I am an artist. It says so on my T-shirt.
My colorful shirt, which significantly inflates my position in life, confers great status. For one, it announces that I am a musical performer at the Montclair Jazz Festival. This distinguishes me from the thousands of other festival goers who only get to enjoy a great day of music, not make it.
More importantly, wearing my artist T-shirt bestows upon me the credentials necessary to store my tarnished trombone backstage while I also volunteer at the beer garden tent during the performances of all of the real jazz artists.
From past experience I have found that walking around crowds with a trombone case in and of itself does not impress people. And if in that past experience, before you gave up the instrument, you are thirteen and also wear thick glasses and pants that are too short, you can even get beat up. But that’s another story.
Now that I am officially an artist performing at the jazz festival in an adult community big band, I actually have a legitimate excuse to be insufferable at cocktail parties.
I can wear black and pretentiously wave a smoldering cigarette forked between my fingers and casually reveal how I struggle and sacrifice for my art, how I am tortured and misunderstood, how with great art comes great pain. How difficult it is to find a decent script in Hollywood these days.
I don’t know, I think carrying a trombone case in public when you are thirteen constitutes sacrifice, torture and great pain. And considering the Philistine bullies who beat me up also stole my Star Trek lunch box, I can legitimately recount my days as a starving artist too.
As an artist, becoming insufferable is a hard road.
As an artist, I have finally earned the right to start sentences with, “As an artist, . . .”
I came to my jazz festival T-shirt-in-residence after being inspired to pick up the trombone and prove wrong the adage about old dogs and new tricks, even though the trick is not entirely new. You see, when I was in grade school I played trombone in my school band.
But my time as a budding musician was relatively short-lived. I quit when the concert band unmercifully became a marching band and I was forced to high-step at high school football games in striped pants and a giant plumed hat.
So to the relief of those who ever heard me play, I quit.
I never thought about playing again until my sons started playing music themselves in high school. But their musical journey was vastly different than mine. They didn’t play in marching bands. They played in jazz bands.
And they were instructed, guided, and mentored by world-class, professional musicians and educators. The kind you pay to hear perform. The kind that are on Spotify playlists. The kind that you name drop when you are being insufferable at cocktail parties.
And the bands they played with were good. I was shocked by what I heard. These kids could play. They performed with inspiration, joy, and really killing chops. I was in awe. Especially when my son explained to me what killing chops were. Apparently chops are what real musicians have and I don’t.
As performers they were confident, talented, and really, really cool. And all I could think when I heard this musical collective of high schoolers was “when I grow up I want to play just like them.” Which was a real problem because 1) I am already grown, 2) I can’t play, and 3) I am not cool.
I realized that If these opportunities were available when I was learning to play I could have at an early age began to develop skills I still struggle with as an adult. Little things like competence, discipline, expression, and confidence. Not to mention the pure intellectual and spiritual joy of playing music.
Who knows, maybe I could even be cool.
Well, probably not. But I could at least earn the right to be insufferable at cocktail parties.
And this is why, after I saw a flyer calling for players to dust off their instruments and join the Jazz House adult community band, I bought a used trombone.
I even took lessons and practiced, inspired by my kids. Inspired by what is possible.
And now my adult community band is playing at the Montclair jazz festival. The fact that we are performing under a sideshow tent far from the main stage is of little consequence.
What is most important is that I now have a T shirt that boasts artist on the sleeve.
I am available for cocktail parties.
See Another Big Band at the Family Jazz Discovery Zone at the Montclair Jazz Festival on August 10 th in Nishuane Park. For more information on Jazz House and the festival go to www.montclairjazzfestival.org.