Wednesday, May 19, 2010

34 Days Until NMA Reunion

When I was a basic student at the Armed Forces School of Music back in '72, I was a big cheese. Yup, I was a salty QM3 who was changing rates. This meant that I got a room in the barracks with only one roommate and I didn't have the house-cleaning and field day chores that the other "A" School students did. This was cool, but even more cool was the fact that the other students, fresh out of boot camp looked up to me as the font of all Navy Knowledge. Chest "full" of medals, sea stories from my time on a real Navy ship which had traveled to Viet Nam and other "fun" vacation spots, I could have told them anything and they would have believed it! They would gather around me in the lounge, their eyes big and innocent, slack of jaws and some of them drooling, I would tell them whatever crap I wanted to and they took it hook... line... and sinker!

While I was stationed there the SOM had their annual convention/concert/clinic thingy. I wonder if they still have it. Service bands from all over would come there to perform... I remember the Commodores impressed the heck out of me. At any rate, this was back in the days when the SOM actually had some money and they hired Gary Burton to perform and do a workshop on improvisation. To this day, I still remember two of the things he said on that subject. One was that if you're soloing and play a clam... just play the clam 2 or 3 more times to give yourself time to think about how to get out of it: "Everyone will think you did it on purpose!" Believe me when I say that over the years I've had lots and lots of opportunities to follow his advice. The other thing he said (and this one took a while to sink in) was that improvisation was 90% listening and 10% playing.

Well, you can believe me when I tell you I've been doing a whole lotta listening as well as practicing in preparation for the NMA reunion. Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Joe Pass mostly (sadly, they are all gone now). I listen in my truck on the way to everywhere. I think I can safely conjecture that I may be the only person listening to jazz recordings out here in rural hillbilly country.

I really enjoy listening and playing once again. It's been years and years since I enjoyed doing so. Even when I'm not in my truck and I don't have my iPod connected to my head, I still have music to listen to. It's in my brain and I listen to it all the time, but I have to be careful: I get so wrapped up in what I am "listening" to that I can actually get lost in a Walmart, or even crash my cart into a grapefruit display (not good for me, Walmart, or the grapefruit). I find that I can visualize the positions of the chords on the fingerboard as I listen. What fun! I haven't had this much fun in it seems like forever!

Before I close, here's a tip: Go to Bob Roetker's website ( and click on "free stuff". You will find instructions on how to download Bob's fake book. It's very well put-together and it's huge! More than 600 pages of the best jazz tunes ever!

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