and together they wrote the song that was in Schrock’s head.

Almost immediately after their first meeting, the two began performing and recording together. Schrock has visited DaCosta in Jamaica over the years, and he’s come here several times.

When he’s in Maine, he often plays in Monument Square. He accepts donations, but he also says he just needs to play and to interact with people. He starts conversations with people and is quick to accept invitations – to play the toddler holiday party, for instance.

“I think his spirit and his open face really allow people to feel connected to him,” said Von Nida Ferrelli, 26, who works at Greenlight Studio and invited DaCosta to the December holiday party there.

Tom Kasprzak, a financial planner who works in downtown Portland, met DaCosta a few years ago in Monument Square. Kasprzak, a reggae fan, had seen DaCosta the night before playing with the Wailers at the Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. So he recognized him and started talking to him. Kasprzak bumped into DaCosta again and began exchanging messages with him on Facebook. Eventually he invited DaCosta to dinner at his family’s home in Kennebunk.

While there, DaCosta found out that the neighbor’s 12-year-old son played the saxophone. He told the boy to go get his instrument and then proceeded to give an impromptu lesson.

“It was amazing, watching this gentleman in the corner of my living room playing sax to a Bob Marley tune and guiding my neighbor’s son,” said Kasprzak, 46. “He’s got a big heart and a strong belief in music.”

Through Schrock, DaCosta met David Hart, a music promoter and Web developer from Kingfield. Hart is working with Schrock and DaCosta on their future performing plans, and he’s advising DaCosta on ways to promote himself, including on the Internet.

Hart has been impressed with DaCosta’s nature, on top of his talent. Hart repeated a story others have told about DaCosta: After a performance this fall at a party, where DaCosta sold his CDs, he took money he made and sent it to a struggling friend in Jamaica.

SMALL SPACE, BIG PLANS

DaCosta wore a heavy wool coat and knit cap as he walked around Schrock’s house on a recent December morning, not yet used to the Maine cold, even indoors.

He spends much of each day in his tiny bedroom, tucked into the eaves of an old Cape Cod home Schrock shares with her mother, Jan. There, at a small table barely big enough for a chessboard, he spends part of each day writing emails to friends and sending communications about tour dates, book projects and his fantasy music camp. Nearby are a couple of books about Marley and reggae music.

Schrock was confined to her bedroom this day, trying to recover after a long bout of pneumonia. Jan Schrock was in the kitchen roasting squash in the oven.

DaCosta climbed down the steep, sharply turning staircase from his room to the family room, which once was a day care business. The room is filled with toys, Schrock’s piano, DaCosta’s saxophone, and assorted pieces of audio equipment. DaCosta put a CD in a boom box and fiddled with the buttons, until he got it to play.

Then he picked up his saxophone and began. He played “Sweet Loving Love” and “Mystic Mood.” On some songs, he put his sax down and sang.

DaCosta likes to dance when performing, too, but only on a wood or cement floor and with the right shoes. On this day, there was no dancing.

“When it’s sunny, I’d rather go play outdoors and see people’s faces,” he said. “It just takes me away. I can’t explain it, but when I play I feel like I’m sharing love.”