That NEW Adage

A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

BB King’s gig

This was an, overall, pretty decent night — mix notwithstanding… I’m on alto and tenor saxes. And some vocals.

Sorry about the fuzzy video quality. Wasn’t ME!

Check out Steve Bethany on rhythm guitar!!! Just about the best at it!

Come watch my SyncLive.com show at 8:30 PM on 9/3/2009

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September 6, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment, Live Music, Music, Saxophone | Leave a comment

Yes, God is my Father, but He’s also my Big Brother

Back in May, I bought a new horn, remember? I posted a picture of it…

It came with some problems that I shoved to the back of my mind — not wanting to disappoint my wife, and not wanting to think that all the waiting was in vain.

It was made in Taiwan, which until recently had been known for making substandard quality saxophones. I did over a year of research on this particular brand and came to the conclusion that Taiwan was the new Japan in the sense that where they once had a bad reputation, they now were becoming leaders in the industry with brands such as P. Mauriat competing favorably with the big brands, Selmer, Keilwerth, Yamaha, and Yanagisawa — the BIG 4.

So, I contacted the “owner,” the guy who’s name is stamped on the bell of the horn, and placed an order. The main selling points were that these horns were of pro quality but two or three  thousand dollars less than what a comparable one would cost, and that I would have one-on-one contact and consultation with the main guy. You can’t expect that from Selmer!

The one I ordered was their newest model, a copper horn which was about a thousand dollars more than the ones I had been researching. It was way more than I had prepared to spend, but it was so unique… There was something about having something that no one else has.

I received an e-mail from the owner’s “partner” confirming my order. He told me that the demand for this new model was more than expected, and that I would have to wait at least a month. I ended up waiting almost four.

In May I finally got it! When I opened it, there were some problems… It had been damaged in shipping, and one of the key guards was bent. There was a lot of room for the horn to move inside the case, and it had obviously been bumped around.

I guess there was a look on my face, because as soon as I opened the box, Kathy asked me with anticipation, “So, you LIKE it?!?”

“Yeah,” I said, but there was something in the back of my mind…

The brace that holds the body of the horn to the bow was bent as well, and off track. I assumed this was all due to the shipping.

I got out my tuner to see if the horn played in tune, and it did from the lowest note until I got up to the palm keys (I realize that I am speaking in esoteric terms, but you’ll get the gist), where the Eb and E were waaaay sharp! This was disconcerting, but I attributed it to my not having a new tenor in eighteen years.

And there was a problem with the way the left-hand palm keys fit my hand. One key was too high, and another too low, making it hard for me to move with speed.

I got the horn set up by a technician who called it, “a beautiful lookin‘ little horn” disdainfully. I sneered at him and just wrote his opinion off to not recognizing the name. He fixed most of the damage and lightened up some of the springs, quickening the action a bit. But the ergonomics were basically unalterable.

Long story less long, I contacted the “owner” and his “partner” about the problems (and some others I haven’t mentioned here), and was told basically to keep them appraised. Not the first-hand customer service I expected, but I wasn’t eager to have to box up and ship the horn back and wait months more for it to return.

So I played the horn — which sounds a lot better than my well-run old Selmer — in good spirits ignoring that fading ringing in the back of my mind.

I had been steadily checking the internet for reviews of this horn by other players, when after work one night, I was reading and discovered that the two guys from whom I bought the horn had split!!! The owner was continuing to sell horns out of his home as usual, but under different names. The partner was now in the saxophone business on his own.

Not only that, but I found out that the split was over the very model horn I have!

It turns out that the horn was NOT made in Taiwan, but in CHINA! They are known industry-wide for making junk horns in pink and blue and red and orange that play way out of tune and are basically thrown together.

I did NOT spend all my money for a Chinese saxophone! Shoot, I had JUST grown accustomed to the idea of a Taiwanese one! All those nagging fears had been justified.

I e-mailed the owner in New York, and went to tell my wife what had happened. It was after 4 AM Wednesday.

The next morning, he called me. Now, this guy is not a shill. He has almost thirty years in the business making mouthpieces for well known heavyweights.

What he told me shocked me. He said that I did not buy the horn from HIM! That I bought it from the other guy, and that I should contact him if I wanted my money back, but good luck, “cause he still owes ME money!”

I was groggy from sleep, and did not say the things I would have said had I been fully coherent.

I e-mailed the other guy (I don’t really want to name names based on how this all played out) in Austin Texas(!) and asked what the process was for getting a refund since the horn was basically misrepresented.

HE responded that two months was too long for a refund, but that he would be willing to pay for any repairs. He vouched for the quality of the horn.

Now fully awake, I called New York and got into an only somewhat heated back-and-forth. I told him first how sorry I was that his reputation was being damaged and that this must be awful for him, but that to ME this was world-shaking because it was all the money I had, and that I make my living with my horn.

