Music – the Time Machine

23 Aug

As most of you know, I’ve been a musician to one degree or another for most of my life. I don’t even remember what my first instruments were but I remember having a more than a couple of toy guitars, a recorder or other flute-like thing in the house, and from the time I was 9 years old, a piano in the house as well.

I never took piano lessons (a decision I regret to this day, and something I will eventually do) but starting in 5th grade, I started playing the trombone, and in 7th grade learned guitar and bass guitar. Of all the things I was involved in in high school, music was the dominating factor. I was in choir, singing in both the full chorus and small groups. I was most involved, however, in band, playing in marching band, concert bands, jazz bands, small groups and combos, etc. Outside of school, I was part of a four-piece rock band that played together for about six years, with a few different members, playing bass and providing vocals. And through it all, it remains – I get no bigger buzz than when I play or perform music.

My best high school memories revolve around Jazz Band. Junior and Senior year, our high school had this amazing band teacher, “Mr. O”, who really cultivated a spirit of performance in the band. Our Jazz bands, senior year, went on a contest “tour” all over the Midwest, with stops in St. Louis, Kansas City, Kirksville MO, Omaha, Waterloo IA, Iowa City, Davenport, Des Moines, Ames and other cities. Our Jazz One band – the top tier – was well known in these competitions and we would usually dominate, coming in first or second in most of them. I played bass and was part of a very strong rhythm section. Our trumpet section featured five guys that could positively wail with the best of them, and our sax section provided a strong anchor to the show. We combined that with some unusual features that included an electric violin, occasionally two “trap” drummers with one playing electronic synthesized drums, and more.

Our music selections were innovative as well – it was a combination of old-world big band music from folks like Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, etc., with more modern Jazz of folks like Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Miles Davis and others. Additionally, our leader, “Mr. O”, also was a composer and wrote some truly off-the-hook charts for us, including one voluminous work, “Spaces” that generally won us every competition where we performed it.

As a band, we had some badass swagger as well. All the guys (and please, remember the era – late 1970s, lest you become judgemental), all wore Stetson cowboy hats for the tour trips (although we didn’t wear them onstage), and would walk around whichever town or school we were visiting with them on – the other cities got to know us by this. I seem to remember the girls had some sort of wardrobe thing they did as well, but can’t remember exactly what.

The other key thing in our swagger was our warmup work. At each tour stop – normally a high school or college campus, you were assigned a classroom or other practice space for your band to be able to put your stuff, get your gear in tune, practice, etc. Other bands would set up in their practice space and spend hours before they went onstage practicing their performance numbers. While we usually made a brief dip into those songs – usually just the opening and closing bars to make sure we were tight – Mr. O instead encouraged us to develop a warmup that was anything but our performance tunes. As a result, we developed a number of amazing jam numbers – with one favorite being an instrumental version of Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder. If you’re familiar with the tune, you know this is a great song for a bass guitar player – and being our band’s bassist, it was my favorite. Other bands would make sure their doors to their practice space were closed, but not us. We’d get ripping on Master Blaster and Mr. O would open the door and soon there’d be a crowd in the room, spilling out into the hallway, just to watch us jam. Kids from other schools would come up to us and say how cool that was. And intimidating.

Which loops me to this weekend. Just for something random to do on Saturday, I decided to cruise the town and hit garage sales – my buddies “Charlene” “Jayce” and “GASHM” are big garage sale devotees so I thought I’d try it. At the second garage sale I struck gold – a little Fender bass guitar combo amp. 15 watts – perfect size for my home office/music room. My “big dog” bass amp bit the dust a few years ago and I gave it away, so I hadn’t had anything to play bass through in quite a while.

I hustled home with it and plugged it in – first with my electric guitar. Works fine! I strapped on my ancient old Univox “Hi-Flyer” bass guitar that has seen years of gigs and tuned it up – amazingly, still in perfect tune even though it hadn’t been played in more than 2 years. I then plugged my iPod into one of my other guitar amps to give myself a track to play along with.

You can guess now what I played.

While some of the runs are really rusty, I can still jam along with that song, 30 years later. And it had probably been 30 years since I actually played it.

And just like that, I was crammed in some high school history room, with the 20 kids that were my best high school friends and we were banging out some of the scorchingest jazz sounds to be heard that day.

Music IS a time machine. And one that I know will work for the rest of my life.

As you were,

Stew

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One Response to “Music – the Time Machine”

  1. Linda Covert Campbell August 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    A few weeks back I was talking with a friend who is my age give about 6 weeks and noticing a song that was playing….something very “50’s”. We both stopped and named the artist….and I said to her “of course you have all those tunes on CD?” “no” she replied, “I wish I did”.
    So I dug through my files and burned her 5 80 minute CD’s with songs like “You Belong to Me” and “Shrimp Boats” and “ShiBoom ShiBoom”.
    I gave her the CD’s today and we looked over the list of tunes. We felt it wasn’t really necessary to even play the song, but by reading the name of the tune and the artist we could hear the whole thing in our head and were transported.
    Indeed, music is a time machine.

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