Today I would like to share an inspiring experience I had in Canada a few years ago during a Jazz Master Class event promoted by Concordia University in Montreal. The master class was given by well-known Dezron Douglas: bassist (double bass), a New York-based Composer, bandleader, sideman, educator, and a major force in contemporary creative music.
The event took place on a Friday afternoon at the John Molson Building, a Concordia campus in downtown Montreal.
Here’s the short version of the story:
Excuse me, do you know where the jazz master class is? — I asked when I reached the information desk in the lobby of the building.
Yes, this is floor 8, door 135 — she told me with a smile and pointed to the elevator.
Thank you very much! —I replied.
When I got to the floor where it was, a guy asked me too.
Hi, do you know if the jazz master class is here?
Yes, I think it’s there on the left, let’s go and see. —I answered and we walked together to the place.
Yes, it’s here. — I told him when I peeked in the door.
Where are you from? — he asked.
From Spain, and you?
From Mexico! —We started laughing when we saw that we were both Spanish speakers.
Do you play an instrument? — he asked me.
Yes, the transverse flute, now I always carry it with me, because you never know when an opportunity might arise. And you?
I play the drums. I also brought my drumsticks, just in case.
When we went inside, we saw that there were a lot of young people, most of them seemed to be musicians, but it was an event that could be attended by anyone who wanted to. At the beginning of the master class, Dezron began to talk about how he started his career in music, he comes from a family of musicians, and he told us about his experiences, since his childhood he has always been involved in music.
Inspiring moments from the talk
I really enjoyed the talk; it was very inspiring and that’s why I want to share a few highlights with you.
He pointed out: “You have to fail to get the music right, we are all afraid to fail, but that is part of the way”.
In music, the important thing is not to keep the rhythm, but to feel it and follow it, to get into the heart of the story.
“Take care of the music and it will take care of you,” he told us all.
Another topic he talked about that I really liked was the “team beat”, the heartbeat of the team. That is, a team that communicates through eye contact has a good rhythm, tells a story with their instruments, with a lot of synergy, where everything flows as a whole and manages to touch the listener’s heart. That is the best thing about a band, to be a team.
In the talk, he invited anyone who wanted to play a jazz-related theme.
First, a music band decided to play, they were not random people, it was a band that practiced together outside of this master class, they did very well, the teacher gave them some tips, and they repeated the piece once again.
Then he asked again if anyone wanted to play, at that moment my heart rate went up to 100 BPM and I got tense just thinking that I could play and have the opportunity to have him listen to me. I didn’t say anything. However, the Mexican guy sitting next to me pulled out his drumsticks, stood up, and walked over to the drums. He was joined by a pianist and a double bass player.
Oh! Maybe I’m missing the chance to play in front of Dezron? — I wondered.
They started to play, and the teacher stopped them right away, he told them nicely that everyone was going in opposite directions, and the double bass was playing in a different pitch, it was like he was arguing with the piano. The teacher also reminded them that the rhythm they were taking on this “walk through the music” was not going very well. It seemed like they were going off on their own. It’s fair to say they were nervous because the room was full of people who didn’t know each other and had never played together before, but the teacher guided them very nicely. There’s nothing wrong with something not going well at first and not trying is the biggest failure.
Nervousness, fear of taking the plunge and trying?
After the second round, the teacher invited again if anyone else wanted to play. A few people stood up and went to the instruments. I thought to myself: “Either you step up or you lose this opportunity now”. During this very moment, he asked, “Does anyone else have any questions?” So, I raised my hand, and he came toward me and I said in a low voice: “I’d like to participate, but I don’t play like a jazz professional”. He promptly replied with humor: “Neither do I and I play!” We both smiled and I felt encouraged to jump in.
I got up with my flute and joined the musicians: a guitarist, a drummer, and a bass player who were already ready to play. Coincidentally, this arrangement of instruments was the same one I used to play in jam sessions with a blues and jazz band in my small town in Spain called CB59. For a moment it looked like I was going to play with them instead.
What can we play? — everyone asked.
“Blue Bossa“, do you know it? — I suggested.
Yes, of course! — they all answered in unison.
I was so glad to hear that because I loved playing that piece in Spain.
Oh, very good choice! —the teacher congratulated.
Then I looked at everyone in the group and I noticed how the drummer was setting the rhythm and we all jumped right in.
We had a bad start and then we all stopped. In Spain, I used to have a verbal agreement with the band. Before starting a jam session, we talk to each other about how to start the piece and who is going to do the solo, and how many times. So even though it is a jam session, we have an idea of how we are going to play and we keep this structure while playing.
I’m sorry, how do we start? — I asked them.
First, we play a little introduction and then you come in. — they all told me, including the teacher.
So, we started again, when I came in with the melody my mind went blank because I was a little nervous, we didn’t stop playing, so I concentrated again and the second time the melody came out perfectly. Then I looked at the guitarist and he started his solo and after he finished his solo, we all played together and I played the melody again to end the song.
The teacher started clapping loudly and enthusiastically.
That is a “team beat”! — he told us excited. That is, a team that communicates through the eyes, keeps a good rhythm, and follows the story.
How long have you been playing together? — the teacher asked us in amazement. I was surprised by the question because I had made a mistake during the presentation, but when I played, it was true that I felt this connection with the team, and with the music as a whole.
It was the first time we played together. — And we laughed.
He congratulated me and said:
On the second melody, you came in strong, very good, now we all have the melody in our heads. He then complimented the guitarist on his improvisation and the drummer as well and encouraged the bassist to keep going. Don’t be afraid to step out of line and do some soloing. he said. Congratulations to everyone, really, a round of applause! — he said proudly. And the whole audience applauded us.
Then Dezron performed his show playing double bass with a pianist and the master class ended.
I went to thank him. Thank you for everything you showed us today, it was very interesting and inspiring. — we hugged each other. Can I take a picture with you? — I asked him because I wanted to have a souvenir picture.
Yes, of course!
But everyone started coming over to talk to him when I was getting my camera ready. I just stood there with my cell phone, looking around, in the middle of the people, waiting hopefully for my turn to come back. In the meantime, a girl came up to me and congratulated me and told me that she was a singer and a flute player too, so I started talking to her. There were a lot of people talking to Dezron and after a while of waiting I saw that the souvenir picture would no longer be feasible as I had to leave, I seized a fraction of time to say goodbye to him and I left.
From all this, we see that many people are afraid to play in public, and the more we face it, the more we gain confidence. It is difficult, but you must take the step, even if you fail, you will be proud that you tried. And a sense of humor can make things more bearable.
That day I was very happy because of what Dezron had told me and because I had the chance to play with wonderful people. I ended up without my souvenir picture but with the certainty in my heart that if you take care of the music, the music will always take care of you.