 He seemed to wash his hands of the matter, telling me repeatedly — as though ANYONE would see it — that I did NOT buy the horn from HIM, that I bought it from the other guy!! I threw every logical point at him: “YOUR name is on the horn! I ordered it from YOUR website with YOUR name on it! YOU advertised that these were YOUR products, and YOU stood behind them. I contacted YOU about buying a horn! He was YOUR partner (He was not my partner! He was just my distributor!) He worked on YOUR behalf…!”

He deflected every argument. “So, I’m basically screwed, hunh? I gave you guys my hard earned money for one thing, I got another, and I’m just screwed?”

“No, no, you’re not screwed. I’m gonna make it right for ya.” in his New York brogue. “All ya gotta do is contact the Attorney General of your state, blahblahblah, blast ‘im on the internet, blahblahblah and when I get proof that you’ve done everything you could, then I’ll see what I can do. Butcha didn’ buy the horn from ME, blahblah…”

I was a ball of stress! I felt awful. But through the whole thing, there was a calmness in me. As angry and stressed as I was, I said to God, “YOU gotta work this out for me, ‘cuz I can’t!” And I didn’t fly off the handle and start cussing folks out like many thought I should.

I had to play it cool withthese guys because they had my money and they were spread out all over the country. I had NO leverage. One wrong word from me, and they could just hang up the phone and act as though I never existed. I couldn’t make unreasonable threats and demands because I — as my father says — had my arm in a lion’s mouth!

I posted the bones of the case on a popular saxophone forum. Nothing slanderous and derogatory. By that night, I got a note from the ex-partner (the owner HAD publically called him that) suggesting that we try to come to a reasonable conclusion… maybe I could swap this horn with one of the ACTUAL Taiwanese models (which cost LESS money).

We talked on the phone, the ex-partner and I, for over twenty minutes the next day. He told me what he had in stock, the properties of the horn, and about all the controversy. He gave me a different perspective, of couse, from the one of the owner. Both of them were angry at each other, and I just happened to be the dude that bought th first horn in this new batch and got entangled on this mess.

He was extremely helpful, attentive, and apologetic. This was the kind of customer service I expected from the owner and NEVER got. It was Thursday.

By MONDAY I had the other horn. IMG_2089

It was GREAT! Undamaged, and in a cool case that allowed for no movement. And it played almost by itself! Big, booming sound, perfect ergonomics, and in tune all the way up. Just a great horn!

This was what I wanted all along.

All that was left was to work out the amount of money for the other horn. There was about a $700 difference in price, and the thought of that last pending battle gave me just the slightest anxiety. “God, work it out.”

Two days ago, I sent an e-mail to Texas, saying compactly, “I LOVE this horn! What is the next move from here?”

This was his reply:

I have been trying to think about what would be appropriate and fair to you regarding the situation you got caught up in.  

 I continue to believe the MAC 20 is also a great horn.  It is different but still a terrific horn.  I know you have had your MAC 20 adjusted and that you have it setup for you etc.

Derrick, I think in view of all you were put through that you should just keep both horns. The MAC 8 is my gift to you.  All I ask is that you be fair with your assessment with both horns on any reviews you may wish to write.  I am not asking that you say anything you don’t believe in your heart and if you really feel the MAC 20 is not a good horn you should simply state your reasons.  I respect whatever your opinion is good or bad.  

Blown away was I!! He went from “No refund,” to “just keep both horns!!!”

I never thought it would work out this well. At best , I thought I would have to make an even swap. At worst, I thought I would just have to come to love a horn I only liked. My wife would have felt forever that we got beat.

I can’t express the emotion that I felt as I read that e-mail. Not that I get to keep these two pretty things, these material items — but that through seemingly insurmountable circumstances, God pushed me out of my way and fought the unseen bully into submission.

He made me keep my cool, showed me the moves to make — the perfect balance of firmness and compassion — and he worked it all out.

Some may say that the guy in Texas only made a smart business move. I agree it was smart to treat a customer right.

Some may say that he only let me keep the horn because he wouldn’t be able to get rid of it. But I say that were that the case, why send me another one? The horn is in better shape now than when it was new, and he could have sold it as new, or taken a few dollars off it and gotten a LOT more than the difference in price between it and the one he sent me. But he let me have both.

GOD did this. And there is no remaining doubt in my mind that He really does fight for me. He really is concerned about the ins and outs of my daily life. He really does intercede.

I never had a brother. I had to fight my battles and learn all the hard knocks myself. But in God, I HAVE that Brother. In fact, He has ALWAYS been there… Like the time when that gang of boys surrounded me at the bus stop and had a three inch long pin a millimeter from my eyeball. I had to smooth talk my way out of that close call, and the LORD was in my ear telling me what to say.

He has always told me when to fight, and when to get out of the way and fight the bullies who were too big to engage.

Closer than a brother.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, God, Jesus, Music, Music Business, Near Misses, Saxophone, The Nature of God, Work, Writing | 2 Comments

Ingreat?

I want to be great.

