As many of you know, this year has been quite a whirlwind for me. I’m used to things being a bit unpredictable and crazy, but I took it to an extreme this year (dropping out of school, moving to Atlanta, moving back to Indianapolis, etc. etc.). While I have continued to set the bar higher for the performances I give in the great city of Des Moines, I have found myself at a bit of a loss in choosing my next step as I try to take my career to the next level.
This year marks my fourth in what I consider to be my ‘professional’ career. This week I was struck by a few strong coincidences between the situation I was in four years ago and that one I find myself in now.
Four years ago I was coming off the high of my first album (if you can call it that), “Gimme the Keys”. The title is a point of embarrassment to me now, a cute phrase significant because I was launching my ‘career’ @ the same time that I was getting my driver’s license. Nonetheless, the recording had put me on the local map.
I had also just started taking lessons w/ Des Moines’ favorite musician of the day, jazz singer Roxi Copland. While I’m now proud to call Roxi a friend and collaborator, I was absolutely terrified of her awesomeness back then. Each week I would have a small panic attack before my lesson in fear that she would tell me I wasn’t good enough to do what she did.
One week I came in visibly upset and Roxi wanted to know what was up. I had just received a call from my bassist @ the time (my first bassist, a talented guy my age) telling me he couldn’t play the next five gigs (the first real ones I had ever booked!) over the next two weeks because his mother wasn’t happy with his ‘performance in the classroom’….
HOW EMBARRASSING! What an amateur I was! Add that to the fact that I hadn’t found a pianist yet and I had truly blown my shot at a future in music. I was going to have to cancel my debut run of performances at the local deli… What shame!
I told all of this to Roxi in complete embarrassment… but here’s the turning point, my first real lesson from Roxi: she got out her contact list of musicians and listed off the top five guys to call @ any instrument. On top of that, she agreed to move around her very busy schedule to play piano in my band for a very discounted rate.
This may seem like a small, sensible move by my teacher, but it was the first time I was recognized by her as a professional, as someone who was somewhere near her level. It led me to form my first (and in some ways always my favorite) trio with her and bassist Steve Charlson. Her boost of confidence led me to everything that has come since then.
Now, fast forward. Pianist Gary Walters is my teacher now. Gary is one of the finest jazz pianists I will ever hear in my life, and I don’t feel silly saying that here because I don’t think he believes in blogs or my website so he will never read the words. He’s a witty, artistic genius with a great taste for cynicism. Basically, I would do anything to know that I could someday live a life like his.
This past week I came into his office having hit a new low in my pursuit of the ever-evasive ‘next step’. Gary is in the habit of kicking my ass on a weekly basis, but he could tell that I was struggling, so he put the gloves away for this lesson.
An hour later we had devised a new plan to take over the world of music in Indianapolis.
It may seem childish, but just as when Roxi recognized me as something of a professional peer, Gary’s encouragement, given musician to musician, took the world off of my shoulders. As if Gary’s talk had given the rest of the world permission to send good things my way, countless opportunities have surfaced over the past week giving me the full confidence to say that amazing things are on the way here in the Circle City.
Four years ago, Ms. Copland’s words lifted me to the busiest summer I’ve had, my first great band, and a full-length album I could be proud of.
We’ll see what happens this time around.