Yesterday, I started to narrate the role music has played in my life, and I left off when an opportunity to play music professionally had to give way to fate. Most of the members of my band went on to enjoy fulfilling careers outside of performing–including myself.
And in my own case, it was indeed music that accompanied me on a journey in a new direction in life.
To jump ahead a little, I would say that within five years, my drum kit was in a closet, neglected. And by that same time, my grandfather had passed away, and I–the only member of my extended family who truly enjoyed classical music–took over his record collection.
Those records became part of a wider personal transformation I experienced as a young man, and soon I no longer listened much at all to rock. I failed to keep current with new music coming out. Classical music became essentially the only music I would listen to. I eventually taught elective classes on music history to high school students. I took them regularly to the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan as part of a school membership program at Lincoln Center. In my spare time, I enjoyed my own subscription to the New York City Opera and attended orchestral performances whenever opportunity and funds would provide.
Then, in 2006, an administrator in my current district found out that I had been a rock musician in another life. After a brief discussion, we decided to form a band with two other teachers and two parents of students in the district. We played benefit concerts for our foundation, and raised thousands of dollars. The sight of Mr. Fornale playing drums to “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath was just the sort of bizarre, unthinkable curiosity that many students and their parents simply had to see. I had evolved so far away from what I had been just 15 years prior, that people could scarcely have imagined this side of me.
I must admit, I enjoyed the reminiscence.
But this led me in yet another musical direction. I had suffered a herniated disc in my neck in 2001, so when I tried to play drums again, some nerve damage impaired the fingers in my left hand that are critical to drumming. I compensated by changing my grip to what percussionists call traditional grip, and I spent months learning the proper technique. Part of that process included watching video tutorials online, and since jazz musicians tend to favor that particular grip, I gained valuable exposure via video to the wisdom of some of the best jazz drummers on the planet.
And that truly enriched my life. I soon found myself investigating more drummers and exploring jazz even beyond drumming. I had been familiar years before with the music and the names. I respected it as an art form, but it had never taken hold of me in this manner until this critical second exposure. Tony Branker planted a seed all those years ago, as I told him recently, and all these years later, it began to grow.
Perhaps I love jazz most for how it has captured me while also eluding my full grasp on it. It encompasses so much–swing, bebop, cool jazz, fusion, and far more facets than can be named here–and its vastness would seem to great for me to experience it all. I am a perpetual neophyte with little that I know and always something to learn. I have never so enjoyed feeling so lost.
Today, I listen to equal amounts of classical and jazz, with Baroque and bossa nova being my favorite subgenres of each. I occasionally put on the Police or Van Halen, and each time I do I understand better why Sting was drawn later in the direction jazz and what Eddie Van Halen imbibed from his father, a jazz clarinetist, and his early lessons as a classical pianist.
One of my favorite poems by William Wordsworth offers the paradox that “The child is father of the man,” though where music is concerned, my life does not bear that out. Whereas I once hoped to contribute to one narrow genre of music, I now find that in the wider scope of it all, music has always given me more than I can ever give back.
My Favorite Classical Composers
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig van Beethoven
My Favorite Jazz Artists (so far…)
The Dave Brubek Quartet
Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66