I struggle with this. I know that God says that He will give His glory to no man. I ask myself constantly if the reason I have not yet achieved my goals is that I want to be glorified in some way. Maybe God knows (I want to say, “Maybe God THINKS,” but I know He doesn’t wonder) that I would not be as humble as I need to be if He allows me to do the same things as those as whom I know I am at least as good. (prepositions! whew!)

Or maybe I simply have not worked hard enough.

I play music and I write words. I often think, when I see humorists and columnists and hear certain saxophone players, “I KNOW I can do this! I’m at LEAST that good! Why can’t I get a break?” I know I’m kind of good, but I want to be great. And not obscure. And I begin again to wonder if what is blocking me is simply my thought process.

Maybe my thinking has to change… Maybe I have to think more about what greatness will mean for God than what it will do for me.

From day one I have been Charlie Brown. I was the insignificant kid, the ridiculed kid, the unremembered kid. I was the one who the girls looked at from the edges of their eyes. I was the one who either ate alone at lunch or went and found others with whom to eat.

I was never at the center of the action, always at the outer ring. Never the life of the party.

When I started to play music, it wasn’t to get girls or to be cool. I just wanted to learn how to play an instrument — something no one in my neighborhood did. All through school, the fact that I could hear a tune and reproduce it and improvise a little bit did nothing to initiate me into that cool musical circle.

When I grew up and began doing it for a living, my mother, who worked at my high school, would ask me to come back and play for assemblies. My own band director (with whom I rode to school EVERY DAY for three years!!!) was shocked when he heard me, remarking to my mother, “I had no idea Derrick could play like that! When did this happen?”

He had not bothered to notice or nurture my talent. He never pushed me. While the cool kids were taking theory classes and playing in the jazz band, I was at home picking out Grover Washington and Spyro Gyra solos. Teaching myself.

When I was in the eighth grade and on the verge of academic mediocrity as a student in the first Optional School class in Memphis, my English teacher brought a knarry tree stump into the classroom and asked us to write a story based on what we saw. I, thinking myself a failure at English, got the highest grade in the class. In me was born the love for words I now have. I changed at that moment. And a lot of the arrogant kids in the class looked at me differently — although being good at English doesn’t make you cool.

Writing didn’t become cool for me until I began getting paid to write love letters for guys — something I was scared to do for myself for a long time.

This very blog is all about me trying to be great. It is more than a geek with a computer corrupting journalism. It is me trying to not just rant, but to make literature. I want to leave my children with something that shows them that their father did not just consume resources, but that he THOUGHT. I want to not get to God’s throne and have Him disappointed because I left unused some gift He gave to me.

I want to MATTER — to be necessary. I want to be great in His eyes AND send my kids to college. Can’t you do both? There is the rub… That which makes ascent uncertain…

Being so consistently rejected bred in me this thing, this need, to prove them all wrong. To prove to — whomever — that I was worthy of note. Not of exaltation, but just valuable enough to be heard, to be listened to. It is the same drive, I think, that led Michael Jordan to prove wrong the coach who cut him when he was a kid. The same drive that made my father put cement and a pole into buckets to make his own barbells back in the fifties when kids laughed at him and called him scrawny.

I hate being treated as “less-than.” HATE it! I am the first one to esteem my neighbor as greater than myself, as long as my neighbor doesn’t presume to assume that position! I’ll get in the back seat as long as you don’t insist that I belong there. It is for this reason that arrogance is one of the things I hate most in the world.

 I want to show all those who belittled me and dismissed my contributions that they are what is wrong with the world. (But it doesn’t consume me as much as it may sound)

Maybe in a twisted way, though, that is revenge… I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a desire to hurt anyone, or to repay in like fashion, so maybe it’s not vengeance. But maybe my thinking is wrong. Maybe I need to focus more on how GOD would be proved worthy of note if these things happened for me the way I want them to… I know I am not arrogant — I am PROUD of how humble I am! I make way too many mistakes to have an exaggerated idea of myself.

God, however, sees things in a different way than do I. Maybe my thinking is out of synch with His. Maybe if I can figure out how greatness and fame intersect, that last door will open.

Or maybe it is just not time yet.

I know He has not closed the door though, because I have continually been able to support myself, and because step by agonizing step, I have done a little bit better. I have worked with some pretty big acts and have played as though I belonged there.

We all live and eat by having people give us money to do something we are good at doing. Our gifts make our way for us. That is all I want. No Bentley, no floor length mink, no gaudy jewels. No breathless fans or VIP status.

Just ample recompense for art rendered. Commensurate compensation.

Lord, I don’t want Your spot or your shine. And if I don’t speak up enough, it is of shyness, not of usurpation. Create in me that right way of thinking, and even closer fellowship with You.

I’m not so haughty, reader, as to think that my life is so compelling that you just HAVE to know about it. I just hope the words are interesting enough to keep you reading them.

