There are times when I think I will never write guitaranother blog. I’ve nothing to say, I think. Then along come half a dozen ideas at once. Take this one for instance (not the blog I had intended to publish) it’s about my jazz workshop and I hadn’t expected to write another blog about this aspect of my retirement (the fourth dimension) for a few weeks. Now here I am writing it. And I’m writing in that category of ‘writing as therapy’. Trying to make something positive out of a truly awful experience. I think I have written before that comedy is simply tragedy plus time. It may have been Mel Brooks or Howard Jacobson who uttered these insightful words, it certainly was not me, I just borrowed them because I think they are helpful. Although there hasn’t been much time.

Photo right, my Fender Telecaster in my hall, the one that let me down so badly or was it the other way round?

When I worked as an educational psychologist – before I became a retired person – I tried to develop an approach to working with young people who had suffered trauma in their lives. The idea was to artificially introduce the time part of the equation so that they might see their experiences as funny rather than tragic. I reasoned that this would be helpful to them. A little bit like turning their lives into a sitcom. I know many would disagree – they need time to grieve – and I don’t disagree but some kids /people need to move on and, furthermore, humour as therapy has an honourable track record. It probably won’t surprise you that I didn’t get very far with it. It wasn’t an easy idea to sell to anybody – child, parent, teachers, fellow professionals all thought it a bit too wacky. However, I still think the idea has something about it. Writing about the event, in my view, is one way of artificially introducing distance or, in the above equation – time.

The event about which I am writing here is my first Saturday jazz workshop of the new term and I’m trying to make it amusing, to myself if not to anybody else. I need to do this because the experience, in my grandma’s words, and she was a woman with many turns of phrases some of which have come back to me over the years, fair knocked my duck off. I have no idea of the origin of the expression but it somehow seems appropriate here. The rough translation being ‘knocked my confidence through, (or is it into) a cocked hat’. My self-esteem took a dive. So I need to do what I have advised others to do with a problem – tease it apart. It went something like this.

Probably, even before the class, I was getting above myself, a little too cocky. After all this last week (which has been one of the worst since I retired – more of this later – and I only mention it now because it tells you a bit about the slightly damaged state that I went to the workshop in), I had been playing along to Miles Davis and sounding OK, at least I thought so and so did Mrs Summerhouse, although I fully admit she is a bit biased. So stupidly I went to the workshop with my confident hat on rather than the one I should have worn and would normally have worn – the ‘be cautious, Peter, you’ve fucked up like this before’, hat. That would have been better, but I didn’t, I left it right there on the peg by the front door.

My first inkling that all was not well was when I walked into the class. There were twice as many people as last term, a lot of them, obviously, new. The smallish space was positively or rather negatively crowded. Then there was the audience, yes, that’s right there were people who had come to listen. I can only assume that they had come to check it out to see if they might also join – more people for a later date? The ones not in this category were clearly the parents of the infant prodigies. I don’t much like children at the best of times, but to be in the company of young children – one was 10 years old and played jazz flute so well it was positively or rather negatively vomit inducing. The other things that was different was that two other guitarists showed up. One who had been once before and the other was completely new. The one who had been before was an excellent jazz guitarist and the other guy wasn’t. Strangely neither of them helped lessen my sense of impending doom. You might have thought I would have been either inspired by the good one or comforted by the not so good one. I don’t know why but it wasn’t the case

And this was just the beginning, we hadn’t even started to play the music. The music, well, now it got really difficult. I did not know the song – either of them. I had asked in the past if we might know what we were going to play, then I could google it and get an idea of the melody and the chords. That didn’t happen here, understandably as it was the first workshop. I turned to the excellent guitarist who had sat next to me and, I have to say right now that, he was a lovely man and tried to be helpful. It wasn’t his fault that the help he tried to provide was not the help I needed. So I asked him, what key is this song in?  He replied that it didn’t matter. Well, it did to me because when that dreaded moment came around that I was expected to play my solo (in front of maybe 30 people) I needed very badly to have some kind of idea of the key. For the non-musical trust me, this is true even in jazz. My fellow guitarist was good enough to get away with not knowing the key, I wasn’t. It’s all very well the workshop leader (my tutor of previous lessons – who now completely disowned me or at least that’s how it felt to me in my increasingly paranoid state – I asked him how his mother was, she died last week, maybe this didn’t help) to say that this is jazz improvisation and we didn’t need to play in the ‘correct’ key. The fact of the matter for me is that I needed to know the right way before being able to relax into the wrong way. Confidence is everything when you’re playing the wrong way in front of an audience of your peers and I had zero confidence.

This probably all sounds a bit petty but, for me with my solo approaching, it was, or at least felt, crucial. Remorselessly my moment to shine came closer and closer, and then came. My fingers would not move, my brain didn’t function, I was so nervous that the equivalent of a squeak from somebody trying to sing came out. I cannot begin to describe how crap it felt and sounded. Hole in floor, please open up for me. My amp which is OK when only a few brass players are in the room, was hopeless in this context. That may have been a blessing given how feeble my efforts were. I even managed to miss my spot altogether on one round. How could this happen? In summary I was pathetic and felt it. My excellent companion played a beautiful little solo in the right key, the one he said didn’t matter – a lovely man- and people applauded, bollocks, that could have been me if I had known the song, the chords, the key and practised for 10 years. That’s what I want, to feel, the warmth and admiration of my fellow jazz players.

So there I was, actually close to tears, can you believe that of a grown man? I had put myself in this position and failed and no amount of, well you did jolly well to try, you should be proud of yourself trying something new – all bollocks. And the optimistic message in all this for the retired person, well buggered if I know at this point but unless I work out some kind of plan I won’t be going back in two week’s time. So much for my fourth dimension of retirement.

PS I went to the Monday night workshop last night, it was TG much better, I will keep you informed.

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