By hook, crook, bell, book and candle, I managed to infiltrate the ranks of the jazz department when I was at CSUN. Classically trained folks are usually a liability in such settings: stuck to the page, desperate for someone to just tell us what to play. I carved something of a niche for myself as the weirdo who was not afraid to improvise- but needed to hone those skills so the resulting cacophony matched my bravery. Much of my take on music and musicality can be attributed to Gary Pratt, whose classes were the stuff of legend. After each one, my brains ached and my heart was pounding with the wonderful combination of ambition, fear, curiosity and geekery that drives creative people to persist even though what we do is nearly impossible and why can’t you do something sensible with your life like pharmaceuticals or administration and besides you’re certainly no wünderkind and your arm is numb and probably setting yourself up for failure stop giving us heart attacks you idiot.
Gary was the one who encouraged me to persist. He was deadly serious. And wickedly funny. Just not to be messed with. His cred is deep, and he told us stories that ended up as cult axioms among we fortunate few who got to hear them, too late at night, outside Catalina Bar and Grill or the Jazz Bakery.
One such story came after this trendy drummer played a show that all of the hot shot students went to. Most of them were blown away as this guy frantically slaved behind a drumkit that must have had 19 cymbals and may have needed its own generator to power it. He was all the talk the next day when we had combo class. I thought I was missing something by not really digging the frenetic performance. I’m all about Art Blakey and Max Roach and Jimmy Cobb.
Gary strode into the room with his usual gravity, and we all waited to see what was on the docket.
“Some show the other night.”
Everyone started talking at once. Chops! Double bass drum! Even 5s over 6! Cymbals! Rim clicks run amok!
I don’t remember how the story began or if it was first or second hand, but it ended with the pronouncement:
“Drum solo sounded like some old tennis shoes in a dryer.”
Hee hee. I don’t deserve to be in the same conversation as Professor Pratt, but in that moment I felt closer to being a good musician than ever before.
Sometimes, more is just…more.