They will remain nameless, because I love them madly.
1. Showed up regularly with booze on their breathe. It was a small room man. Did you think I couldn't smell it?
2. Distracted, with better things on their minds than attending to my needs. Yikes!
Now on to the great and influential who must be named:
Ali Jackson. He gave off a quiet confidence from his enviable track record of recorded performances with the world's finest musicians across genres. His message? Serve the music and make it feel good, real good.
The bassists and drummers met with Ali. We were paired off together and one group after another played time for Ali and the rest of the class listened. My partner was a young musician from Austria. To say we were pumped was an understatement. Ali counted off the time, it wasn't slow, and off we went. It was one of the most intense musical experiences of my life.
Then he asked the class, "what do you think?" They are responded with this comment and that. We stood there and took it on the chins.
Ali came to our defense. "No, they locked up the time, it felt good, they stayed in their lanes, I liked it"
The bassist and I walked proud for the rest of the week.
All the drummers are in the room together. One after another we played this simple pattern, I played the piano for some of the drummers. When it was my turn, Ali played the piano for me! What fun we had!
What a simple pattern. Did we all make it sound good, inviting, and fun? Nope. Only one quiet German in the corner and Ali made it sound cool. The rest of us were stiff, rushing, dragging, floundering around in subtle ways. Lesson learned. Keep it simple, make comfortable and inviting for the other musicians to play on. When I played with Ali on the piano, it was like floating on a cloud.
My question is this, “is this possible as an aging musician to reinvent one’s self and persevere long enough to succeed in a new direction, or are we forever stuck with the play lists of our youth?”
With the forced timeout from the pandemic, now maybe the best time to make a move.
Here is a short list of artists who have reinvented themselves at least once in maturity.
“Growth comes from stepping outside your comfort zone” Dawn Staley
Easy when you are young. Harder when you are old and comfortable.
Dream for a moment. Don’t worry if time is short, better to die in the saddle on the trail of a new adventure, than stuck in a chair staring at the wall.
The mask was awkward in the beginning, now it is a key part of playing safe. Other protocols include playing in a garage with the doors open, and physically distancing.
Winter will put an end to this soon. We will pick it up in the spring.
This will take work. Work that will get more difficult as this things drags on.
First things don't wait for the government to solve your money problems. Taking a temp job will be better that sitting at home underpaid on government benefits waiting for a miracle. Even a temp job that pays the same as benefits. It gets you up, dressed, and out of the house, or at least interacting with humans on some level. This has got to be better than sitting alone at home stewing in our own juices.
Secondly, seek professional help, we all know in our hearts that we are looking at another year before any kind of communal music making and audience gatherings are allowed. The vaccine will need to work and then be distributed widely to a reluctant and skeptical population to do its possible magic. Ask your doctor, union rep for ideas and possibilities.
Thirdly, take care of yourself. Sleep, exercise in sunlight, eating nutritional meals, and staying sober will up one’s chances to cope.
Fourth, take online lessons or classes if you can swing it. I find this helpful. I interact with my drum tutor weekly, piano tutor bi-weekly.
Fifth, stay close to your friends. Have online coffee meetups, or coffee in the park on a regular basis.
“It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being. The music is never the same for me, never. Each day is something new, fantastic, unbelievable. That is Bach, like nature, a miracle!”
Is it possible to improve at this age? Assuming the body is able, the answer is of course an emphatic yes. Can you address the shortcomings in your skill set? Of course.
I got my time together on the drum set at age 61. Really
Do I have goals at the piano? Yes, one simple one and more complex. Be able to beautifully demonstrate for my students their repertoire levels 1 to 10. Secondly, refine my skill in teaching improvisation. You can consider which is the more complex endeavor.
Drumming goals: bring joy to the bandstand, earn a skill level equal to my piano work, and teach drums successfully to keen beginners.
For these goals I’ve created plans, made room, engaged coaches, and allocated my resources.
David Story: Professional pianist, drummer, composer, and educator. Well into his 5th enthusiastic musical decade, David works with adults pursuing musical dreams in the autumn of life, while he maintains an active presence in the Toronto arts scene.