Delving Into the Deep Blue
However, his memories of his very first set of drums, which was a gift from his father and his aunt, had young Rockingham being less than gracious. "I will never forget this. My dad and his sister conspired to buy me these drums, but they were paper heads and toy drums. Like a little brat, I tore them up the first day. 'This is not the real thing!' I was a looking for the right thing; I was looking for a particular sound."
Rockingham also credits his father for his interest in jazz, even though, as a child, Rockingham's father called him a "rock and roll drummer." Rockingham explains, "It's not that I was not true to jazz because that's all I listened to. I am true to jazz, I sure am. But that's due to my dad. He would try and instill a feeling. He would play the right stuff and I listened to the right stuff. All the organists that I listened to growing up, along with [saxophonist] Cannonball Adderley, [trumpeter] Miles Davis, and [drummer] Tony Williams, all the guys that you normally listen to. Or you should normally listen to. That's what I wanted to be like." Does he feel that he's achieved that? "I can't play like those guys, but that's where I wanted to go."
Like many jazz musicians, Rockingham and Broom both have had the privilege of being educators. While Broom continues to teach music at DePaul University in Chicago, Rockingham unexpectedly found himself as a substitute teacher in a classroom full of students with "behavior disorder." Explains Rockingham, "I began substitute teaching when a principal asked me, 'What do you do during the day?' I told him I usually rest from the night before. He said, 'Well, we need some substitutes.'
"So I told him, okay. One day I substituted for a behavior disorder class and we all got along well. He told me that the kids loved me, and he asked me if I could stay until they found somebody. I ended up staying for twenty-two years!
"I love kids. I would go to the end of the world for them. I would play, get home at 3 or 4 in the morning and I would not miss a day of school. I would not miss a day. And not so much because it I was getting paid for it. I missed them! I wanted to make sure they got their education. All kids want to be loved. All kids want to be cared about."
Eventually, Rockingham was forced to retire from teaching because of having to deal with the health challenges from multiple sclerosis. "I couldn't handle both."
Organist Foreman has had to deal with his own life challenges, having been blind since birth. Yet he also took on a role as honorary teacher and inspiration to Rockingham's students. Rockingham says, "Chris would come out to the school and the students treated him as royalty. First of all, not having been around a disabled person to begin with, and then realizing that they are just like everybody else. And then seeing that Chris has this tremendous talent. He can't even see, and he's developed his talent. The kids would want to develop more because of seeing Chris and what he's accomplished. And me being from this area [Chicago], and the kids thinking there is no hope in this area. But there is hope. You make the hope that you want. You go out and try and do it and you can accomplish things."
Foreman and Rockingham met in 1984, when Foreman took Rockingham's father's place as organist in the band. Explains Rockingham, "The journey that Chris and I have had has just been remarkable. Just remarkable, from where we have come. We would call each other over the phone and if we couldn't play, we would sing to each other over the phone. We would make arrangements together. We were locked at the hip. That's where my feelings are."
Foreman began his career as jazz organist as a young teen. "When I was in my teens," says Foreman, "going forth into my twenties, I kept hearing these things, playing them, and listening to them on records. I decided that this is what I want to do. This is for me. I was never taught any of that stuff. I would just listen to records and go and hear people live. At that point, I decided this was my career. This is what I choose to do.
"Most organ players start in church and then they play jazz. I was the opposite. I started out in jazz then listened to records and then played in church."
Rockingham adds, "There were some very soulful churches out there!"
So did Foreman ever think being blind would stop his from having a successful career as a musician? "No. Being blind is not going to hold me back from doing most things," says Foreman.