Hi! Tony García here....

 

Welcome to "Random Thoughts," the page where I get to express ideas that probably wouldn't find a home elsewhere on this web site. Here you'll find some of the things that delight, inspire, direct, or annoy me—and I think you'll be able to tell which is which, thanks to my little friends below:

Delight
Inspire
Direct
Annoy

My thanks to Tony Vecchio, a former student of mine who gave me this caricature many years ago—pretty good, don't you think?

OK, here we go....

 

Delight

B.B. King was asked at the National Press Club: "Do you have to be black to play the blues?" He paused, smiled, and replied, "You don't have to be black to play the blues...

...but it HELPS!"

And you don't have to be Latino to play Latin jazz, nor Andean to play Andean music. But if you don't want to sound like a pretender in your music, you'd darned well better get informed about the life and culture that inspired that music—not just scales and arpeggios!

 

When I was a college student, I had the privilege of playing in the school jazz ensemble with legendary drummer Mel Lewis as guest artist.

My trombone chair in the band was far from the rhythm section on stage; and during a break in the dress rehearsal we were chatting casually when he asked me if the rehearsal was going OK for me. I replied, "Well, I can't really hear the bass." And he said, "Can you feel it from where you are?" "Yes," I answered. "Well," Mel scoffed lovingly, "What the @$%# else do you WANT? It's not a %$@# home stereo! If we turn up the bass loud enough for you to hear it, it'll ruin the sound for the audience!"

It made perfect sense then—when we played Thad Jones' Cherry Juice at warp speed; and it still does. All too often from the audience I hear bass "boom" dominating the stage.

 

Have you ever been on a gig when the improvising soloist "folded" on the fifth bar of the bridge of Misty (where the tune jumps from the key of Ab to G)?

Check out the lyrics to that measure and its preceding one: "Don't you notice how hopelessly I'm lost...?" Yes, we do! And that's a lesson to practice those tunes you think are "cheesy" (because you haven't yet heard the great jazz masters deliver them).

I'd be curious as to whether composer Errol Garner came up with the key shift first or if lyricist Johnny Burke penned the words to that portion of the song first: it sure seems like an "inside" musical joke to me....

 

Inspire

"A problem is simply a chance to do your best."

—Duke Ellington

 

It had been my privilege to perform more than 50 concerts over three separate occasions with the absolutely amazing Ella Fitzgerald. As if it weren't enough to be permitted to absorb her great phrasing, improvisation, and groove on the bandstand—and that of Paul Smith (piano), Keeter Betts (bass), and Mickey Roker and Bobby Durham (drums)—I also saw her perform with the same intensity and creativity for a near-empty house (due to weather conditions) as she did for a full house. None of the rest of us have an excuse to do anything less.

 

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent cannot: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius cannot: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education cannot: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race. No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."

—President Calvin Coolidge

 

The ghost of Mozart appeared, producing a radio that was broadcasting a Handel concerto in horribly tinny fidelity. And when an observer protested the crudeness of the sound, Mozart stated:

"Just listen, you poor creature, listen without either pathos or mockery, while far away behind the veil of this hopelessly idiotic and ridiculous apparatus the form of this divine music passes by. Pay attention and you will learn something.... It cannot destroy the original spirit of the music."

Steppenwolf, a novel by Hermann Hesse (1929)

And so, even when a performance does not go as well as planned, learn from the music—and revel in the joy and intent of the original composition!

 

The "Golden Rule" seems to be in so many faiths.

Brahmanism (Mahabharata 5:1517), Buddhism (udana-Varga 5:18), Confucianism (Analects 15:23), Taoism (T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien), Zoroastrianism (Dadistan-I-dinik 94:5), Judaism (Talmud, Shabbat 31a), Islam (Sunnah), and Christianity (Matthew 7:12) all offer equivalents to the phrase: "Do unto another as you would want done unto you."

 

"...A recent survey of 30 years of psychology publications counted 46,000 papers on depression—and a piddling 400 on joy.... 'Social science now finds itself in almost total darkness about the qualities that make life most worth living.'"

Smithsonian magazine, May 2004

So pursue the joy!

 

Speaking of joy, check out this South African sunrise:

A morning view while on a walk in the bush of South Africa. Photo credit: Antonio García

...and this Puerto Rican sunset:

A view of a Puerto Rican beach at sunset. Photo credit: Antonio García

Feel the joy!

 

Direct

 

You've got to prove your groove before you can lay back.

