Remembering Scott Sherwood
And he didn't need mehe was on top of the world at that time. He had beaten lymphoma two years earlier, he had just released an amazing album of original music earning rave reviews, and he had a thriving teaching practice at the prestigious Turtle Bay Music School in Midtown. He worked there with his wonderful wife, Jennifer, who was about to be featured on the hit reality T.V. show "What Not to Wear" (the first person to ever write herself in :-)). They had a beautiful Manhattan apartment. He didn't need any strays...
But he took me in anyway. On days that I had late classes and he had late students, I would take the 6 train up to Turtle Bay and wait in the grand old lobby of the school, sipping coffee and eating a bagel from one of the nearby carts. Scott would walk in with a smile and we would get to playingexploring new directions with old standards or bringing in songs with which we were both unfamiliar but were on our mutual "wish list." I attempted to learn his compositionssome of them stretched the limit of my technique, but Scott was always incredibly patient with me. Sometimes I would bring in some of my homework or a song I was struggling to comprehend (some of Kenny Werner's tunes come to mind). Scott was very well-schooled and had an incredible harmonic knowledge, and he was an excellent teacher.
But mostly we just played. It's a very special process that occurs when two like-minded musicians begin to play together, especially in a duo context. There's a give-and-take, a constant interaction, and adjustments of timing and taste until you learn the other's strengths and weaknesses as a player. The result can be magical, and with Scott it was an easy process. He was constantly listening and evaluating, striving to bring out the best in me. That is rare.
Even more than playing, I loved just spending time with Scott. Sometimes we would grab breakfast before we played, and I would take that chance to pour my guts out to himthe older brother I never had. Life goals, rent issues, ex-girlfriendsnothing was off limits. He possessed an uncommon wisdom that perhaps came from confronting his mortality at a young age, but which I suspect was just an innate part of his character. He had a Midwesterner's dry sense of humor, and he would immediately cut to the root of any problem. He helped me to define my own goals as an artist ("Do you know why you're working on that, Pete? Where do you want it to take your playing?"), and as a person ("You must be getting something out of that or you wouldn't keep doing it, right?"). He was firmly rooted in the moment but still thought about grander artistic concepts ("People create art for three reasons, I think. Beauty, self-expression or to impress.")
When I think about Scott, I will hold one memory above all others. The night before Halloween the Turtle Bay Music School held a volunteer get-together to decorate the building. I had a Halloween gig but nothing else to do that weekend, so Scott invited me along. We hung out eating pizza in the basement until Jen tasked us with moving furniture. We were then pressed into service hanging skulls and cobwebs in the halls, and I literally lost track of him through the gauze webbing. But somehow at the end of the evening we all ended up in his studio, drinking wine and playing trio with a cute cellist I think he might have been trying to fix me up with. He was a really good sport, tolerating hours of mediocre sax-cello-guitar renditions of, frankly, boring tunes. Jen finally rescued him well after midnight :-) As I stepped out into the chilly night air, I looked back at the two of them standing so happily together there and waving goodnight. I can't describe why I felt this way, but I experienced a moment of contentment, maybe even bliss, that I had not had in years. I have only had a few moments like that in my life, and I cherish them. I owe one of them to Scott.
He got sick again after Thanksgiving. I cannot imaginedo not want to imaginewhat he felt physically and emotionally during that time. I'll leave it that he had to endure things no person should ever endure. And he fought like hell. He was the toughest, most courageous guy I've ever met, inspiring me at every turn. And he never complained to me. On the contrary, he was always asking about my family and what I was doing. I tried to visit him as often as I could, and we would play like before. As tired as he was, his love of music was so great that we would play for hours (sometimes he'd take a nap, and hop up ready to play again), and it never mattered that he hadn't touched the instrument for a few weeks, he just seemed to get better and say more. His advice and companionship were still wonderful, and I took as much of it as I could get.