Why we Play…
A few days I was on the phone with a friend of mine Ambrose Akinmusire, a fellow trumpeter, an hour before my gig at Wally’s. In my humble opinion he’s one of the most creative musicians of the 19th and 20th century. Those who have heard him live can relate to what I mean. We spoke for about an hour and the subject of why we play this music came up. Lately he’s been asking musicians this same question just to get some perspective. This is something that I’m into doing on occasion as well. So many people play music for various reasons and it’s great to receive or give a small gem of wisdom every once in a while. As for me I’ve always struggled to really figure out why I play this music. It’s definitely not a lucrative career and there are a select few that are even getting record deals now (not that this has any meaning, but it does make it easier to get your music to the ears of distant listeners if you do). Later that night I received a precious sign which reminded me why I play this music in this day. Let me give you a little history which lead up to this revelation.
I know many musicians that have an influence that guides their style of playing/living. For me, the players that have resonated with me over the past several years are, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Mark Turner is an artist whose playing struck a chord with me the first time I heard him on record about twelve years ago. I know Kurt well and I’ve had the great fortune of subbing for Mark in Kurt’s band, but I’ve never met Mark. The fluidity along with the complexity of in his improvisational lines throughout all registers of his instrument is something to behold if you haven’t already. Check out Brad Mehldhau’s liners to one of Mark’s records here
, where he paints a beautiful picture of Mark’s playing in words:
One of my favorite records is Mark Turner’s Dharma Days. There’s a nice 5/4 tune on the record entitled Jacky’s Place. Back in October of 2008 I decided to compose a piece for Mark that was a variation of the B section of Jacky’s Place. The B section has two chord changes D major and Ab7 sus. So in my piece I used that progression but I added two sections with the same progression up a major 3rd (I call this and I’ve heard it called a 3-Tone method, same as John Coltrane’s Giant Steps). I actually wrote the song in my hotel room when I was on the road in Finland at the end of October. I named the tune 3 Point Turn.
When I got back from the road last year, I scheduled a rehearsal for my band to play the tune. The day of my rehearsal I read about Mark’s unfortunate accident involving the power saw. It saddened me quite a bit that day. We rehearsed it and it went well so we’ve been playing on my gig at Wally’s lately.
Fast forward to last night: I’m heading to Wally’s after chatting with Ambrose. We set up to play the gig, play a tune, everything’s fine. We get to the second or third tune, and I’m playing a solo and I’m going through a phase where my eyes are closed, but then I open my eyes and I see someone that looks just like Mark Turner about 15 feet away in a packed crowd at the bar. There’s a little doubt in my mind that this is him (why would he be in Boston and at Wally’s of all places?). But then I thought to myself that if he did go to Berklee he probably played at Wally’s when he was a student there, so he does have a history with this city. After I’m done with my solo I whisper over to Greg, my guitarist, “I think Mark Turner is here!” He was a little skeptical because he had seen someone come in that looked like him before. I felt pretty confident that my eyesight hasn’t failed me yet so I told everyone else in the band that Mark is here and for some reason, their playing turned up a little more for the rest of the set. It was very inspiring to experience that with these younger musicians in my band. I decided to pull out a tune by Kurt Rosenwinkel entitled Turns for the next song in the set. It’s an extremely difficult tune to play (and that much more difficult to play on the trumpet…I posted a track of us playing it on my youtube page here ) and I’ve only heard Kurt and Mark play that tune. I played it with Kurt on a gig at the Highline Ballroom last year. So we started the tune and I see this guy that looks just like Mark bobbing his head a little bit and I think to myself, that’s Mark or someone that looks just like him that’s there and digging the music.
We finish the set and this guy comes up to the bandstand and it’s Mark. It was my first time ever meeting him in person. I knew his face from his album covers. What are the chances that you get to play in front of someone that has influenced you at such a moments notice? The feeling that emitted from the band is a feeling that I live for and it’s Why I Play.