Commitment Jazz

It was an old broken down saxophone.  Appropriately so I would say.  I mean how much money do you want to sink into a band instrument when a kid, at an age where dreams come and go, says I want to be a musician.

The quality of that instrument, or the lack thereof, was an annoyance to my band director.  But hey, I was in sixth grade and I kind of half figured the fact that I was consuming oxygen was an annoyance to this particular band director.

Mr. Robinson…professional  curmudgeon.

I have not forgotten him.  He seemed an unhappy man in those days.  I think he was overtasked by the goal of teaching 6th graders how to become musicians….and maybe anxious to get to retirement.

A couple years later as an 8th grader we got a new young hot shot band director named Phil Geiger.  He was cock sure of himself and grabbed my attention because he was an accomplished saxophone player….which was exactly what I wanted to be.

I was 1st chair Tenor Sax.  In the world of music that means I  was the biggest fish in my little pond.

At some point, Phil Geiger got a meeting with my father to discuss the quality of my instrument and (likely overstating my potential with that instrument) made the case for upgrading me to a higher quality saxophone.  This would cost big bucks.  The instrument was a Selmer Mark VII….the saxophone version of a Cadillac and the most beautiful thing I had ever seen to that point in my life.

I remember Dad asking me basically just one question.  “How long do you plan on playing the saxophone, son?”

”I dunno…” I probably said

”I mean do you plan to play through high school?”

“Oh yeah…I sure do.”

I remember thinking two things at the time of that conversation.  First, I was absolutely sure I’d be playing through high school because it was fun and being in the band was the center of my social life.

But second….It was the first test that I can recall of my ability to live up to a promise….a big promise.  One with some meat attached to it.

A commitment.

When I graduated from high school I remember thinking that I was no longer “obligated” to play the saxophone….which was silly because I loved playing saxophone.  BUT…I had lived up to a commitment….and that mattered to me.

Two short epilogues….

Mr. Robinson and I became friendly at the end of my high school years.  I took an elective called “band-aid” in my senior year….which basically meant assisting Mr. Robinson for one class period per day.  Turned out he was more of a sweetheart than he let on with most of the other kids.  Geiger went on to have a very successful career in his field summarized here.

Years later I sold that saxophone to pay for a transmission on a car that I needed for work.  That was a sad day…and one of the reasons my long term musical focus turned more sharply to guitar….

…but that’s a story for another day!

8 Replies to “Commitment Jazz”

  1. Love this story, Ken. It brought back some wonderful memories too. Thankful for my parents who always invested in me and bought me the Cadillac of clarinets in middle school. I played for a number of years and have many wonderful memories. My grandmother handmade a beautiful quilted case for it that I still have. I had the opportunity many years later to fully refurbish that clarinet (to the tune of the cost of a brand new Cadillac, btw. ) for my daughter who squeaked on it for all of about 6 months! It was my pleasure anyway. Thanks for this story and the lovely memories it evoked.

    1. ….ah, a fellow band geek! Clarinet is one of those instruments where there seems to be no in between. It can be absolutely beautiful….or a sqeaky bone chilling sound! Lol! That’s a tough instrument. Respect, Triple Threat. Respect.

  2. Ah… memories. My Grandmother had just bought a place in Tampa Florida and lo and behold there was a Piano that came with it in 1988. Thus began my lessons . I took all the way through high school, dreading the 60 Minute every Tuesday lesson with my teacher. All be it I loved her dearly. I hated taking the lessons. The day I graduated I stopped the lessons. It was then that i realized the joy playing piano really brought me. I am by far no Beethoven but I play mistakes and all and my girls dance and play as I do. So I am very thankful for the shove from my Parents to make me take the lessons. What joy music can bring!

    1. So true….music is funny that way. It can bring joy whether you are making it, listening to it, creating it well, creating it badly, etc. It just evokes something inside the human spirit. It’s hard to define really….

      I’d love to hear you play!

      1. So says my other friends! I very very rarely play in front of anyone other then my husband and children. Probably one of the main reasons I dreaded Piano lessons and the quarterly recitals! But somewhere on my facebook there is recording of a song I played! 8)

      2. Heather! I found it! You play beautifully….and I could hear the kids in the background! That was a pretty song and I was impressed with the key change toward the end! Well done…;)

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