Music Fest is coming this weekend. I won’t be performing, but with the progress I’m making on piano, it may just be a matter of time. I gave up touring and releasing albums a few years ago but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped tickling the ivories every night. My playing had plateaued, though, and I was searching for a breakthrough.
I felt like Sonny Rollins blowing his saxophone atop the Williamsburg Bridge for two years. Sonny took a sabbatical from performing to perfect his sound. Those solitary nights on the bridge helped him create those cascades of sound that only Sonny could produce.
Suddenly, after 13 years, I had my own breakthrough. I could actually play my jazz and pop standards without looking at the keys. I can’t even do that when I type. Speaking of which, that’s how I sounded when I first started playing piano, like I was tapping a computer keyboard. I was hitting the right keys but I wasn’t making the songs my own.
Now that I could read the notes and play, I could pour my emotions into the songs. They started sounding like they were supposed to sound. But there was still something missing — an audience. I get great pleasure from playing solo, but my career goal is to play background in a noisy restaurant. I want to share my music with others.
First, I had to find out if I was ready. Jim Goelitz, who teaches piano at Kagan & Gaines, graciously invited me to audition for him. Though I’m accustomed to playing piano, Jim had me use a keyboard. This was really an advantage because I tend to hit the piano keys a little too hard. Jim is a very gentle spirit, with an encouraging attitude, so I wasn’t nervous. I played a few Gershwin songs for him. He was impressed with my ability to read music and play chords.
There was just one element missing — rhythm.
This was especially evident on “I Got Rhythm” and “Fascinating Rhythm.” I feared rhythm was an innate gift. Either you have it or you don’t. It certainly didn’t run in my family, if you consider my parents had nine kids. But Jim helped me understand how to create it.
He also taught me more about the notes I was playing. It seemed that they required a different number of beats. I wasn’t holding my whole notes long enough, or playing my quarter notes fast enough. He also pointed out these squiggly lines that were called “rests.” Under his tutelage, I learned more in a half hour than I had learned in years.
At the end of our session, Jim invited me to observe and possibly sit in with his ensemble, which practices on Friday evenings. I was overjoyed. My favorite musical memory was starting a song with my group, “The Senior Moments,” and having the bass and drum kick in. Plus, I was really impressed with Jim’s ensemble. I heard the 11-piece band play at Healy’s Westside in June. They swung through jazz standards, gritty blues and soulful ballads. They packed the cavernous bar. They were a very diverse group of students who blended beautifully. Jim’s band was preceded by another swinging K & G ensemble led by Sean Francois.
Both of these groups will be playing at Music Fest on Saturday at noon on the west stage. You may see me there, tapping my foot. If I’m feeling really confident, I may even clap along.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.