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I met a guy, friend of a friend, who did graduate studies in the flute. For kicks he played Eastern hand drums for his girl’s belly dancing. (Inez is introduced below.) It was decades ago, I’m going to call him Tom.
Tom told me an extraordinary story: he became a professional musician in the same instant, age nine or ten, that he became a music student. He and his buddy were walking around a carnival. The carnie yelled, “Hey, kids, come’ere. You wanna job? I’ll pay you ten cents.” The kids step up. The carnie hands Tom a flute and the other kid a trumpet, puts them in the back row on the band stand. The carny teaches them to use the sheet music, coded in measures, to count the time: one, two, three, four: next measure: five, six, seven, eight … “Here, kid,” the carny says to Tom, “this mark is a quarter note. When it’s on that line there, it’s an F. Here,” he shows him how to hold the flute. “When you see that mark you hold the flute like this, and blow. F. Got it?” And the carny takes the other kid, shows him how to hold the trumpet, shows him how to blow a C. Shows him Cs on the staff, tells him, “When you see a C, blow a C. OK?”
Tom had just come back from the West End Tavern, he and Inez, my ex-student were my ex-wife’s house guest. That night the West End was holding a jam session. The musicians on the stand were tormenting some guy who’d asked to sit in, was fumbling with his sheet music on the music stand, was obviously terrified of the audience. Tom explained how easy it was to tell the real musicians: they don’t look at their instruments, they know their instruments; they look at the audience. They don’t look at the sheet music, they know the sheet music; they look at the audience. The correct relationship is to the audience.
You don’t look at your horn, you don’t look at the music, you look at the audience.
God, I love that image. Tom only knows one note: F. Maybe he plays it badly the first couple of times he sees it. But he had a job, to blow that F, in front of a live audience. His buddy knows the C. Then they learned other notes. Before long they’re playing several notes in the song, then most of the notes, then all of the notes. Then, after a while, maybe it sounds good: like music. But, in the meantime, he’s getting paid! Maybe he’ll be fired, maybe laid off. But he should never be terrified of an audience, he had his first lessons in public, as a pro!
Meanwhile a zillion schlubs look at their instrument, look at the sheet music, for decades! without ever facing an audience! When they do, they freeze!
Inez was my student at Colby. Inez was my student at Colby because her husband Buz was my student at Colby. Buz was my student at Colby because he’d asked the English Department secretary, “Which of these incoming instructors should I sign up for?” and the secretary answered, “Well, this Paul Knatz, is I understand, a skier.” Buz was a skier, a racer, a weekend instructor at Sugarloaf. Inez was his girl, then his wife. Buz signed up for my class, she signed up for my class. Years later, I’m running the Free Learning Exchange, Hilary has run away from me, Inez and boyfriend Tom are camped at Hilary’s. Inez has her Ph.D, works for Bausch & Lomb in Rochester, but camps at Hilary’s when in NY to save money. Inez is there, I’m invited over, I meet Tom.
The hell with Inez, the hell with Hilary, I love Tom.
I regard Tom’s bio story as the best music lesson I’ve ever heard. I put it above even advice by Charlie Parker.
Inez was Dr. Inez. Tom had the masters, in flute, maybe a doctorate too. Tom had been a music pro since age ten, but he didn’t waste his time trying to get hired by some Rochester philharmonic; he was making a damn good living in construction. Well employed, he could play the flute for fun, for love. He could play what he wanted to play: which was sexy drums for Inez: where she was the most popular belly dancer in Rochester.
We all took nude saunas together at Sugarloaf, so I knew Inez, up close, since a long time. But I’ve never seen her belly dance!
Ah, but she couldn’t have been better than my old next door neighbor from Rockville Centre, Nancy. Nancy was champ.
Meantime, Buz’ and Inez’ daughter, Kristin: Kristin would hole up in Hilary’s apartment. Kerzowie!
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