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Arrogance, Artistry, Christian Life, Christianity, Fame, Food for Thought, Glory, God, Greatness, Humility, Life, Music, Saxophone, Words, Work, Writing | 9 Comments

Um a Souuuuul Mane! (shameless plug time)

Soul Men,”  starring Samuel L. Jackson, the late Bernie Mac, and the late Isaac Hayes, opens tomorrow. Go see it! I played on either the score, the soundtrack, or both. Help me out so that my checks will be a little larger! Thanx!

Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac star in The Weinstein Company's Soul Men

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Bernie Mac, Entertainment, Isaac Hayes, Movies, Music, Music Business, Samuel L. Jackson, Saxophone, Soul Men | 2 Comments

Museday Tuesday

I’m excited.

Yesterday, I was supposed to start working on my record, but it wasn’t able to happen. I have a whole week to do it since Kathy is off. Today is Tuesday. I still have four days left including this afternoon. Let’s see how it goes…

I’m excited! I get to exercise a gift to the fullest!

 

Didn’t happen.

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Jazz, Life, Making Music, Music, Recording Industry, Saxophone, Work | 1 Comment

Just a Snippet…

I have said that I play the saxophone for, what has been lately, somewhat of a living. Here is a clip from a gig I did with a band in which I really enjoy playing. It is the closest thing to the kind of music I want to play that I have been able to do in a long time — I hope you followed that. This is the band playing, “Sister Moon,” as done by Herbie Hancock and Sting.

Bear with me! The clip takes a few seconds to load, and the picture is small. I didn’t want to buy the Pro version of Quicktime just for this one thing. I hope you like it.

http://www.cmdstudio.com/kwestweb.mov

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Jazz, Life, Live Music, Music, On the Job, Performance, Saxophone, Sister Moon, Video Clips, Work | 2 Comments

MY New Year’s Eve

 Tonight (Monday, new year’s eve) I am playing a party. I’d BETTER be! This is the biggest gig night of the year for a musician. My gig will pay me almost six times my normal amount. It is about a forty minute drive from home at a casino in Tunica, Mississippi.

I found out by text message at about 1 AM last night that the 5 o’clock sound check is mandatory. Now, normally, sound checks don’t involve me because I am just the sax player/background singer and I don’t have to set up any amps or pedals or anything. Usually the boss will tell me to just get there about thirty minutes ahead of time to check my mics and everything. I assumed that today would be no different.

I was wrong.

My wife hates her job. One of the reasons is that, for example, today she has to work. (She works every Christmas Eve, too.) She gets off at five. I watch Max during the day, and she takes over when she gets home. See where I’m going?

I text messaged the bandleader, who has always been reasonable about stuff like this — even on big gigs, to ask what I was supposed to do about sound check since I had Max and that Kathy didn’t get off till five.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that our other car has not been roadworthy enough for extended trips since this old lady ran me off the road and into a curb, and now whenever I have to drive more than a couple of miles, I start to smell tire rubber burning…

What am I supposed to do? I wrote.

In less than a minute his reply was, That’s not my problem.

Not his problem. Motherfather! (sorry. I don’t curse but sometimes substitutes creep into my mind… Pray for me)

So, as far as he knew, my wife would have to leave work early, or I would have to bring the baby with me to sit around and wait for two hours just for me to say, “Check, one two, one two” and come back home and get ready for a gig that won’t start till about 9:30!

Let me inform you here that for the type of gigs I usually do, sound check is a COLOSSAL waste of time. We all knew that if the time was set for five PM, they would not even start running cables until the entire rhythm section was set up. Why did I have to be there at 5? I HATE with a passion having my time manipulated and wasted!

That is EXACTLY what happened.

Heck, the boss — whose problem it was not —  didn’t even get there until 5:20! When I got there at 4:50 or so, the drummer was the only one there!

Okay, lately, I’ve been mulling and praying over the idea of starting my own band. I have a lonnnng list of grievances with my bandleader, the latest of which is the fact that I went the entire Christmas season without playing ONE Christmas party! This is usually the season to be jolly, pocket-wise! Meanwhile, he has been playing with other bands (he is the bass player in the band), renting out his audio gear, and is going to Singapore next week with a blues singer.

I’m not jealous at all. The thing is that we, his band, have been either sitting at the house, or scraping to find work while all the other bands are booked up. Part of the reason why he gets so much more than I do is because it is his job to deal with the agents and the clients, and to find us work! He expects us to be available when he books a gig, but his incentive to do so has been compromised because he has so many less stressful outlets by which to make money. 

It is a lot harder for a non-essential sax player to find work than it is a drummer or keyboard player. (I wouldn’t trade my horn for anything!)

When airing my grievances to the other guys (the boss basically blew me off and tried to string me along when I tried to talk to him), they felt that it was my job to take care of mine, and that when it was all boiled down, Bossman was looking after his OWN family.

Okay.

I always said that I didn’t want to form a band of my own until I got a manager to deal with all the headaches — lateness, drunkenness, drugs, irresponsibility, laziness, skirt-chasing, etc.

But the more I talked, the more I heard, “You’re ready! Get your own group.”

I am making a point with all of this. Bear with me…

I talked to a few guys, none but one of whom plays in the band with me regularly, about the particulars and possibilities of doing this.

