A Personal Story
It is a sad month for jazz as two great legends have passed away. Not long ago drummer Paul Motian unexpectedly died, and this Thursday the Jazz Master trombonist, composer and pianist Bob Brookmeyer passed away as well, leaving behind great influence and a huge body of work. The valve trombonist was not only one of the key figures on the west-coast jazz scene, but also a highly respected big band composer and a reputed educator.
I will not spend any more time on the details as there are people who do that better then me. Instead I wanted to share with you my personal experience with Mr. Brookmeyer, as I had the opportunity to spend some time with Bob Brookmeyer as one of his students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. I think it is important to tell you that studying with Bob was one of the most inspiring experiences I have had in my music career. Here is what I remember:
When I decided to study with Bob Brookmeyer, friends and former students warmed me. They said ‘watch out for the old man, he is tough on everyone’, or ‘careful… if you don’t have your stuff together he’ll get hard on you’ and so on. Needless to say I was at least a little anxious going into my first lesson.
Bob was nice, did not say much while sitting at the piano and we got down to playing very quickly. As we played through a standard and I am trying to play while attempting to guess what it is that would most impress Bob, a few choruses into the tune, he ended the tune as abruptly as he did elegantly. Bob turned to me and said, ‘nice, but don’t play like everyone else in here… I am too old to hear all that academic stuff! I love music, I want to hear something new… I want to hear you!’ That blew me away and I knew studying with Bob was going to be really special. I mean this is exactly what I had come to Boston for: hoping some of that magic of the masters would rub off on me.
Most of my lessons with Bob were spent on translating feels and emotions into music, whether it was playing or composing. He taught me how to edit myself, how to write strong melodies, how to strip tings down to the basics. Bob taught me the art of getting into trouble and then figuring out how to get out of it… something I like to practice outside of music as well. Everybody likes to talk about the magic of music, those incredible moments that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, but few people are able to stay true to that while demystifying the process… and that was Bob’s greatest lesson. In one lesson, he instructed me to go through all twelve intervals and think about what each one means to me (for instance a major 3rd is like my little daughter bouncing in her Jolly-Jumper with the biggest smile that she can possibly produce)… then expand on that: if you can give that much meaning to a single interval and then stay with that idea, you cannot go wrong. He also made me understand and accept that every piece of music is organic and ever changing – in essence no piece of music is ever finished.
The command Bob had of music was unparalleled and he could make that very obvious if he needed to as I experienced in his Composer’s Workshop Big Band. However what inspired me was that in his late seventies, here was someone who never lost his sense of wonder. He was for ever a little kid excited about music, wanting to express how he saw life through music, rather than through theories about music. Bob did what every musician dreams of, he figured out how to make beautiful music.
Thank you Bob,