Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan!

I was seated at the concert grand piano with headphones on at Fantasy Studios, poised to record a demo for a singer who had hired me. The other players were in their isolated booths while the recording engineers were checking the levels. This was new territory for me, made all the more exciting—and terrifying—knowing that I was in the very room where Santana had recorded their groundbreaking album all those years back. There was a good chance that  at one time Miles or Monk or Coltrane had been in here and while I was thinking about the splendor of all this, that old familiar voice whispered in my ear, “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?!!!! Who are you kidding?!!” I tried to turn up the other speaker on my headphone, the one with my mother’s voice and her beaming smile exclaiming “My talented son!! You’re wonderful!!” And so the conversation between the Devil of Doubt and the Angel of Motherly Love continued. As it does almost every day of my life.

I managed to breathe through it all, put my fingers on the keys and dig in. Really, what choice did I have? Another terrifying moment when we went to hear the playback and the dubious moment I remembered indeed was there, as were the okay ones and a few random inspired ones. But the other musicians didn’t outwardly glare at me and the singer kept repeating how pleased he was and why not believe him?

Truth be told, that Devil of Doubt is not pure evil and had a good point. I hadn’t paid the normal dues a jazz musician does and what makes me think I can avoid it and still be worthy to be in the studio or the stage? Answer? I can’t. And this recording was a step down the road of dues paid, live and learn. But I have paid some kind of dues as a lifelong listener of jazz and closet (well, living room) player for at least forty years. I occasionally hear something that I want to say in only the way I can say it and that counts for something too. And this was a demo CD for possible party gigs, pretty low-stakes in the long run. So why not enjoy it? And so I did.

The next day, I was interviewed as part of the Storycorps Project, a national venue for collecting people’s life stories, storing them in an archive in the Smithsonian and occasionally selecting some or excerpts for radio play or publication. I was joining 38,000 other recordings in my bid for posterity, excited to know that my great-grandchildren might potentially go to Washington some day to listen. The problem was that I had 40 minutes. At 39 minutes, I had just gotten out of college. Luckily, the next person cancelled and I got to record Part 2, this time zeroing in more on the punchline of all the stories—“It’s never too late to have a happy musical childhood.” I felt better by the end, but then the Devil popped up and told me in no uncertain terms: “You fool!! You think it was really important to tell how you used to stuff candy into your pockets from your piano teacher’s candy dish?”

And then today. My colleague James Harding got Rob Kapilow and Fred Newman to come to our school. The former is the composer of a work celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, the latter also collaborating on the project and best known for his work as Sound Effects guy for Garrison Keilor’s Praire Home Companion radio show. James had the 5th grade share their composition about the bridge based on a brilliant structure that James had offered them. Sofia directed the kids’ and adult chorus with a roof-raising-hair-on-arm-tingling rehearsal, Sofia and James’ 7th grade students played Vivaldi and part of Orff’s Carmina Burana flawlessly for our guests, both of whom were, to use their words, “blown away” by the musicality, understanding, sophistication and listening skills of the students. Meanwhile, Doug had a bad rehearsal with 8th that morning. So now the Devil was having a field day before my Mom’s voice even got out of bed.

“Get thee behind me, Satan” said the old wisdom and there are times when the guy needs to just shut up! But I wouldn’t throw him out altogether. He keeps me honest, keeps me working, keeps me reaching, even though it be for things perpetually beyond my grasp. But three days with that voice in my ear is enough. Let’s see how I feel after the next two nights of Spring Concerts. Mom?

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