Friday, October 12, 2012

Becoming A Jazz Flutist

One of my favorite scenes in my book, BAND GEEK, is when Melinda plays a jazz flute solo for the first time. Josh surprises her by calling her up on stage during one of his performances with a jazz group and she (reluctantly) decides to take him up on his challenge. Later on, however, she realizes that she enjoyed improvising to music and liked the freedom that jazz has to offer. It's kind of a metaphor for how Josh and Mel live their lives: he likes to do what he wants and she prefer to follow the rules. But by introducing her to music that isn't so "in the lines" like classical, he's opening up her world.

I was never goaded into doing a surprise jazz solo, but I did need some help in making the switch to jazz musician. I've already written about how competitive the flute section was in my high school's wind ensemble, but my experience in jazz band was the complete opposite. I played tenor sax and though I was decent, I wasn't nearly as good at it as I was with flute. Nor did I care. I played in jazz band strictly for fun. Not being a great player was actually kind of a relief.

I joined the jazz band as a saxophonist in my sophomore year after a stupid teacher told me that you can't have flutes in the ensemble. Never mind that some of greatest jazz musicians include flutists Herbie Mann and David Valentin -- in my school, I had to play sax. So I did! It was fun, though, and I liked learning another instrument.

Our section leader was a freshman boy named Scott. He was really talented, but extremely annoying. I liked to keep to myself, but he'd constantly bug me, "Why are you so quiet, Naomi? Stop being so quiet." FYI, as adults, he's currently one of my best friends. And he hasn't changed. Just a few weeks ago, Jon and I were at a party at his house and was sitting quietly by myself. He, of course, came over to me, "Why are you being so quiet, Naomi?" Boys never do grow up, do they?

Anyway, back then it didn't take me too long to figure out that Scott was really a good guy and wasn't trying to bug me. He was just being friendly. And he was always very encouraging to me when it came to my music.

During my senior year (his junior), the jazz band was set to perform one of my favorite pieces: "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck. It's a classic piece with a very funky, off-beat (literally) rythym. Since this was going to be my last concert, I decided that I'd like to go out with a jazz flute solo. I'd always been impressed with the jazz band members who could improvise and I wanted to try my hand at it. My conductor gave me the OK and I played my solo during our next rehearsal. He liked it and gave me the go-ahead to do an improv at our upcoming concert.

I got a lot of compliments from my fellow jazz band members, but Scott went crazy! For the next couple of weeks, he'd rave about my solo whenever we saw each other. One time, I went to an orchestra rehearsal and a few of the violinists congratulated me on it. They were not in jazz band, but had heard about it from Scott.

Finally, the night of the concert came ... and I was freaking out. My mouth was dry, I thought I'd pee my pants ... I was ready to back out and just play my sax in the background. Scott wouldn't hear of it. Right before we went on stage, he gave me this little pep talk about why I had to play my solo. He finished it up by assuring me, "You're going to smoke out there." I remember thinking to myself, "Why is he talking like a gangster?"

When it came time for my solo, I was going to play sitting down, but Scott nudged me and said, "No, you have to do it standing up and take credit." So I did. And it went well. I was still very nervous, but really loved playing jazz. The audience seemed to like my perfomance, too.

The next year, I joined the jazz band in college with a newfound confidence. There were about a million sax players trying out for the group which was very hard to get into, but since I played jazz sax AND flute, I was accepted. I played with that ensemble for all four years and it was a wonderful experience. I learned so much during that time.

While I take credit for my playing, I do have to thank Scott for encouraging me to get up on stage, even when I was uncomfortable. I think you need to go outside of your comfort zone sometimes in order to move ahead, and that push definitely influenced my musical career. This is why it was so important for me to have Melinda take some chances in my story -- so that she, too, could grow and come out of her shell. Sadly, Scott no longer plays the sax, but he still encourages me with my music.

Please check out and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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