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In my junior year of high school, I was approached by a wise man, the head of the Music and Art Magnet programs, Dr. George E. Allen. He looked into my personality and knew my interest, knowledge and love for jazz as well as the depth of my talent. Though it made absolutely no sense to me at the time, it made perfect sense for him to give me an acoustic bass and tell me to learn it and join the jazz quintet. The program had two freshmen [that] didn't know their instruments or music well enough to jump into making the school's quintet happen right away. I didn't know a thing about double bass other than the fact it was the lowest pitched member of the family of string instruments and it was strung in intervals of perfect fourths. What made me a "go" with my teacher was he knew the speed I could grasp anything musical. Consequently, when my teacher handed off the instrument, he also gave me a tune list to learn so we'd have a full repertoire as a band. I was given two weeks to get it together before our first gig. As a working unit, we played numerous professional gigs. I was earning a better than average wage not only were we earning money but we were learning lessons for our futures. My teacher also taught us things like being early to places to set up and to tip waitpersonsI digress.
The summer before I entered Berklee College of Music [in] 1988, I altered my regular summer routine, much to my mother's dislike. I had worked a city sponsored summer job since age 14 and this kept money in my pocket and kept me out of the house. I knew I was entering a new frontier based on the level of success spurned and spawned at Berklee. I had already made gigs with alums like Wallace Roney and Donald Harrison. Coincidentally, they both factored greatly in my musical development and had hands in pushing me in directions that led me to where I am now. Wallace wrote a letter to Berklee, which aided in my acceptance and a small scholarship. Donald is who I give the credit for actually getting me to New York with work. I had played in his band since June of 1989, which preceded both Betty Carter and Jesse Davis as the reason I ended up in New York. Once I began working with Betty Carter, she forced me to move to New York with the lame excuse that if I wanted to keep her gig, I had to move immediately. What if she wanted to have a rehearsal? Of course I pointed out to her that I lived in Philly and came to her house from Philly on the train at a moment's notice whenever she called a rehearsal. But I digress.
Back to practicing and the summer of '88. I geared up for what I figured would be my greatest musical challenge to date in my life. I had only been playing my instrument for two full years at the point of entering college. I knew folks that had been on their instruments for over ten years and sounded like it. I felt like a babe in the woods and a deer in the headlights.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.