Celebrating a birthday has a tendency to make me reflect a bit on my life and appreciate where I am and what I have.
This past weekend has been especially meaningful for me as it was inspired by 2 distinctly different musical experiences.
The Jeff Hamilton Trio (w. Tamir Hendelman and Jon Hamar) played three nights this past weekend at Jazzhus Montmartre. I met Jeff for the first time back in 1992 when he was playing with Ray Brown. (Benny Green was on piano.) It was the first time that I ever felt air move through the music. The groove was so intense and joyful that it was almost overwhelming. I will never forget how that felt. Everyone in the audience felt it too. Listeners would respond with grunts, groans, and “yeah” when something hit their souls.
I knew what to expect from Jeff and the guys when they arrived in Denmark. Jazzhus Montmartre was packed with fans, musicians, and more than a couple of drummers. Most of them had never heard Jeff in person before. Their gleeful responses, groans, and straining to get a better view reminded me of my first Hammer experience. For me, it was the sound of home and my jazz family.
Over the weekend, Jeff was generous with his time. Hanging out, I heard the old stories and a few new ones as well. We laughed at jokes by just hearing the punchlines or “remember that time when….” I also got to hang out with my newer Danish musical family and connect the two worlds.
Jeff sounded surprised when he heard I was coming back for the third night in a row. By that point, my return wasn’t just about the music or being close to the guys on stage. It was about being connected to the broader community of listeners and musicians that came to share the experience. I’m thrilled that I was there. The music brought us together, but it was our personal connections that kept us there, catching up, laughing, and sharing our favorite moments of the night.
Out of the blue, I got a message from Trist Curless to see if I wanted to come to the Manhattan Transfer show Sunday night. (He took over the bass part after Tim Hauser’s death four years ago.) Trist and I have known each other since we were in college. We met at a jazz camp in Greeley, Colorado. As jazz fans from Montana and Wyoming, we spent the entire camp nerding out over our collections of cassette tapes. He was a wonderful musician then, and he is the perfect fit for the Manhattan Transfer now. I’m really proud of him.
During the concert, they sang tunes from throughout the group’s 45 year history. It was during several of these songs that I was thrown back into Mr. Newburn’s choir room at East Jr. High in Boise, Idaho. Manhattan Transfer was my gateway into the world of jazz. Their silhouette dominated the back wall of the choir room. My first scat solo was to Tuxedo Junction. (We had auditions for the solo. Since I was playing bass for the group, Mr. Newburn told me I couldn’t audition for it. I was only supposed to play bass. He said I would either sing out of tune or play out of time if I tried to do both at the same time. I wasn’t going to be denied, so I transcribed it, note for note and inflection for inflection. I figured if it was good enough for the recording, it would be good enough for me.)
I borrowed all the Transfer records Mr. Newburn had and I made cassette tapes that became my sing-a-longs until the tapes wore out. You have no idea how I freaked out when I heard Birdland for the first time. It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually heard the original by Weather Report.
In ninth grade, The East Jr. High Mad Jazz Singers tackled Manhattan Transfer’s version of A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square. Yes, that version. (There’s another watered down choral version floating around out there, but Mr. Newburn transcribed it so we would have the real deal.) I don’t remember how many extra rehearsals we had just for that song, but I do remember Saturdays being involved and singing in quartets to prove that we could hold our own without a conductor. My recollection is that we kicked some serious booty on it. I can still sing Janis Siegel’s alto part to this day.
It was a little surreal for me to be sitting in the audience after all these years to hear them for the first time and feel all those memories come back to the surface. It was lovely to be able to meet them after the concert to thank them for their inspiration. They are kind and gracious folks.
Bringing myself back to the present moment, I have to say that I’m very blessed in this world. I’ve been inspired and encouraged by a myriad of amazing teachers and artists that come into my life at various points to nudge me on my way or kick me in the rear when I’ve needed it. I’m honored and humbled to be in this community of folks who are connected by music to strive for the highest musical levels for the goal of elevating the human spirit and bringing us all together. I appreciate being part of your journey.
Now, time to get back to work.