The Sound of Music, Part II

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
Gioacchino Rossini
Giuseppe Verdi
Hector Berlioz

My Favorite Jazz Artists (so far…)

The Dave Brubek Quartet
Duke Ellington
Miles Davis
Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
Glenn Miller

12 thoughts on “The Sound of Music, Part II

  1. “The child is father to the man” and we are all children in some things. What I admire about your journey is your introspection and growth and self-knowledge. I think Jazz and classical music are much alike in complexity; listening to Billie Holiday is as satisfying as listening to Beverly Sims. Thanks for sharing your lists of favorites! I concur. I would also add Hayden in classical and Duke Ellington in Jazz.

    1. Funny that you mention Haydn. When I was still in the classroom, I had a good sound system linked to my laptop. I would play the second movement of the Surprise Symphony and jack the volume up. When the orchestra struck the “surprise” chord, the students would jump. I would also find quiet moments while they were working, and I would hit the pause button between the opening musical phrases of the movement, drawing out the anticipation. Then, just before the loud chord the students knew to expect, I would pause it again. Students would eye me, consider going back to their work, look back up, wince in anticipation, and again look back to their work. Then I would play the chord, and they would all jump again. They claimed to hate it when I did this, but they would ask me privately whether I would do it again another day. They will always remember Haydn and that piece.

      Duke? Sure! There are so many I could add, but I just stuck to my very top favorites. I read an article about Brubek being the fist jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine. When Ellington called to congratulate him, Brubek said, “It should have been you.” A lot of people suspected that racism prevented that.
      I think Ellington and Miles Davis are climbing my list rapidly because of another trend in my life I may write about one day.

      Thanks for reading my post.

  2. I have enjoyed your writing so much this month. I have a circuitous path to my enjoyment of classical and jazz- I stick to the well known people although I will say my Apple Music subscription widens my horizons for classical. Playlists like “classical concentration” show me some new forms that I enjoy. Still wish I played an instrument 😑

  3. Very interesting how you have waltzed with music over the years. It seems each of you shares the lead and ultimately grows with and out of each other. If you haven’t seen the movie LaLa Land I recommend it. I loved the jazz story line, the story of jazz that is a key part of the film. It made me think differently about jazz music and jazz musicians!

  4. Jazz is my fave – primarily bebop. Maybe you’ll want to check out, Coltrane (no brainer), Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins…to start 🙂 Wonderful post.

    1. Thanks for that reminder. I enjoy bebop very much–in fact, based on what I said about my preference for “energy” in performance, that would be the kind of jazz I would like to play and create. The conventions and skills that pertain to my instrument can be demanding, and they take a long time to internalize, so my discontinuous relationship with my drum kit does not for the moment favor that aspiration. I have to be content with listening. Incidentally, John Coltrane died the year before I was born, which loops me back into my refrain to my family: “I missed all the good stuff!”

  5. Paul – this is a wonderful journey. Your curiosity, willingness to try new things, and disciplined enough to embrace them is remarkable. I too have been to many operas at Lincoln center over the years with my dad, and most recently as you know – to Birdland to see Jon Pizzarelli perform jazz. Somewhat parallel musical journeys in terms of recent styles. Thank you for an inspiring piece. you are the quintessential picture of life long learner for sure.

  6. This is my kind of post. I taught music for 23 years before I turned completely to teaching ELA. I was a string bass player before arthritis took its toll on my hands and knees. I love classical music especially Renaissance & Baroque ( must be a string thing). I would add Bach and Vivaldi to that list.

    My taste in music is very eclectic. Right now I am listening to Smooth Jazz which my son the HS music director would tell me is not “real” jazz. I also really love the jazz standards. Through my son, I have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. What a thrill!

    You can also find my dial on country or Motown or 70s. Each genre takes me to a different memory.

    Thanks for the great writing and making me smile just thinking of all this fabulous music and the special place it holds in my life.

    1. Thanks for that wonderful comment. I have been reading some interesting articles about the effects of music on neurology, so it makes more and more sense to me that music is so important to us. Regarding Wynton Marsalis, I found a disagreement between him and Miles Davis decades back intriguing. Marsalis affirmed jazz as an American contribution to a sort of classical cannon of art forms. Davis called him “confused,” apparently resisting the idea of jazz being associated with anything monolithic. I understand both sides, and I find it fitting that Marsalis has done some outstanding classical recordings and performances, particularly Moret’s trumpet rondeau.

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