Coming Of Age: Life, on the Road to Parnassus
One day you turn around and realize that, by now, in your 40s, you have livedand are livingthe life of a musician. For me, this was not accidentalyears of practice, study, gigs, listening, all of thatbut I enjoy looking back at decisions taken that led me to the exact point at which I now stand. These choices were almost never made with long term goals in mind but were rather born of attempts to do well in whatever situation I found myself and with the hope of getting to the next level, whatever that was at the time.
From where I stand today, I can count many great musicians - Mel Lewis, Vernel Fournier, Charles Davis - with whom I've played and from whom I've learned much. I think of teachers, from Laura Copia in Niagara Falls to Sophia Rosoff in NYC. I remember the venues, from Joe's Convention Lounge in Niagara Falls to Dizzy's Club Coca Cola and Weill Recital at Carnegie Hall. And I think of the spiritual journey on which I remain, from the Walnut Avenue Church in Niagara Falls to the Devoe Street Baptist Church in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, where for 14 years I've served as Minister of Music.
All these people, places and things have brought me here, to who I am, as a man and as a musician. It therefore makes sense that I would, just this month, release two sidesone, Theme and Variations, a solo piano date on Reservoir and the other, Joyful!, a live concert CD/DVD on ArtistShare of my music for gospel choir and jazz ensemble. The confluence of these two projects, seemingly widely disparate, demonstrates rather what can result from an open life in music. The solo date reflects listening to the greats, from Barry Harris to Andrew Hill, from Glenn Gould to Martha Argerich, the years of many long hours at lessons and in the woodshed and the more fully formed person I've become by just plain living life. The gospel/jazz CD reflects the years playing in church from then till now, the listening, from Sly and the Family Stone to Andrae Crouch and the study of Counterpoint and Solfeggio. But I play a Sly tune and a spiritual on the solo piano record and there is improvisation on the gospel/jazz projectso there is no real disconnect; these projects are merely two looks at the same collection of experiences, influences and life stories we call a human being.
As I tell students, there's no substitute for practice and studycraft being essential to the realization of inspirationbut we should never lose sight of life, that thing going on around us should also go on inside of us; we should not let it go by, unremarked upon, unlived. I remember, when I was about 12 years old, working on a Chopin Nocturne with my first teacher, Laura Copia. After great effort I'd gotten the notes and some semblance of the mood of the piece when she said, "That's very good Peteras good as it can be before you've had your heart broken. And I remember equally well, as an adult, calling Miss Copia one evening and telling her that I was now able, finally, to play the Chopin with the appropriate understanding.
Now I sense the source of the ease with which I saw the masters play when I first got to New York. At Bradley's, the Village Vanguard, Carnegie Hall, one could see that these greats were comfortable with the musicians they had become... they knew that, based on the steeping provided only by years and effort, they were free to be themselves, to express in music their own personal world views. Now I too begin to feel that freedom. It's a beautiful thing.