“I want to play more jazz and Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra-type standards, and not this top forty/old school junk that we play ad nauseam. Is there a market for this here?”

“Should I deal with an agency, or go by word-of-mouth?”

“If an agency, what measures do I take to get signed?”

“I have no gear. How much would I need for this type thing?”

“How much would a small set-up be?”

“If I do this, would YOU want to play with me?”

“When I get enough cash to make a record, will you work with me on it?

I asked around to get the tenor of the times, so to speak, and a lot of guys wanted to get on board.

The thing is this: Was Bossman’s attitude so cold towards me earlier because he had somehow heard about my possible plans? I was very discreet, but my wife seemed to think that was the case. I felt that since I was not doing him wrong by trying to support myself — without taking any of his guys with me — he had no reason to be upset. Besides, I was only just thinking about it! I wasn’t trying to burn any bridges. The river’s too wide to try to swim back across!

Back to the story…

Everyone had told me to play it cool and not to go off, even though he had it coming! I’m terrible at the poker-face.

So it’s 5:30, and everyone was at the venue, but nothing was set up, and the lone sound man was dragging his feet. Setting up a stage this size is an hour job for three or four guys, so having just one didn’t bode well for us, time-wise. And I had to go all the way back home to get dressed.

Most of the other guys had brought their clothes, but, as I tersely related to the foot-dragger, I didn’t assume that I would not be able to return home from a 5 o’clock sound check for a gig that started at freekin’ 9:30! That’s why I didn’t want to go all that way in the first place! I knew they would be piddling around with my time!

He made a smart remark that left me biting a hole in my lip.

The funny thing is this: When the boss saw me, he smiled, said, “What up,” and proceeded to pass out calendars for next year! As if all this down time were just a blip! He was totally oblivious!

If he were planning to pre-emptively fire me, he surely wouldn’t be doing that!

At 6:40, 6: doggone 40, the lead singer walks in cool as iced tea, and nobody raised an eyelash. Now if he could do that, why did I, as far as the bandleader knew, have to get my wife to leave work early and lose money for me to sit around for two hours before any microphones were turned on?!? Why was it so crucial that I be there to stew in my own suppressed anger with nothing to do but watch the “Beverly Hillbillies” marathon backstage on Nick at Nite?
At 6:45, we were ready to check the mics and the instruments. The lead singer’s mic was awful, and the sound man, frustrated by his lack of help, and by our absence of sound check etiquette (everyone was checking stuff all at the same time. I hate that), snapped at us.
This, this set the boss off, and he proceeded to curse the guy out as I walked past them both on my way to the car for the forty minute trip home to eat and change. I thought it was interesting that he went to bat for the guy who showed up an hour and forty minutes late, but left me to fend for myself earlier without even a thought.
All night during the show, he tried to crack jokes with me and make light while I concentrated on being professional, and sang on a mic that wasn’t even on! I couldn’t even be phoney enough to make eye contact with him.
As the lead singer butcherized the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” my decision was being hardened with every beat.
The show was complete with belly dancers, showgirls, fire-baton twirlers, full-scale pyrotechnics, and smoke machines that made the place look like the devil’s lobby! All I kept thinking was of the rich man in the Bible, all nervous,  saying, “Please! Somebody get Lazarus on the phone! He knows me! Somebody call Lazarus!!”

 I told Kathy about all of this when I got home.

“Baby, now, a new year is coming in!” she said in an attempted motherly tone. “You can’t be ticked off for the new year.”

“Why not?” I asked, ” ‘Cause I’ll be ticked off the whole year?”

“Well, you know,” she said, “History does like to repeat itself…”

“No, it doesn’t LIKE to. It just TENDS to.”

We threw back our heads and laughed. (freeze frame, roll credits…)

This year will be different.

Happy New Year, dear readers! I love you all. Thanks for indulging me in this endeavor, and for encouraging me. May God bless you as He has blessed me, and may He give you the nervous anticipation and hope that He has given me as we all embark on this new journey called 2008.

January 1, 2008 Posted by | Christian Life, Employment, Humor, Life, Music, New Year, On the Job, Playing Music, Saxophone, Work, Writing | 4 Comments

Music and Drama.

Yeah, I play the saxophone. Mostly, right now, I play section stuff in r&b bands doing clubs, occasional casinos, and various parties. I want to front my own band, but with all of the drama that goes on with guys showing up late, getting drunk, forgetting parts, and other musician stuff, I’ve declared that I would not get my own band until I got a manager to deal with all that junk!

I see a lot of stuff. Things that make me laugh, things that make me angry, and things that make me pray! I’ve seen guys do things that I can’t figure out how to clean up enough to write about that would make you fall out laughing.