If you're always playing randomly over the beat, no one is going to believe you meant to do so. Commit to the groove first (during the tune or the gig): demonstrate that you can swing hard—then lay back or stretch ahead, if you wish. (This applies to life in general, as well as to improvising over a tune.)


Take care of business.

If you can't take care of yours, why should they pay any attention to you?


Don't get mad; get better.

When you fall short of your goal, re-focus and grow. Most successful people can easily talk about not only their successes but their failures. Ask them about their failures, and learn.

 

When it comes to your career, "no" doesn't mean "no."

It means "not yet." What you do with it is up to you.

 

Sammy Nestico and friend

"A break is when preparation meets opportunity."

—Sammy Nestico (and doubtless many others)

So be ready, available, and known as such!

 

"Every life has stress. It's the distress that you have to watch out for, and you can often do something about it. Limit your distress, and your stress will be more manageable."

—my Dad

 

"One relaxed meal a day. That's the secret."

—Rayburn Wright

 

"The number one job of parents is to raise 'civilized animals.'"

—my Mom


Todd Beaney, Randy Crawford, Tom Davis, Ray Wright, Maria Schneider, and I
on my graduation day from Eastman. (Maria had entered a semester later than the rest of us and would graduate soon thereafter.

 


General Colin Powell kept the following rules on his Pentagon desk:

1.
It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2.
Get mad, then get over it.
3.
Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego falls with it.
4.
It can be done!
5.
Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6.
Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7.
You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
8.
Check the small things.
9.
Share credit.
10.
Remain calm. Be kind
11.
Have a vision. Be demanding.
12.
Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13.
Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

—from My American Journey by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Percsico (1995)

 

The vast majority of established musicians tell me that at this point of their career they're not doing exactly what they expected to be doing—nor got there how they expected to.

So if you're young and think you know what you'll be doing in your career as a musician, you're probably wrong. Keep an open mind, diversify your musical skills, and grow.

 

"Teaching jazz is like fattening frogs for snakes. I don't teach, but I tell kids at clinics what I'd do if I did teach at a university. I'd put them on a bus and paint the windows black, give them ugly uniforms and 400 pieces of music out of order that need all sorts of doubling (clarinet, oboe, flugelhorn). I'd drive them around campus for 30 hours in circles, going nowhere. Then I'd stop, everybody off, put on the plastic uniforms, set up on a dark stage with no sound system or sound man, tune up, call out a number, '14791'.... Scramble to put your music in order. Alright, now put it all away, hang up your uniform, get back on the bus and drive around in circles for another 30 hours.

"After a few days, I'd ask them: 'Now, who wants to make this their life?' You can save people a whole lot of trouble, because this is what the music business is. It's not about the music. The music is easy! It's all that other stuff. To play with young energy is simple, but to sustain a career in music takes a lot of dedication. You may major in Coltrane, but you gotta' play Britney Spears on tour for a living."

—Phil Woods (Down Beat, October 2004)

So I'll say it again: if you're young and think you know what you'll be doing in your career as a musician, you're probably wrong. Keep an open mind, diversify your musical skills, and grow.

 

"You can't pay me to perform: I play for free. You pay me to book the gig, book the travel, pack up the band and the music, hit the road, unpack the band and the music, set up, wait for the check after the gig—and then to pack up the band and the music, hit the road, and unpack back at home. You can't pay me to play my instrument: I play for free."

—Phil Woods (paraphrased; source forgotten!)

Once I heard that, decades ago, I immediately adopted it. I play for free. I write for free. I teach for free. You pay me for the administrative hassles along the way. That keeps me from thinking—as parodied beautifully in the old National Lampoon's Radio Hour skit of Mr. Rogers interviewing a jazz bassist—"how little I get paid per note." Instead, all my music-making and music-teaching is simply that, untainted by external valuation. Try that approach: it might work in your profession as well!

 

Many folks believe the drummer sets the volume of a jazz band, big or small. I disagree: I believe the bassist does.

Imagine a horn player who wants to jam but can't find a complete rhythm section. Would s/he rather play without a bassist or without a drummer? Most would choose to have a bassist, as the absence of one has a profound effect on how the horn hears the harmony and how the pianist has to accompany (i.e., covering bass lines or not).

Similarly, a drummer is usually bummed not to have a bassist around, as this affects tremendously the drummer's applicable dynamic range.

Well, in a complete jazz group that same drummer and those same horns want to hear the bassist and generally will not play louder than they can hear or feel that bass line. If the bassist doesn't come down in dynamics at the right times, s/he gives license to the rest of the combo or band to keep wailing aloud. But if s/he drops the volume, the rest of the ensemble will usually follow suit—including the drummer. Try it!

