In my earliest days in NYC I used to haunt Smalls. After hearing me play, Jimmy Lovelace sat me down and told me to quit music because I just didn’t have it inside me. He insisted he was stopping me for my own good. I was shook but I came back the next night and played. He approached me again.
“I thought I told you music was not your path.”
I responded in a way that he decided to back down and leave me alone. That still didn’t stop another trumpet player from trying to get me to step outside and fight because he was the out cat at Smalls, and I was trying to take his territory.
I left Smalls on good terms however. The last time I played there at around 4 or 5 in the morning people were listening and digging me. You know when the audience is with you. That was 20 years ago, and I never returned.
I still couldn’t get my survival game together. I self-exiled myself to upstate NYC and engaged in let’s say cult-like activity. I ended up playing cornet maybe an hour a week in a closet. I got that horn from a school and never returned it and then gave it to my girlfriend Liduva’s son. Then I heard he had a girlfriend who took the horn on some revenge stuff or something. While I was upstate I was considering living an entirely spiritual life only to discover that without music it would be impossible. I started playing again and made my way back to NYC.
My survival game was still in shambles. I have survived as an artist in NYC for about 25 years by primarily working at Tower Records and Sam Ash up until a few years ago. I never thought I would finish school and get a Masters Degree while working and playing, but I did. Now the most unexpected thing of all has happened, when I was informed of the University of Pittsburgh Doctorate program in Jazz Studies. Along with that comes the inevitable question, is it time to leave New York?
Pittsburgh is not that far away, and I could still make important gigs, but I would be off the scene primarily for 4 years. For me, I’m being forced to look at my relationship with NYC. Am I leaving in defeat or is surviving here as an artist for a long time some kind of triumph in itself? I have yet to achieve my dreams here, and have watched people younger than me move past me in a far shorter time. “Maybe Jimmy Lovelace was right” haunts me in my dreams. If I get a doctorate, is that what would make my dreams possible? Playing chess with your life is no joke, and another 4 years of my life are the stakes.
As part of this process I had to write a statement of purpose. I started off by explaining that I have walked a different path. At 49 I’m a part of the in danger tradition of mentorship in jazz. Hildred Humphries, Sabir Mateen, OC, and WP have all helped me grow on the bandstand. Roy Campbell Jr. helped me believe in myself. Giuseppi also in his own way. Bern more than anyone because he treated me like a collaborator. As Jack DeSalvo and Tom Cabrera were telling me recently, once I hit 50 next year, there’s no way those kind of relationships should exist. I do exist now as myself, on my own terms. I always thought 2020 would be my break out year, maybe it will be, but I must consider the long game. I have walked a different path, and I must consider that breaking out for 4 years and coming back to NYC with a PhD could be the final piece in my puzzle.
The question is what would my PhD be all about?
In high school all I wanted to listen to was Louis Armstrong. Not the Hot Fives, but the All-stars. The gospel records. Pops is still the king of melody. In my early 20’s all I wanted to listen to was Trane, especially post Love Supreme, but all of it. Somehow though all of it I ended up in the middle with what I call free-melody. Yes, I say it all the time, but OC helped me figure this out. I don’t play harmolodics as much as I continue to try and fuse stone cold melody and all out free spiritual expression. I’m both. I’m just different. I’m an alto clarinet. What I’m thinking about pursuing is the mechanics of melody. Exhaustive and extreme research on harmony has been done by many. How does melody work on the deepest levels, even in a free context?
Whatever happens, the people in my musical life must know that if I stepped out, they would be with me, side by side, every step of the way. Maybe we’ll only play a few concerts a year for a minute, but the musicians that have given me so much over the years, our work would continue, perhaps on higher levels. The 12 Houses especially, we’re going to make 25 years at least, that’s my word. Our 10 year anniversary concert is 12/22.
Maybe when I’m 55 all my music dreams will come true, maybe not.
There may be only one way to find out..
Dedicated to my music family in and around NYC