A Fireside Chat With Jimmy Amadie
“ I used a trio on my latest album... and did one tune every six months. One take and that is it. No practice and no rehearsal. I can?t do it. ”
To say that Jimmy Amadie is 'remarkable' would be an understatement. Amadie has suffered from sever tendentious for the better part of his life and virtually twice my own. This kind of pain has been career ending in sports. What makes his story even more 'remarkable' is Amadie is not a wide receiver for the Eagles. He is a pianist, a jazz pianist. His hands are his tools to his trade and they barely function. Amadie's 'remarkable' journey is one littered with lessons in courage and drive. And perhaps, in the end, you too will see that the word 'remarkable' does little justice for this man, certainly, a man among men. Allow me to present, pianist Jimmy Amadie, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Jimmy Amadie: You know, Fred, when I was younger, I played ball. I played a lot of baseball and football. In fact, I played organized sports, football for seven years and baseball for eight years. I played with Lee Elia who eventually became the manager of the Phillies. I played with a lot of fellas who eventually were in the high minors and the majors. Unfortunately, I happened to get hurt when I was in my junior year of high school and that took care of my aspirations to do any playing whatsoever. I also boxed for a boys club. I broke my hand three times there and so I couldn't box anymore. I couldn't play sports. My father was a guitarist and so I just transferred my thoughts and ideas over to something else, to channel them elsewhere. My father was a terrific mentor and he was a guitarist and he said, 'The first person they call when they need for a musician is a pianist. I think you should study the piano.' I took his advice and the rest is history.
FJ: You played with some heavyweights along the way.
JA: I played with Red Rodney after Red left Charlie Parker's group. I played with Red Rodney. Coleman Hawkins played with my trio. I went into Woody Herman's band in 1959 and then after that, I was Mel Torme's accompanist off and on for about three years. But my hands bothered me. My hands really bothered me. The problem I had with my hands started in 1957 and I persevered up until 1960.
FJ: So the entire time you were playing with the 'Velvet Fog,' you were playing through pain.
JA: Oh, my hands were sore.
FJ: Was this in large part from your participation in organized sports and the subsequent injuries you sustained?
JA: Well, I don't think it helped. When I started to play, I transferred all my energies from one to the other. Eventually, there were days that I would play six, seven, eight, twelve hours and when I was playing as a young professional, sometimes I would have two gigs on a day and a concert that night. I would go up to New York and do a concert and then come back to Philadelphia and do another. You can't abuse your hands. I would wind up playing seventy, eighty hours a week. That is not practice. That is playing gigs and practicing. It all came back to me.
When you are young, Fred, you can do anything. You think you can. You break something and it heals in five, six, seven weeks. Look at the ball players. They break an ankle and tibia bone and two months, three months, they are better. It was the same with me. When you are in terrific shape, I have been in shape all my life. I swim three or four days now. I do a mile a day. What happens as you get older, the ailments came back. My ailments came back early because I had a lot of pressure on my hands from playing ball. I played ten days with a broken left hand. We had a playoff and the championship series in Philadelphia and I played ten days. I was taken to the hospital and they fixed a broken and fractured hand. That healed after a certain amount of months and then I went back to playing ball and putting pressure on it. Then when I went to the gym, I hit someone in boxing and I broke it again. I was boxing again and I hit someone with my right hand and I fractured my third finger. And these are the fingers and problems that go with the tendentious I have. It is not just the one finger. It's the tendons in both hands.
You know, Fred, I have had six operations for reconstructive surgery. Both inside of the hands and then I had it for the palm of my left hand and they had to rebuild that. Then in the back of both of my hands, they reconstructed both my wrists because I had a problem there. I had bone that was being strangled by tendons. And then my forearm went and they did my forearm. This adds up. When you play, you have to deal with all the scar tissue you have, but you are left with tendentious. It is a disease of the tendons as opposed to arthritis, which is the disease of the bone. This is what happens. It is very, very difficult playing. I certainly can't play the piano when I want to play. So I am always practicing and playing in my head. In my head, I can play anything.
FJ: Playing armchair psychiatrist, being in such pain, why continue playing? It seems almost masochistic.