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 up and coming Montclair Jazz Festival. This separates me from the thousands of other festival goers who only get to enjoy a great day of music, not play it.
More importantly, wearing my Artist T-shirt allows me access backstage where I can securely store my tarnished trombone 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 an 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 a world famous 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 Mickey Mouse 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 Montclair Jazz Festival T-shirt-in-residence by virtue of an incredible organization called Jazz House Kids in Montclair, NJ. The Jazz House program fosters music education, performance skills, leadership, community involvement, and academic strength in students from diverse backgrounds and means.
Think left brain right brain elevation with a healthy dose of personal growth thrown in for good measure.
Oh yeah, and these kids are 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 if you are hearing squeaking saxophones and out of tune trumpets struggling through a B flat major scale, listen up. These kids are smoking hot and swing justice to the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and other jazz masters who I myself am just starting to learn about.
I know this because I have two sons who went through the program.
When I first heard the Jazz House Kids Big Band my jaw dropped. My son was midway through a two week summer camp. The Big Band and several Jazz House combos were performing at Dizzy’s Coca Cola in New York City, a popular jazz club in the Time Warner Building overlooking Central Park. The performance was streamed over the Internet to jazz fans and proud relatives with Wi-Fi connections from Tinton Falls to Timbuktu.
Dizzy’s? New York City? Summer Camp? What?
I was shocked by what I heard. These kids could really 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 these kids have and I don’t.
As performers they were confident, talented, and cool. Really cool. And all I could think when I heard this musical collective of boys and girls 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.
This probably explains why I desperately want to earn the right to be insufferable at cocktail parties.
If there was a Jazz House Kids when I was growing up things might be a lot different. I could have at an early age begun to develop skills I still struggle with as an adult. Little things like competence, discipline, expression, confidence. Not to mention the pure intellectual and spiritual joy of playing music. Who knows, maybe if there was a Jazz House I could even be cool?
Well, probably not.
But perhaps recognizing there were frustrated grownups like me who secretly wanted to play music, the Jazz House opened its doors to adults several years ago. I immediately signed up, dusted off my trombone, packed an old Disney Princess lunch box, and arrived nervous but unscathed at the Jazz House in Montclair. I even took lessons and practiced, inspired by what I have heard and seen first hand. Inspired by what is possible.
I am now officially a Jazz House Kid Adult, or maybe a Jazz House Adult Kid, or maybe just a Jazz House It’s Never Too Late Even If You are An Uncool Adult Who Got Beat Up When He Was Thirteen For Being An Insufferable Geek Kid. Whatever my status, I have come to embrace and support the organization. Thanks to Jazz House I now play in a band with other Jazz House Adults who have two things in common: we want to play music and we want to have fun.
And boy oh boy do we have fun playing music.
And now our swinging adult band is performing stageside at the Montclair Jazz Festival wedged before some really unbelievably talented and legendary performers who are headlining this award winning event.
And to prove it I have a T-shirt that gets me backstage to store my trombone. It says artist on the sleeve.
I am available for cocktail parties.
See Another Big Band under the Family Discovery Tent at the Montclair Jazz Festival on August 11th in Nishuane Park. I can get you in . . . the festival is free. But you have to buy your own colorful T-shirt. For more information on Jazz House Kids and the festival go to montclairjazzfestival.org.