A life-changing experience (please read)

Discussion in 'Jazz / Commercial' started by TrentAustin, Jan 23, 2006.

  1. TrentAustin

    TrentAustin Fortissimo User

    Oct 28, 2003
    KC MO
    Hey gang,

    Sometimes I think we all have wondered why we play music, no matter what our level or experience. I'd like to share an experience that reminded me just how lucky I am from this past weekend.

    This weekend was the traditional University of Southern Maine's Improvisation weekend, held up in Gorham, Maine. It's a really wonderful event where around 50-75 of the most talented high school jazz players in the state get together for two days of intensive rehearsals, masterclasses, workshops, and concerts. The jazz faculty from our school works with all the ensembles and I really welcome the experience as I find it truly inspiring to hear these young artists create. This year we had the great pleasure of working with Benny Green, someone I've worked with in the past (if you've been reading all my "propoganda" you'll know about our experiences togethter) and quite possibly one of the world's greatest jazz pianists.

    Benny Green truly changed my life in these past two days. I have never seen someone who has so much experience playing with the MASTERS of this language who is so humble. He reminds me so much of my great idol Clark Terry in this regard. I remember him in our rehearsal teaching our bassist the bass line to Wayne Shorter's "One by One". He is so modest and so into playing this great music with the highest integrity that your mouth drops to the floor when he plays. It's also so astounding to know that you are playing with an artist who has been directly influenced by our "heroes" and iconic figures. He mentioned to the drummer casually a few times in the rehearsal that "Art would play this when we played this tune on concerts". "Art" being Art Blakey... now that is a direct feed from the source.

    Benny's clinic on Saturday to the college students was truly excellent. One of my trumpet students who is a very good player was astounded by genuine nature. He was so inspired by Benny's perfect comments about his playing, never negative and always with the love for the music in mind. I know when I worked with him on the recent project he was the same with me. It's truly a level I have now seen and hope that I can keep reaching for in my own life's teaching.

    One of the most outstanding things about Benny and how he worked with the younger high school students is he really did treat them with an amazing amount of respect. He was aware of the importance of his visit and I sincerely tried to tell all my students about his level of musical accomplishment and prowess. In his clinic for the high school students he talked on a completely different level than any other clinician I've seen. He stressed the importance of respecting the music, importance of really playing the melody, loving the fact you are playing music, sharing the JOY music brings to your listeners no matter what age, etc. It never once was about which diminished scale you should play over Caravan or techinically too intense. I think everyone was truly touched by the amount of love he has for the music. Everyone left that clinic really excited to play for the evening's concert.

    My student ensemble really stepped up to the plate and played great. After they played I asked them what helped their performance and almost all of them said it was Benny's clinic. They said to me that they weren't worried about the musical notes as much and really wanted to just have a great time with the tune. You could TELL! They played wonderfully with no inhibitions about "wrong notes...wrong chords" It was ALL about swinging and making great music.

    The faculty portion of the event was simply astounding. Benny's level brought us all up onto an entirely different plane. I've experienced this feeling before but I'd like to describe how I felt so you can follow me.

    Have you ever felt in a live performance that you are playing but it feels like you are actually not playing but sitting in the audience listening to yourself play? I felt like this all night, where I was sitting in the crowd listening to Freddie play. Now did I sound like Freddie? Nah, probably not... even though I did steal a few lines of Ugestu for my solo It's this feeling of almost escaping your body during performance that is the greatest feeling I've ever had and I owe it all to the respect and love Benny gave us. We felt as a collective unit that WE NEEDED to play with a new level of intensity and respect for him as well as the music. All I remember about one of the tunes (a very fast "Moment's Notice") was after he played four (it could have been more I wasn't counting) choruses I wanted to not drop off the intensity and spirit of the music. I can honestly tell you I have no memory of what I played other than I guess it just felt good as I didn't embarass myself. We took it to a place that I didn't think I could go. Wow.

    The whole night was like that for me. He played Misty in a trio setting as a slow ballad. He took my least favorite tune in my eyes and transformed it into the warmest, most beautiful musical "hug" I could experience. Benny mentioned that when he first heard Oscar Peterson played he had moments in the concert where he laughed and cried at the event. I felt Benny's power of emotion as well as his total control of the "moment". In my opinion it was like watching Tiger nail the chip from the green at the Masters or MJ scoring 45 while having the flu in the finals. These players had so much control over every action and so much confidence that you knew it was going to end up with the most positive result possible.

    Why am I babbling? I don't know really other that to share this with you all... to try to maybe remind you (like Benny reminded me) that playing music is always for the love of it and it's our job as artists to share so much love to our listeners. I can't thank Benny enough (AGAIN!) for changing my life.

    Best Regards,

    Trent Austin
  2. Spitty

    Spitty Pianissimo User

    Oct 3, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    thanks for sharing this Trent - I am happy to hear of this great experience you had with Benny - he is an amazing player, and now I've learned that he is an amazing person as well.

    Beautiful stuff you posted, thanks again,
  3. mrfabulous963

    mrfabulous963 Piano User

    Nov 26, 2005
    Wow, what a good guy, wish more were like him

    great story Trent!
  4. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    Trent, that sounds like it's one of those musical memories that will always stick out in your mind, and it brings into sharp relief why we do what we do in music.

    Speaking of being among greats, my family has a friend in the person of Ted Alexander, Jazz Pianist. He is a teacher to some of the greats and learned his craft in Hollywood in the 40s.

    How did we, a mostly non-musical family in rural Nebraska, get to be friends with one of the Jazz Piano giants? Ted and his son Bill have a thing for pheasant hunting, and when they started to come out to our area on their yearly trip to hunt the wild chickens, they would hunt either on our ground (until we sold the farm in 1972) or they would hunt on ground that my father, the local law, helped them to hook up. Also, my father was a firearms enthusiast, so Ted and Dad had that in common.

    Anyway, when I was in High School and got more and more into music and they would come over for dinner, after dinner, with a twinkle in his black eyes, Ted would joke about having to "play for his supper", and get behind the piano and play these astouding renditions of jazz classics. And he would narrate a little bit here and there saying things like "I'd like to play this tune that was written by a friend of mine..." and then the tune would be something like "Stardust".

    Here's an article that talks about Ted, his career, and some of his teaching philosophies, but it was written in 1999 when he was 81 - at this point, my father has been gone since 1997, and I don't even know if Ted is still alive or able to play.


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