See, being a Christian puts me in the position of being the “Mr. Good Guy” who tries to be some kind of example (at least) in the face of a lot of debauchery. The one band that I work primarily for, which will have to remain nameless because some guys’ wives may read blawgs, provides a lot of material. We do this club gig on Monday nights in downtown Memphis, and although I haven’t seen anyone knifed, I’ve seen just about everything else. Like the time my boy Curtis got into it with these two guys about them stealing money from the tip jar…

Curtis plays trumpet with us sometimes, along with Marc. On this night he was playing with the house band, of which he is the leader.

Anyway, Curtis confronts this guy, a part-time bodyguard and full-time drug seller Darryl, I believe he is named, about the cash, and the argument escalates until Darryl, about 6′-4″, 280, draws him outside where his unnamed accomplice sneaks up behind him and knocks him down. (Curtis had slippery-bottomed dress shoes on, and it was drizzling outside.) After they get him down, they proceed to peel his head open with a music stand! All this while the band was onstage! Nobody helped him. A couple of the guys were mad at him about band stuff, and I guess the others were reluctant to maybe get shot. That was real messed up, though, for them to let that happen to him.

Curtis got a concealed weapon permit shortly thereafter. He said that he wasn’t takin no more “A” whuppins!

So, yeah, a couple months later, after his stitches and everything came out, I was onstage at the club on a Monday and out the front window (the whole front wall is basically a window…), we see all these blue lights flashing. Folks in the club started to turn away from all the scintillating entertainment to see what was going on… Okay, here’s what happened:

Apparently the night before, Curtis (A lot of stuff happened to Curtis, but he always lands on his feet. Except for that last time…) was hanging out at the bar. He wasn’t working that night, just hanging. His wallet came up stolen. So, I guess the guy who stole it, not knowing that the guy he stole it from actually WORKS in the place(!), was at the front window bar posing as guess who?! The manager on duty (foolishly?) calls Curtis at home and tells him about it and that the guy is running up charges on his card but not to worry that he has him on ice.

Curtis, I guess, gets this new gun and shoots down to the club. We’re onstage while all this is going on.

So, anyway Curtis gets out of the truck, a Tahoe with big, shiny rims on it, and decides against bringing the gun in. See, the cops set up shop right outside the front door of the club.

But just at the last second, Curtis has a change of heart and turns around to get his gun. This is Beale street, a main tourist attraction in Memphis, and there were a lot of people walking around on a Monday summer night. This White lady saw Curtis stick his gun in his pants and immediately calls 911 with the details: “This Black guy just got a gun out of this big, pimped-out suv and stuffed it in his pants! He looks angry!”

Okay, now we’re back to the point at which I see all the blue lights.

So, they got Curtis on the ground, right? And they got guns drawn on him, and feet and knees and stuff on his neck, and they’re shouting and cussing at him, okay? And Curtis was thinking, “I wasn’t gone shoot the guy, I was just gone persuade ‘im. Scare him a little bit.” He didn’t get a chance to say none of that to the cops. Too much aaasphalt in his mouth.

We were almost through with our second of three sets when all this came together, so when we ended the last song, I shot out the side door and ran around to see what had happened. See, a waitress came to the front of the stage and told the lead singer that Curtis had been arrested, and he told ME. So all I knew at that time was that my padnuh (friend) was in the “back seat.” As I approached the car, his girlfriend (I GOTTA tell you about HER!) beseeched me, “Tell him to bee qwiiiiet! Carlos almos’ had him out, but hee won’t quit cussin’ the po-leece out!” Translation: They were about to let him go, but his persistent belligerence negated that possibility.

“Curtis, shut up!” I said. “Just shut up!”

Curtis said through the tiny crack in the window, with his arms politely behind his back, something like, “Man fornicate these cops! I tole them I had a permit, but they ain’t lissen!” That was probably because cops don’t generally like to be cursed out by gun-toting Black guys. Permit or no permit. If he had just calmly let them slam him to the ground, everything would have been sorted out with only minor cuts and bruises. Better yet, if he had adhered to the law that states that you can’t have a pistol where alcohol is sold and left his gat in the truck, I would have no story to tell.

As it was, Carlos, the manager, was able to get the thief locked up, but unable to keep Curtis from going to jail. It was a CIRCUS! We were back onstage playing “Brick House”(I hate that tune!), or some other drivel,  and Curtis was in the back seat of a police car in the front window of the club where he worked, spitting and cursing, and about to go to the BIG house while the actual criminal was in the car next to him chillin! They spent the night in the SAME JAIL!! The folks in the club looked like they were watching a tennis match, heads going back and forth from the band to the front window.

That, folks, is the environment in which I live out my Christianity. I try to be light to the guys with whom I work, doling out Scripture and advice whenever appropriate, but guys don’t often like to be preached at. I pray for them, though. Would you do so, too? My work world is not much different than a restaurant (I did that too, once, and it was BABYLON, believe me!), an office, or many other occupations. I am blessed that the Lord strengthens me and enables me to remain free of drug use and some of the other common pitfalls that accompany a musical life. Ironically, it was Curtis Monday night who suggested that I write some of these stories down in a book. Maybe I will clean up a few more stories, if you like, and write them here. Let me know. In the words of that great theologian, Rodney Dangerfield, “I gotta million of ’em!” 

