Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tales From Music School: Part One

Many people who know me now are surprised to learn that I used to be a jazz musician. Or at least, a jazz musician in training. I went to Georgia State University for two years for jazz, then transferred to the very prestigious University of North Florida for another two. It's a fascinating culture filled with some very interesting people and I've always wanted an excuse to write about it.

First, I want to start with what was a very influential precursor to my college career, the GHP program. If you've never heard of it, it's a summer program in Georgia that takes rising juniors and seniors and basically puts them into a University setting for six weeks. You live in the dorms, you take classes. I got in through the jazz program, taught by a funny little man named Fritz. I had elected to go there instead of on a trip to Canada with the rest of my high school band, which I kind of regretted at the time.

My roomate was this little puckish guy named Michael. He was this sort of rebellious Catholic intellectual who described his religion as "sandpapering your soul" whenever you did something bad. He was there for Social Studies I think. We used to discuss philosophy in the way only pretentious teenagers can; vigorously and very knowingly. We had cable in our room (a new experience for me. Back home in rural Georgia I was just ecstatic to get the UHF channels) and he and I discovered Space Ghost together.

[Side Note: it's actually amazing how influential something like that could be. We thought Space Ghost was the fucking greatest thing in the world. The. Fucking. Greatest. I actually went in some of my free time to look on the internet for more information about it. It was only the second time I'd ever been on the internet and to think that when I looked at the Space Ghost site that was up then I was looking into my own future. I ended up working with many of the people who were responsible for that site and what would be the first glimmerings of Adult Swim. If I had never watched that show with Michael, where would I be now?]

The jazz program itself was a mishmash of egos and more egos. It comes with the territory. I was a flashy, prideful trumpet player back then. I was into Clifford Brown and Arturo Sandoval. High notes and fast lines. Problem was, I never learned how to improvise the right way. It was unfathomable to me at that time that someone could actually read every single chord change and improvise to it. So like any pretentious ass would, I took shortcuts. The chromatic scale was my friend because no matter what you played, you were only a half step away from the right note. And I could play it fast. So the first night we were there we had a jam session.

A note about jam sessions. Later I would realize what they really were: masturbation sessions where instrumentalists got to pull their cocks out and compare sizes. The song we played that night was Dizzy Gillespie's A Night in Tunisia, as cliche a jam session song as you could ask for. It also featured a nice break in between choruses so those of us who couldn't keep up with the changes would know where were were.

I came out blazing. I stepped up, put my Harmon mute in ("yeah," they said, only because they'd seen Miles with a Harmon and that meant it was the Real Deal) and played as fast and as high as I could. People were floored, I think, with my speed and seeming virtuosity. It wasn't until two weeks later that the whole thing collapsed when someone thought to ask "Hey...are you just playing the chromatic scale?"

I met two people there that would be a great influence on me later on in college. The first was the other trumpet player, Tommy. He was a jerk, but a nice guy. If you know somebody like him you'll know what I mean. He spent the entire time calling out "Nice!" whenever someone made a mistake. He was pretty funny, so we didn't mind.

The second was Clyde, a tenor saxophonist from south Georgia. In an act of very uncharacteristic gregariousness, I invited myself to sit with him at lunch one day because I liked the way he played and he seemed like a cool guy. He seemed to have kept to himself until then. From that point on Clyde was one of my closest friends. He knew I was a faker, but he hung out with me anyway.

Other vague memories of GHP: Fritz used to sing the drum parts out like "Kang ta kang, ta gonk gonk," which was hilarious. I took a philosophy course as one of my minors and learned about Immanuel Kant. Read "The Island of Dr. Moreau" in another English minor class and somehow, while discussing it, revealed the ending of Phenomenon -- which apparently most of the class had not seen and now, because of me, never would. There was a young alto sax player named Dusty who was kind of a hotshot and took twenty minute solos. The other alto sax player, Reed, looked exactly like me. It was uncanny. One or two of the other kids from my school left the program early, apparently unable to deal with six weeks away from home.

One of the things I remember best about the whole experience (and I'll wrap it up with this) is hanging out with Michael and the small group of friends we accumulated. It may be difficult to understand why that was so remarkable, but in the circles I was in back in high school, things just didn't work that way. You had friends, but they were callous and funny, never thoughtful and nice. On July 19th, my birthday, I had to skip lunch because we had a rehearsal for something or other. Turns out Michael and the rest had planned a little birthday party for me, which I couldn't go to. They got me a card and everything. I was just blown away by it, and to date it's still one of the nicest, most unexpected things anyone's ever done for me.

Anyway, that's all for GHP. Not a lot to really say there, except that it really helped formulate my college years, which is where things really gets more interesting.

1 comment:

Contemporarymania (aka Spindack) said...

Holy crap! You mean there are people who actually JOIN the florida music scene??!! INSTEAD OF wanting to ditch it for the mainstream?? Where were you when I was in middle school back around ten years ago. We coulda been friends dude! I GREW UP in FLA! I was a drummer at one point, but I guess I retired, to pursue art/writing and stuff. One of the kids in my middle school class who I was good friends with who was in the same band class as me had a good friend named Rob, who turned out to be Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty before they got all big and were just local. I remember the local shock jock hating on them...UNTIL they got big. That shut them up. Anyway, yeah, I was part of the Florida garage band scene back in Florida, and still live in that state. I've never heard of anyone going to college for it before though. Cool regardless. Big fan of your posts on the Swim boards. Rock on man.