It must be about time I brought you up to date on how I’m doing with my main retirement learning / setting myself challenges, goal. Specifically how my playing jazz piano is going. I think it’s been a while since I last wrote about this most-demanding of my retirement activities perhaps because I’ve been too busy actually doing it to write about doing it. A couple of weeks ago I finished my 15 week course on jazz piano at Leeds College of Music, so there’s a gap in my jazz activities that I will attempt to fill, in part, with this blog.
The fifteen week course went by at some speed but that tells us nothing about whether it was enjoyable, productive or whatever adjective might be appropriate, because all my retirement life goes by at speed, as I’ve written before. You might remember that this course was the second instalment of two, the first of which was a ten week course billed as jazz piano for beginners, this last one being jazz piano for experienced players or something similar.
I had my doubts that I was ‘good enough’ for this second level. The fact is I managed, with the help of a very tolerant tutor, to duck and dive my way through the challenges. Yes there were many times when I couldn’t see the keyboard for the obscuring clouds of jazz theory but, on the whole, I was able to find enough bits that made sense at my level and not get too hung up on all the aspects of theory I didn’t understand. It helped that there were only 5 of us to begin with, one left before Christmas making, you’ve guessed it, 4 of us and the tutor. It also greatly helped that the rest of the group were no better than I and clearly struggled from time to time. Misery loves company, as my grandma used to say.
True to form I never practised between sessions and, true to his form, as we discovered, our tutor never asked us if we had ‘done our homework’. Very comforting. So we got on well and I managed to engineer the challenge I wanted to be at about the right level and I learned quite a bit. True nowhere near the amount of knowledge on offer, but sufficient. The only slight problem is there is no next level at the college, so what to do. There is a weekend workshop in June about jazz improvisation not just for piano players but for musicians generally but, reading between the lines of the prospectus, this might be a bridge too far. I have some time to consider whether this would constitute* an appropriate learning challenge or a massive threat to my self-esteem.
In the meantime, in the form of my Otley group, I have two opportunities to test out my skills in choosing sensible learning challenges or foolish and damaging over-reaching of my skill levels. It scares me to even write about them but you need to know what risks I’m prepared to take for my art or, more exactly, my pursuit of retirement stimulation, could that be the word? They both take the form of live gigs, as we musicians say. For the rest of my Otley group this is meat and potatoes, they perform live gigs quite regularly as far as I can make out, but, for little old me, it will be a first. I have never before played jazz of any kind before a public audience who may or may not have paid money to listen to us. Oooer Missis.
So the simple question is –again – by agreeing to this performance am I putting myself in harm’s way or is it a simple progression along the road to leading a fulfilling retirement? Sensible or stupid, how will I know until it’s too late? In my working days when faced with a scary challenge – like standing up in front of 200 secondary school teachers to tell them how they should manage their classrooms – I would always try and have a plan, what a colleague used to call a minimal level of performance, a term he used in his football coaching days. He would discuss this idea with the young footballers he used to coach and present it as a strategy to use if they were having a stinking game, as a level of performance to fall back on as it were.
It always seemed to me to be a very sensible tactic but not one I have had cause to employ for several years, since I retired I suppose. I think this is true but it doesn’t really matter because the concept it still solid. In this case I have decided if I go ahead with these two performances (and I may yet chicken out) I will stick to the ‘comping’ part of playing the piano, which means just playing the chords as part of the rhythm section, and avoid trying to play any solos when the capacity for making a pig’s backside of oneself is massive.
This should work if my ego does not clutter my thinking. There are times in the group when I don’t even think the rest of the group can hear me and I get that, ‘I want to be a star’, feeling. You know, look at me I can really play (not true of course but since when did truth have anything to do with ego management?). There is every possibility that, in the heat of the performance, the roar of greasepaint and the smell of the crowd (blotting out the smell of my fear), when the band leader turns to me with a, ‘do you want to take a solo’, look, that I lose all common-sense and blast off and half way through whatever comes out as a solo I remember I can’t play solos, at least not in front of a possibly money-paying crowd. And you can’t just stop, smile a sickly smile and leave the church hall as I believe the venue to be.
Well, the gig is on March 24th, so I still have time to either pull out or get my ego firmly under control. I wonder which it will be? I never realised before I retired that retirement could be so … what’s the word – terrifying? Is that what it is?
*I had a complete blank about this word, just couldn’t get it, I had to go to the toilet where obviously it came back to me; Just thought you’d like to know.