Remind me to tell you about the time one of his women tried to run him over. Or the time Larry, another singer, got mad and walked out while we were playing his intro music… Or the time Bill C. took a deaf groupie to his hotel room and tried to whisper “sweet nothings” to her in the dark! Naw, I can’t figure out how to tie a Christian tail on that one. Peace.

October 17, 2007 Posted by | Christian Life, Christianity, Humor, Life, Music, On the Job, Playing Music, Saxophone, Work | 2 Comments

Wailin’ like Whalum!

In what field do you work? What activity do you wish you could make a living doing? Is there someone you admire in a particular arena that is the epitome of skill and expertise?

Are you a sports fan who admires A-Rod, or Jordan, or Peyton Manning? Are you a painter who loves the work of Rembrandt, or Picasso? Are you an aspiring actor or playwright? Do you work in the restaurant business, or the automobile design industry, or the cosmetology field?

If you think about it, every one of you has at least one person who is the icon of your admiration in a given area. I am a musician. By profession. I am of a blessed few who get to do the one thing I LOVE for a living, meager though it is right now. This means that the person I most look up to in the entire musical world does both what I love and what I do.

I am a saxophone player, and hopefully not a hack! I am not a poseur. I don’t walk around town with my horn on my shoulder, and I don’t dance when I play. I MOVE, though… For me, it is about getting better on that horn, and the musicians I most admire are serious about their discipline. My two favorite singers are Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. My favorite female singer is Lalah Hathaway. Or maybe Sarah Vaughan. It’s pretty close. My favorite piano player is Phineas Newborn, Jr.. My favorite trumpet player is, I think, Clifford Brown. My favorite guitar player is, maybe, Wes Montgomery. My favorite bass player is Marcus Miller. I don’t have a favorite drummer.

There are a million sax players in this town alone. I love that the Lord gave me that instrument to play! It is so complex and so expressive. There are so many who play it well; Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, Coletrane, Joe Henderson, Grover Washington, Wilton Felder, Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Eric Alexander, Phil Woods, Paul Desmond (Take 5), Kirk Whalum, Bird, Stan Getz (Human velvet), Dexter Gordon, Chris Potter, Johnny Griffin, Kenny Garrett, Gerald Albright, and scores more.

The thing is this: Of all the singers I like, but didn’t mention, and all of the other musicians whom I just love, the ONE who is my favorite– out of all who have ever sung or played a single note– is Kirk Whalum. You can agree or disagree, you can argue and present your case for the brilliance of Bird or Trane, and you can cite the mastery of Sarah Vaughan and Stevie. You can talk about Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye and Brother Ray. You can plead the case for David Ruffin, or Billie Holliday, or Wynton Marsalis, or Sinatra, or Donny Hathaway, and you will have some valid points. But for my money, the one who resonates with me is Whalum.

He has the ability to convey pure, raw emotion in a single note. His horn sings and cries and shouts and growls. He is at once soulful, and harmonically competent. Not many can say this. They are usually one or the other. It is an awful thing to hear a straight-ahead cat (musicians say “cat”) try to play some soul! And vicey-versey. He is the leader among guys who can make a sax sound almost human.

The moment I first heard him in a Denver record store way back when guesting on a Bob James record, I immediately asked the store manager who it was. I was hooked. That was how I wanted to sound! It sounded like he was wringing the notes from a wet towel! Every note was urgently played. I thought that if I could play like that, I would be able to tell girls with music what I was too scared to utter with words.

A year or so later, I heard him on a Luther Vandross album, and this one song, “Anyone Who Had A Heart, ” by Bacharach, repeatedly put me in the saddest mood. Beautiful! I have followed his career since the first day, waiting on album releases, and buying every record I saw his name attached to. Some of them were duds with the songs he soloed on being the only ones I dug.

Somewhere in there, I decided that I wanted to do what he did. I wanted to drop out of architecture school and become a musician. It was the only thing I felt that I could really do and do well. I wanted to make people feel whatever emotion I felt when I played a song or a solo like Kirk Whalum did. I had a long, long way to go. (I only have a long way to go now.)

I started from scratch, not having any guidance. I began to teach myself licks, and turns, and scales, and phrases. And most of all, I worked on my TONE– the way I sounded. I gigged with my friends who were grass-green like I, and we used to play at family house parties with just a piano amp, and no gear for no money. I graduated from there to playing for a gospel artist for no money. But we had gear, though.

After a year of that, I got a gig with blues singer, Denise LaSalle. I was on my way! I was making money, but the gear was AWFUL! I continued to teach myself by practicing the solos of Whalum, and my other “teacher,” Grover Washington, as well as any other artist that inspired me. I played lead vocal melodies, piano solos, guitar solos, and everything. The main thing, though, was to always be soulful. And to have that pretty tone.  

