|Roy Haynes: where does he get his energy?|
|Geoffrey Keezer: hearing him really got me to practice|
But some "whuppings" can be somewhat humiliating at first. Especially if they are on a stage and all eyes are on you, and not for the best reasons.
|The great Ernestine Anderson|
The first two night went OK. I was amazed at Anderson's energy, especially for a 60 plus year old; I remember being exhausted by the end of the first set, and it seemed like every successive song gave Anderson more and more stamina. Anderson had a lot of confidence and flair as a performer; at a certain point in the night she would say "This is the part of the show where I take my shoes off!" And the energy would go even higher.
The third night, I'll never forget, because I suppose that after three nights of playing a gig, and if everything is going smoothly, then you might start to get a little cocky. You might get a little complacent. I'm never one to get too complacent, but I'm just trying to find the reasons for what happened during the first set of the third night.
We were playing a standard, kind of a medium tempo swing, and it was fine. It's typical, especially with singers, to play a turnaround at the end of a song, as a kind of extension, or even a coda. It can vary in length; sometimes, it can be merely a few bars, other times it can be quite protracted. There are different types of turnarounds, if you know jazz theory. Some are, for example, in the key of C:
Dm7 G7 Em7 A7 Dm7 G7 Em7 A7
or it might be
Em7 A7 Dm7 G7 Em7 A7 Dm7 G7
It really depend on the song, or what the bass player is playing, etc. So many of the tunes we had played had used a turnaround at the end, with a typical ending, usually directed by yours truly. However, this one particular song, it seemed as though the turnaround I was playing was not what Miss Anderson was wanting to hear. So she would sing, and then listen, and then sing, and then turn to me and say:
And I looked back as if to say,"Miss Anderson, I am playing a turnaround!"
And then she would say it again:
And I looked back again as if to say, "Miss Anderson, this is a turnaround!"
And at a certain point, I panicked. And something in my inner instinct said "Abort! Abort!" And I started to play a very clear, stock ending, figuring that if we wrap it up, then this awkward feeling, of not knowing what's wrong with the turnaround, will surely end, and we can move on to another song.
But it was not to be. Miss Anderson started screaming as loud as she could on the mike: "NO! NO! NO! I'M NOT FINISHED! I"M NOT FINISHED THE SONG!"
Meanwhile, my forced "ending" had actually been picked up by Betts and Mann, but slightly delayed, so that as Anderson was screaming, the rhythm section was still ending the song. That made it look and sound even worse. Meanwhile, I had already gone back to playing a turnaround, which I still was not sure if it was the right turnaround. Clearly, my confidence was eroding by the second....
And then of course, the audience was laughing hysterically, possibly thinking that it was part of the show, or maybe just enjoying the "beating" that I was taking, being the baby on the stage. I felt hot; my tuxedo closed in on me, and very swiftly became a sauna suit.
"NO! YOU DO NOT FINISH THE SONG BEFORE I'M FINISHED WHAT I GOT TO SAY!" declared Miss Anderson. As I pounded away my version of the turnaround, I looked up sheepishly as if to say, "Yes, Miss Anderson, I will play the turnaround until you give me a clear signal, and only then will I attempt to bring this song to a smooth landing..."
I was of course, very embarrassed. However, I look back on that and realize that that one incident, among other incidents, really made me a better musician. I went on to play with many great vocalists, including Cassandra Wilson, Vanessa Rubin, Janis Seigel, Shelia Jordan, Richard Bona, and many others. I think that trial by fire really showed me how focused a pianist has to be when working with singers. You have to develop a symbiosis, a telepathy, a way of communicating through the music and through unspoken cues. It was definitely uncomfortable at the time, but I have a lot of gratitude about the incident. It made me stronger in terms of "rolling with the punches".
And that's why I tell my students to look for situations outside of their comfort zone; if you just lift the same weights week after week, you'll never get stronger. Hence, don't be afraid to try things that you aren't a master of yet, and don't be afraid to fall on your ass. As long as you get back up, you will grow.