Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Tuning Slide - Bloom Where (and Who) You Are

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Blow your life through your horn.
Arturo Sandoval

One could ask, who else's life could you blow through the horn? Well, sadly, many times we try to be something or someone we are not. We can have role models, but we can't be them. We can wish for other times or places, but we only have what we have in front of us. Here's my "back story" for this post.


Almost 50 years ago I attended my first professional, big-time concert. It was August 1966 and I had just graduated from high school. I had been playing trumpet for almost four years, had achieved first chair status the previous year, and played in a local "garage band" that covered Tijuana Brass music.

That first concert I ever went to was at the Allentown Fair in Allentown, PA, and featured my hero- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. (Sergio Mendez and Brazil '66 opened for them with their lead singer, Lani Hall.) I was in heaven.

A few months later the TJB came out with their seventh album, S.R.O. and there, on the back was a picture taken at that concert!

Jump ahead by these past 49 years and 2 months. That 18-year old trumpeter (me) is now a 67-year old trumpeter, probably better than I ever was. The trumpet player on-stage is now an 80-year old trumpet player with a new album just released and in the middle of a concert tour.

Both of us are still playing, Lani Hall, now his wife, is still singing... and I had the pleasure and exciting honor of attending their concert and meeting him two weeks ago here at Rochester's Riverside Live! Concert series.

Herb Alpert is also better than ever.

While this is not a review of the show, I will say that it was amazing and far more than would be expected. His ability at the trumpet is outstanding and his sense of music-making is better than ever. He plays jazz in a number of different styles, engages the audience in questions and answers, and is having a great time. He is doing this, I am sure, because he likes it. Music is his life and he needs to share it, on-stage, with others. He doesn't need to do this- he likes doing it.

That's part of the "who" of Herb Alpert. He tips his hat to the music that made him famous with a medley of TJB music, but that's not the highlight of the show. The Tijuana Brass is who he WAS. Many other artists would capitalize on that old music. Alpert is not interested in that. He wants to entertain with who he IS.

He capitalizes on his skill and the ability to do what he does with style and professionalism. He is not a "screaming" trumpet player. He takes the horn and makes the music that he knows he can make with presence and quality. Within that he uses all the notes of the horn in his solid range. At age 80 he utilizes the wisdom he has acquired over decades of making music to enhance his style and move it forward.

Within the solid range of the trumpet he advances the music as both confident soloist and self-assured leader of the quartet. He plays standards then improvises and innovates. He trades fours with the drummer who moves into an extended solo that Alpert returns to as it falls into place.

That is the "where" of Herb Alpert- the here and now. Someone from the audience asked him who he wished he had played with and he commented that he had the opportunity to play with Miles Davis. But he added that he didn't feel it was right. That wasn't who he was. (I would disagree, but then I am a fan of both of them.)

One can listen to Maynard Ferguson and try to be a "screamer." But without the skill and "chops," doing that will become a disaster. One can try to continually repeat what used to be. That, too, wouldn't work.

Being real- being oneself- is what life is really all about. It shows up on the trumpet, but it also shows up at home in our families and at work with colleagues as well as in whatever we try to do on a daily basis. If I try to be someone I cannot be- or someone I once was- it will not be real.
Who am I?

Where am I in my life's growth?

How can I use my here and now skills and resources to keep moving forward into whatever comes next?
Answer those questions- every day. Seek to build on where you were yesterday, moving into where you want to be tomorrow, by doing what you can do today!

I sat in humility watching and listening to Alpert, but he also encouraged me by still doing what he does better than ever.

We do not stop innovating because we have gotten older.  We do not stop improving what we can do because we don't have the same skills as someone else. We can each find our place regardless of age, skill, or time.

If we are young, take heart that you haven't reach the pinnacle of what you can be. Keep at it. What does Herb Alpert do when he is not on a concert tour or on days he performs? He does scales. The simple, basic building blogs of all that we do. Scales. (I am sure he does a lot of other things, too, but he builds that on the basics.)

So, Herb Alpert, thank you for growing and still performing, clearly enjoying life and taking time to greet me and remind me what life is all about.

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