When people find out that I play jazz trumpet, they almost always ask if I play anywhere around town. I typically respond telling them that I'm not very good and that I've still got a long way to go before I play in public. And that's how I've felt since returning to the trumpet in 2002. I'm still in "development mode".
If you read my review of the 2007 Atlanta Trumpet Festival, you know that I finally did play the trumpet in public for the first time, as a member of the adult ensemble. It was primarily an educational event with little pressure, so it was easy for me to give it a try. Although I enjoyed playing at the Atlanta Trumpet Festival, it wasn't exactly a big confidence boost for me. I struggled to play some of the parts and I made some mistakes during the performance. If anything, it reinforced my belief that I'm not ready to play jazz in public.
When I talk about playing jazz in public, I don't mean playing gigs. Playing gigs is really of no interest to me, thanks in large part to all of the coffee shop gigs I played in college. Some musicians don't care if the audience isn't paying attention to them and they don't mind (too much) if they're playing to an empty house, but it always bothered me. So, no gigs for me. I would, however, like to someday become good enough to play jazz on a regular basis with other people, in a relaxed environment. Ideally, I'd find a group of musicians and we'd play jazz at somebody's house where there's no pressure to play well and there's no audience to please. All that matters is that the vibe is good and that everyone's enjoying the music. But, like I said, I'm not ready to play in public yet, so even a low-key jam session is many years away. At least that's what I thought until the guy in this photo came along...
About a week ago, I received a fairly long email message from a visitor to my jazz blog (I hope he enjoys this 1970 photo of him that I dug up online). Like many of the long messages I receive, it began with his personal background. He told me he's been a musician for 40+ years and that he and some friends have been playing jazz at his house every Thursday night, for the past few years. As he described it, they're a "rehearsal band" that plays together "simply for enjoyment." Oh, and he lives in Atlanta. I was halfway through the message and figured he was just going to ask me a question about the local Atlanta jazz scene or something like that. And then it hit me... he's inviting me to play in his band.
My first reaction to his invitation was: how am I going to get out of this?! I've still got years of ear training and trumpet fundamentals in front of me. I'm definitely not good enough to play jazz with other people yet! I was all set to politely refuse his offer but for some reason I decided to wait before responding. Later that night, I told my wife about the email and her first response was "Do it." I tried to think of some excuses, but I couldn't come up with anything compelling enough. I couldn't even use the old "it's too far" excuse since he lives only 3 or 4 miles from my house (Atlanta is really spread out, so "it's too far" is often a perfect excuse to get out of just about anything). Unable to come up with any good excuses, I replied to his email and accepted the offer to sit in with his band.
Driving up to his house this past Thursday for my first jam session, my mind was filled with all sorts of worst-case scenarios. What if I get lost in the chord changes? What if my chops blow out after five minutes? What if I'm the worst one there and they laugh at my playing? What if this is all just an elaborate setup and I'm about to be held ransom by a diabolical crime ring that uses their knowledge of jazz to prey upon unsuspecting jazz blog writers? It's a good thing I hadn't yet seen that 1970 photo. He looks like trouble with a capital "T" in that Davy Crockett jacket ;-)
When I arrived at the house, I was greeted by the bass player (Davy Crockett). He then introduced me to the guitarist and the drummer. Everyone seemed really friendly, so I was able to rule out the "crime ring" scenario pretty quickly. I was still pretty nervous, though. With just four of us there, we began playing a blues-based tune. Unsure of myself, the first chorus of my solo was lackluster but I held on and continued for 2 or 3 more choruses. With each successive chorus I loosened up and my playing improved noticeably. By my last chorus I was playing better than I had expected to play the entire night!
After playing a couple of tunes as a quartet, the violinist and alto saxophonist arrived. We played a few more jazz standards including "Well You Needn't," "Blue Monk," and "Stolen Moments." To my surprise, my range and endurance held up really well. In fact, I played at least half a dozen C's above the staff at full volume during my solos. I can't even do that during my practice sessions at home! The guys were very supportive of my playing and offered several complements. I suppose they were being a little extra nice since I was the new guy, but I do think they genuinely enjoyed my playing. In any case, I thought it all went really well and I had a blast. I had totally forgotten how fun it is to play jazz with real live people.
Is this the start of a new chapter in my musical journey? It's probably too early to tell, but it was definitely a great experience and also a good indication that maybe I am ready to play jazz with other people!
I'd like to say a special thank you to "Davy Crockett" (his real name is Rick S.) for inviting me to play with the group, and to the other musicians for welcoming me into their band. I'm looking forward to many more Thursday nights.