Earlier, I mentioned that I quit music school after my second year of college (my first year at DePaul University). In that journal entry, I failed to mention the real tipping point…
Due to my chop problems and my lack of exceptional talent, I knew I'd never be a top-notch player. I was (and still am) light years behind similarly aged players like Nicholas Payton and Ryan Kisor. But even though I knew I couldn't attain their level of success, I still held onto the idea that I could make a living playing jazz in local clubs. This delusional line of thinking continued, until one night during jazz combo practice.
There was a local pro that helped teach/coach the jazz combos. He'd sit in with combo rehearsals once a month or so, giving students comments and suggestions. In my eyes, he was what we were aspiring to become. He put in the practice, he paid his dues, and he emerged as a full-time jazz musician.
On one of these nights that he was scheduled to join us, he failed to show up at the normal meeting time, so we started to rehearse without him. I had just finished taking a solo on our second or third tune when he walked into the room. The first thing I saw was his cummerbund. Then I noticed the black jacket, which he had draped over his shoulder. And finally, I saw the unmistakable black stripe that adorned his black slacks. Yes, he was wearing a tuxedo.
In between tunes, I thanked him for finally dressing appropriately for our rehearsal. He chuckled a bit, and then mentioned that he had just finished playing a wedding gig. My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. Our mentor, the guy that we were hoping to become, was playing in a wedding band?!?
The next day I started planning my new major. By the following school year, I had quit music school entirely and entered DePaul University's business school.
In retrospect, I probably overreacted to the wedding gig. It might have been a friend's wedding -- perhaps the wedding of a fellow jazz musician. Or maybe it was a really good paying gig where the band got to play music they liked, and the audience dug it. Or maybe he actually likes wedding gigs. Who knows? In my mind, though, it only meant one thing: to make it as a (jazz) musician, I'd inevitably have to take gigs that I didn't want, playing music that I didn't want to play, just to make ends meet. I knew I couldn't do that and still enjoy playing. I had to quit.
To all the happy wedding giggers out there, I apologize for the implication that wedding gigs are cause for reevaluating one's career path. I have nothing against the gig itself, it just isn't for me. I suspect many of you would feel the same way about having to stare at a computer screen all day ;-)
I'd like to close this entry by encouraging everyone to support live jazz in your city. It's not enough to simply see the national touring acts. Your local jazz scene needs you. Don't force them to play gigs they don't want!