Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Love Kelly Park!

No, Kelly Park is not the name of a new addition to the San Francisco Doug-tour, some hidden green treasure nestled in the hills above North Beach. It’s the name of the pianist in the Terence Brewer Band I saw recently in Yoshi’s Oakland. As I sat listening to him play, I thought “I can do that,” a rare reaction when listening to jazz pianists. Which meant that theoretically, I could be “Yoshi’s-worthy.” (Though I must admit that he played the hell out of “Caravan” and left me gasping in the dust he kicked up.) I think this is one of the ways we figure out which beckoning path is true— see someone in the public eye who has earned the right to be in the public eye and imagine yourself doing the same.

That’s what happened to me when after a mere few years of teaching, I watched a nationally famous Orff teacher give a workshop and not only felt that I could have given the workshop, but could have done it better. No arrogance here, just a trusting of the forces that are working through us to be heard and seen. Conversely, I went one night years back to see my piano teacher Art Lande at the Great American Music Hall and remember standing outside looking at his name on the marquee and trying to imagine my own up there some day. No matter how hard I squinted, I simply couldn’t see it. And so I took a left turn off of the highway of Jazz Performer and stayed on the Yellow Brick Road to the magical land of Orff Schulwerk teacher. A good choice, and in fact, the only choice and at the end of the day, one must wonder whether one chooses or is chosen.

Freed from the pressure of making it in the jazz world, I continued to play for my own pleasure and throughout the years, give an occasional house concert or rent the Community Music Center and lean heavily on my friends to fill a few seats. And occasionally, especially when I didn’t try to sound like my favorite jazz pianists and just play what I could hear and feel with my own two ears and hands, the music would connect with the audience and we were lifted out of clock time into the place where music makes its true home. Not a place of adoration of how fast someone’s fingers can move, but a place to remember what we seem to always forget—that in that moment when time stops and we are gathered into a place of deep belonging, all sins are forgiven, all folly is made right, all our childhood dreams come true. For as long as the notes ring out, we are home.

The maddening thing is that you can’t play music and bring people to that place from good intentions and sensitive feelings only. You do have to move your fingers fast and sacrifice a lot of sunny days chained to your instrument. So lest I get too confident watching Kelly Park (a fine pianist, don’t get me wrong), I also went to hear the Bill Charlap Trio in Yoshi’s San Francisco and then Elaine Elias at Yerba Buena Center ( a rare week of three jazz concerts!) and they both kicked my butt back to the Stone Age. 10,000 more hours minimum to just peek in the door of their mastery and control at a time in life when I don’t have a lot of 10,000 hours to spare.

We need those reminders too. I always tell my students that the mark of a good workshop is that it affirmed you and kicked your butt at the same time. Just affirmation doesn’t get you up early and out on the trail, just butt-kicking is just plain discouraging.

So thanks Bill, Elaine and Kelly. I have more to say here, but I’m going to practice the piano.

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