After yesterday, I can put on my resumé, “Zakir Hussain opened for my show at SF Jazz Center.” He gave a Family Jazz Concert at the Center and then I did the hands-on workshop afterwards, along with my brilliant colleagues in the Pentatonics Jazz Band. So as far as I’m concerned, he was the warm-up act and we were the main deal.
This will mean nothing to you if you don’t know who Zakir Hussain is. I think it’s safe to say that he’s not only the world’s top Indian tabla player, but one of the most remarkable percussionists on the planet. In terms of musicianship, if he is 100, I am 1. So though my tongue is firmly in cheek, it’s no small kudos to say “He opened for my show.”
But in terms of actually connecting with the kids and unleashing their musicianship, it indeed was the proper order. His show was about 50 minutes of talk and 10 of music. Ours was 50 minutes of music and 10 minutes of talk. Some of his talk was kid-friendly, particularly using the drum language as a language telling little stories. That was brilliant! As was the vina and violin player playing “Do a Deer” Western style and then South Indian style. But much— the different names for the rhythmic cycle in North and South India, for example, was flying way over the head of the many 4-year olds in the audience. Too much blah-blah-blah, too little taka dimi taka juno.
Our workshop opened with a Ghanaian xylophone piece as the kids and parents were entering and then a little talk about the gyil (as in “Jack and ___”) xylophone and how and why it buzzes and how it is the grandparent of the Orff instrument. And I actually told my favorite story of Carl Orff and the Swedish sisters and how it led to the creation of the Orff instruments and the kids were mesmerized because I told it like a fairy tale— which it kind of is. And then up and active as my colleagues taught a Ghanaian greeting game, from there to my newly-minted name game in jazz style that had everyone moving and singing and scat-singing to a funky blues groove. From there to Jamaica and kids of all sizes playing xylophones successfully and improvising 4-beat snippets as well. When we collected the mallets to get ready for our final piece, a toddler started crying uncontrollably in the toddler-truthful way—“What?!!! They’re taking away my music?!!!” and the only way I could stop him was whipping out my bagpipe. That got his attention and off we went into our 15/16 tune to close. 50 minutes of music, 10 minutes of talk. Like I said, the main act. (Though not reflected in our pay!)
I can also put on my resumé, “Performed with Milt Jackson and Bobby McFerrin.” Milt came to my school for three hours, playing with my Orff Ensembles and singing with the kids, Bobby was a school parent and we joined together on many occasions. Later, others came to school—Stefon Harris, wizard jazz vibraphonist, and Marcus Printup, trumpet player from Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and various other luminaries who I’ve had the good fortune to rub shoulders with because of my work with kids and music. Of course, I’m proud of it and sometimes shamelessly name drop to impress folks.
But if the world were turned around a bit to value the work with kids as much as the music for adults, then the 40 years I’ve spent practicing the details of how to release the musical genius of children and immerse them in the soothing waters of music’s pleasure would be honored and valued as much as the time spent practicing intricate rhythms on tablas or jazz riffs on vibraphones or virtuosic vocal gymnastics. In that world, Zakir, Milt and Bobby would proudly put on their resumé, “Made music with children with Doug Goodkin.”