 

A lot of jazz solos include ideas phrased in threes: a motive, the motive repeated, and the motive either altered and/or extended. Why does this "idea, set-up, and release" construction–evident in so many soloists and composers–speak to us so well?

It communicates to the listener in the same way as ancient parables and contemporary jokes: whether it's the tale of The Good Samaritan or "Three men walk into a bar...," the power of threes in storytelling is undeniable. After all, when was the last time you heard "Two men walk into a bar..." or "Four men..."? Using threes allows for the ideal premise, set-up for tension, and release.

 

Through my work as a performer, composer, producer, educator, editor, author, and conference host, I have had the opportunity to learn from thousands of other musicians and music industry representatives, many of whom I have arranged to speak to my students over the years. I am deeply grateful to all who have shared their knowledge with me, formally and informally, throughout my career. To read my Mentor Tributes to those most critically involved in my formative musical years, click here.

 

Decades ago, when a certain man founded a national advocacy group, he achieved it in part by following this rule:

"Every day see three people, call three people, and write three people."
—my Dad

Nowadays, according to the auto-counters on my e-mail server, I send out an average of more than 30 e-mails a day—that's 10,700 a year (and my e-broadcasts groups each count merely as one e-mail in that tally). I receive 38,000 a year (over 100 a day), plus phone calls, letters, memos, and more. And of course I interact with thousands of people via conferences, travels, articles, performances, and my primary vocation: teaching.

It's not a stretch to suggest that I make significant contact with a good 5,000 people a year, probably more. I do all I can to be cordial, clear, and understanding. But if five people a year are completely rubbed the wrong way by my words or actions, that's .01%. I'll continue to strive to do better, but I can sleep nights well with those numbers. (See Colin Powell's rules above.)

 

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."

—President Harry S. Truman

 

Annoy

If boarding a plane starting with the back rows is the fastest load-in process, then why do so many airlines abandon that principle and just board all rows at once when the flight's running late?

And if I had a dollar for every time the gate agent didn't even announce the "all rows at once" cattle-call but simply began taking boarding passes from the impatient passengers crowding the boarding area, I'd be a richer man.

 

The better our technology gets, the more manufacturers seek "planned obsolescence."

For example, we can make a digital watch that can last decades. But we'll sell it with a plastic wristband that won't last two years. That way we'll have to throw it all away soon and buy a new watch. Go figure.

 

What is it with those very few editors/publishers of periodicals who deny authors the opportunity to review and approve the final edit of their own articles before going to press?

I'm not talking about approving the entire layout (with ads, etc.), just the actual final wording. I would think that a periodical interested in producing a quality article would be delighted to confirm that its staff had not inadvertently changed the meaning of the author's words during the editing process. But sadly, this is not always the case. While I myself have met only one such person amid my 100+ articles—a publisher who denied me final proofing despite my written terms when submitting the manuscript, as well as changed the title and conclusion of my article, plus penned and published an opening statement that was contrary to the meaning of my article—I hear that a few others do exist. Pity.


Refereed journals? There are no "industry standards" for refereed journals: any mom-and-pop operation can set up its own "standards"!

Yet many universities and colleges tie the achievement and promotion of their professors to how often they publish in "refereed journals." How bogus is that? Well, let's see: it's as if every team in the National Football League was allowed to draft its own rules for the referees to enforce!

There are many outstanding refereed journals, and I assisted in establishing the IAJE Jazz Education Journal as one of them. But the idea that a professor's career could hang on the balance of whether s/he is published in a refereed journal of circulation 1000 vs. a great but unrefereed periodical of perhaps 100,000 is to deny the importance of reaching and influencing real people vs. dusty bookshelves. Read more in my article on the subject.

 

Should one adjudicate a festival via writing suggestions on a sheet or by speaking remarks into an audio recorder?

I'm willing to do both, if necessary. But what can one do when a festival instructs its adjudicators: "Talk consistently into the recorder to describe how the ensemble can improve—but be sure to fill up the sheet with comments, as many bands just post them on the bulletin board." Show me a person who can write effectively while talking or vice-versa: it's an either/or proposition!

Personally, I prefer writing comments to talking into the recorder. If I'm talking about rehearsal letter B in the chart, I'm not listening to what's currently going on at letter C! But if I'm writing about B, I can still hear C and write about it later, thus providing more input to the participating groups. However, I realize that writing all day is not comfortable for most folks. Whatever works for the individual is fine by me.

 

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