Friends would tell me (they still do) to be more of a showman, to walk into the audience, or to wave my hand like Dave Koz does. I just couldn’t. “I just wanna get better on this horn,” I always reply. If I am feeling what I am playing and move accordingly, sincerely, that is honest. For ME, it felt phoney to use gimmicks to get a response. I was trying to please musicians! If THEY dig you, then you know you’re doing something. I may be wrong.

Now, from time to time, I get the comment that I “sound like Whalum.” What was to be expected? I had played, really, millions of Kirk Whalum notes! Now, though, I have to find my voice out of all that emotion and wailing! There is already a Whalum. It’s hard to be discouraged by hearing that, though. I kind of get the same feeling as when someone tells me I LOOK like my father. How can I not like that? My pops is the MAN!

So… my question is this: How would you, as a golf fanatic, like to play a round with Tiger, or Ernie Els? How would you, as a basketball player, like to be on Jordan’s team? How would you, as a real estate person, like to spend time with Trump? Singer– Stevie Wonder? Cook–Emeril, or Rachael Ray? Actor– Hopkins, Hepburn, or Denzel? How would you feel if you, an average citizen, were called upon to perform with or for your greatest hero? How would you feel if, out of ALL the people in the world, the ONE person you most admire watched you do what HE does? And what if that thing that he does is not just your recreation, but your VOcation? How would you feel?

Well, today, at the church at which I play, the musical director said at the last minute, “Hey, let’s play that Whalum tune we closed with last week!”  That being the song from his just-released album that we sort of butchered up last week. At that very MOMENT Kirk Whalum and his wife walked in!!! Ohhh Lorrrd! I pride myself on not being scared of a musical challenge. How can I call myself worthy of being a contemporary of the masters if I am scared to do what I can do musically?

I was as scared as my little son, Max, when those guys in the hamburger suits come on the teevee!

Tim, the m.d., was like, “man, whass wrong witchu? I ain’ neva seen you like this!”

“I ain’ neva been like this,” I said, knees sounding like dice about to come up snake-eyes. “I ain’t prepared. That song has a crazy pattern that’s hard to follow wit’out a chart!” It was 9:57. Church started at 10:00. No time to practice, and I couldn’t punk out. So, I prayed, and we played. It was okay. Only minor mistakes. I do this for a living. But I didn’t want to sound like a scrub with the icon of my artistic life sitting 20 feet away! There was a problem, though, and that is the reason for this post.

The service was about GOD. What about GOD? Isn’t HE a greater audience than Kirk Whalum? Kirk, being a Godly man would say, “yes.” (I know this because I have met him a few times, and he occasionally comes to my church. More pressure?!) All I could think of during the musical portion of the worship was, “Don’t mess up, Kirk’ll think you’re a scrub. Play that flat 5 lick right here, Kirk’ll think that was cool. Don’t overplay, ’cause Kirk’ll think you’re into your self. I wonder what Kirk thought about that tag I put at the end of that last song?” I mean, I was in the same room as my hero, and I was playing HIS song, his style, his instrument! It was too much.

And I was so ashamed of myself. I kept apologizing to God for making Him ride in the back seat so Kirk could sit up front. “I’m sorry, Lord,” I kept saying, and I kept shifting my focus back from God to man.

“I wonder if he heard that bad note? I wonder if he heard me play that cool run? Oh, Sorry, Lord.”

My wife consoled me, saying tht the Lord understands, that I’m only human. True, but that fact didn’t keep Him from holding us accountable for the fact that we sin. Without Jesus, we still suffer the repercussions of our actions. Humanity is no excuse for faults.

I know God forgave me, but the thing is that we need to be aware that God is always sitting on the front row. For every scene. Good AND bad. We should conduct ourselves according to the fact that the One universal Celebrity requires us to serve, worship, praise, and perform for HIM. And He deserves it. Look at all the stuff He did. All the things He made…

Kirk Whalum is not an idol of mine in the sense that he occupies God’s throne of glory. His skill and talent, as are ALL of ours, are a sign of what God can do. That is why God gets the praise for the made putts and three-pointers, the Grammys and the Oscars, the pictures and the sculptures.

At the end of service this morning, as we played the benediction music, I felt someone come up from behind the chair in which I was sitting and grab me, choke hold style, around my neck.

“You blessed me, man! You really blessed me by playing my song!” Imagine Jordan telling you that you played well… Imagine that you felt that he meant it… That made my WEEK! And I thanked GOD!

I wanted to ask him a thousand questions… about mouthpieces, and horns, and chords and solos, and sessions, and about helping me make records. But I didn’t get to. I don’t like to crowd celebrities when I see them. They have lives. People are always trying to get something from them, and I feel that if I am good enough to do this on a higher plane the time will come when God says so. If I really CAN play, he, or someone, will give me my shot.

So what I have is the memory of his gratitude. And my OWN gratitude to God for being so cool and merciful and Beautiful. And for inventing the saxophone and putting it in my hand.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | Art, Christianity, God, Heroes, Jazz, Kirk Whalum, Life, Music, Saxophone | 2 Comments