Bird and Trane.
The thing that everyone said without a doubt is that those guys were always practicing.
Like an obsession.
When I was twenty I worked in a little music shop on Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C. called Ardis Music. I was a broke kid trying to play jazz and I found a situation where I earned some cash while practicing scales all day behind the cash register.
There was an older gentleman, this dude wore a suit and a hat every day, who used to come into the shop as part of his daily rounds. He would sit listening to me practice, sometimes requesting a standard and he’d give me a word or two of encouragement.
I don’t remember his name but I’ll never forget the day he casually told me he went to high school with Charlie Parker. The curious thing is that he said Bird cut school most of the time. In fact this guy would walk past an old building on the way to school and he’d hear Bird practicing in there while everyone else went to class. The thing that impressed me about the story was that at the end of the school day when this guy walked home he’d get to that building and Bird would still be in there playing the same riff!
Whether or not this guy was making this up, I never asked if he was from Kansas City, that was all I needed to hear. I took it as license to obsess, zen out, and get way into repetition.
Last year when we were recording @DREAMLAND we had a visit from the great pianist Warren Bernhardt. Our pianist Ted Baker and Warren go back many years and it was a real treat to sit and listen to these two great musicians exchanging stories.
Among a few yarns, Warren recounted a story about Miles Davis and his group, which included John Coltrane, playing a week’s engagement at a venue in upstate New York. Warren was playing in the band that shared the bill with Miles and he said the entire week whenever he saw Trane he was playing his horn.
In the bathroom he was playing sub tones between sets, in the green room, on his back, on the couch playing softly and surrounded by a small group of silent followers, students, disciples.
The stories of Bird cutting school to play one riff for the entire day in an abandoned building or tales of Trane taking his horn into the bathroom on the gig between sets; these are stories that free us to be self indulgent – to dive in over our heads knowing that a lifetime of that kind of dedication will yield the highest reward.
The reward is finding yourself on the other side of your doubts or fears about who you are or not. In other words there will come a time when you may find yourself in a foreign land surrounded by a surprising landscape more inspiring than anything you ever could have imagined.