Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / Themes / Music & Art /
@ K. 1999 06 02
When I was three my parents took me for piano lessons. There was a Baby Grand in the house, by Baldwin, grotesquely out of tune. The teacher, as I remember it, had an upright. Two telephone books got my fingers into contact with the keyboard but so unsteadily as to make the teacher beg my parents to let their little Mozart grow some more before imposing lessons on him.
By the time I was four, domestic bliss was in the past: Dad was living half the time with his long time girl friend. She had a good job, chemist for the A&P, and didn’t mind that Dad was drunk all the time. Mom told him to get lost, never imagining that none of his income would there-after reach us. The court told Dad to pay up. Dad didn’t mind playing chicken with the court as well as with Mom. In games of chicken Dad would win every time, including against the State of New York. Music was forgotten, especially piano leassons for little pk.
As a teen I begged my mother to help me catch up. I wanted to play the saxophone: tenor especially. Like Lester. Like Getz. (Trane would explode audibly to the public in another couple of years.) No, my mother said. I loved jazz too much. She didn’t want me hopped up and lying in an alley somewhere.
Maybe, but I think the real reason was economic: if we couldn’t pay the oil bill, how could we even think about pianos.
Dizzy had a goatee. I had to have a goatee.
Dizzy barbered his to be weird. Mine was weird naturally: just a little fuzz on my chin. At age fifteen my body gave me nothing on the lip and nothing at the sides.
The trumpet is a pure prop, borrowed from the photographer. You wouldn’t want to hear the only sound I could get out of it.
And no, the picture isn’t printed backwards: I parted my hair on the wrong side.
My father did help with my tuition at his own Columbia, especially since my mother threatened to tell how he destroyed my grandfather’s will, thereby nullifying provision for me and my sister. (How do these lawyers escape being disbarred? How does the bar itself escape?)
(How about because we’re white kleptocrats? totally dishonest, hypocritical, and none too bright?)
Furthermore, middle class people don’t really approve of music apart from polite gentility. When my friends at Columbia formed jazz bands and started making money their parents went berserk.
I wished my mother had trusted my judgment. I routinely declined the dope that was ubiquitous among my musician friends. On the other hand, the judgment of those friends proved worthless. One, aged fifteen, ended freshman year with thirty points of A+. A C in the science dropped him to only sixth highest in the class. (By the way, there was no such grade at Columbia as A+. That’s what the teachers had given him anyway. He was simply off the scale.) But by the time we were seniors, this veteran junkie could hardly complete a sentence. His best friend (his pusher, the once brilliant Bobby Fraktor) was murdered. A year later the prodigy was in jail. (2001 05 16 I’ve added more on all this in the section of my Social Pathology pieces on Addiction.)
(Finding another pair of hands, my friend graduated from jail to become a world authority on James Joyce.
(On the second hand of the second pair, the last time I saw the most lyrically gifted of that bunch he was hiding in a doorway near Eighth and MacDougal, pursued by Universal Consciousness. I can’t imagine him having lived much longer.
(He grew up in a columned three story mansion in New Jersey, his father a bank president. What did his parents think of their music lessons by the time he was nineteen?
(Allan Ginsberg’s publication of Howl prophesied your future but was merely describing my present.)
2018 03 22
Piano: I mentioned our out-of-tune Baldwin. Lots of people learn to play piano simply by being left in a space with a pinso. But how many learn on a piano out of tune beyond a certain threshold of unpleasantness? Not too many I don’t think.
But in middle age, thirty or forty, I bought a compact electronic keyboard, neat little Yamaha. I got lessons from a couple of kiddie books.
By now I’ve had several synthesizers and people might mistake me as able; but unless you could play as a kid, you can’t ever really play. But I’m not too bad as amateurs go: I can play almost anything by ear.
When I was a kid my best friend Rudy went gaga over a guitar eukelele in the pawn shop window. I lusted for it. Mom heard me, sprang for it, gave it to me. I was delirous. But no one showed me what to do with it! Had I been able to play one tune on it, who knows what would have followed. As it was it was just another waste of folly.
In the 1970s I made a couple of sales in the DC area. A music store in Silver Spring had a sale. I bought a steel string guitar, took a customer’s cute employee in McClain out into the woods. I loved her boobs, she loved my dick. She sang and played, her father was a guitar pro. I learned a couple of chords but never put in the effort necessary for real facility. Knowing chords on the piano is somewhat but not altogether helpful with chords on the fret board. I played the keyboard and neglected the guitar.
Now I just play the keyboard, the guitar is neglected: and with my macular degeneration coming on a pace, I just play the keyboard: by memory and by ear. What I knew drains away, faster and faster. But then, these days I’m deaf anyway.
When I asked Mom for saxophone lessons, I had the tenor in mind. I loved Lester Young. I loved lots of tenor sax guys. One day in college, Columbia, NY, 1950s, I saw a soprano sax in a pawn shop. $30 the guy said. I bought it. I bought reeds, put in a fresh reed. Tried blowing it.
Ghastly. I never doubted that work would be involved and time, in getting a good individual sound; I never imagined by dream sax would make everyone’s skin crawl.
One day in Rockville Centre, 1960, I was trying to get a human-compatible sound out of the sax. Squawk. Awful. That weekend we were having our beer party at Don’s house. Half in the bag we played charades. Roger, who always hated me (it was Roger who spilled me out of the tent onto the knobby roots at scout camp) commandeered the hop orgy: Me, me, my turn!
Everyone yielded. Roger, redfaced with excitement, gestured Word1: pointed emphatically at me! “Paul”, the group chorused. “Paul, yes”, Roger screamed. Roger gestured for Paul, then a can, then a knot … then “play”. Then he gestured a saxophone. Paul Can Not Play … the saxophone!!!
I signed up for a lesson: Freeport Long Island. The teacher played a sweet not on his alto sax, my soprano sax went squawk, blawk. He had to be polite, I was paying him. He again played his alto, I again grated all ears with my soprano. Finally I demanded that the teacher show me on my sporano. He started once again to play his alto: no, you play my soprano. Reluctantly he took my axe: Squawk! Bawk!
Oh, the guy says. Your pads are no good, all dried out, no good at all. Charlie Parker couldn’t play this sax!
Now he tells me!
In my min-twnties Hilary and I bough a couple of recorders: one soprano, one alto. We got the Trapp Family lesson book. We practiced. Hilary would play the soprano part, I’d play the alto. Then I learned the soprano part too to help her. We added a tenor reorder, very nice.’
In the 1970s I was traveling the country on business, had the soprano with me at all times. I longed for more range. I bought a flute. I regreted it, it was too loud, imposing> I wanted an instrument I could whisper in the dark; I didn’t care about reaching the hall’s balcony. Nevertheless I was playing every day. I bought a series of Real Books, had the great jazz classics.
I’d read (and play) the tune. Then … it was my solo!
Now what do I do?
Learn chords. You can’t improvise without knowing the chords.
That’s when I should have gotten the guitar! It’s when I did get the compact keyboard.
Now why didn’t someone help me that far when I was a kid? or at least sill a teen.
Mozart and Beethoven played since childhood, composed since childhood!
I was way too late to be very good at anything, but I could have been more than good enough: if I started with competent instruments and competent instruction since teen-hood!