Music lessons learned #1

Adam Nussbaum, John Abercrombie, myself, and Kenny Werner

To trust in others and the music

Back in 1990, almost 30 years ago, I was about to do my first record called What I Miss. It was a big deal in those days since no home studios or audio recording on laptops existed. You had to go into a ‘real’ studio, record to tape and release it through a record label.

At the time, I was living in New York City and attending the jazz program at The New School. The teaching staff at the school was out of this world, drawing from the abundance of superb jazz musicians living in the city.

For instance, my ensemble teachers included Jim Hall, Bernard Purdie, Lester Bowie and, Billy Harper, composition teacher was Kenny Werner, arranging teacher Gil Goldstein and my bass teacher for a while the phenomenal Anthony Jackson. My classmates included, among others Brad Mehldau, Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, and Chris Potter, so the intensity level was high.

I had gotten introduced to the late, great John Abercrombie, who taught some of my ensemble classes as a substitute for Jim Hall. Somehow I had gotten up the nerve to ask him if he would be up for playing on four original songs for the record which would also include Kenny Werner on piano, Adam Nussbaum on drums and myself on bass. To my luck, he (and the others) agreed to go along with this unknown Danish bass player who had a plan that included them.

The day before the recording we had a rehearsal, which Kenny couldn’t do, so he asked Brad to sub for him. We played through the songs, and it all worked out well, and it seemed to make sense to everyone present. When we were all done, Abercrombie’s music was still standing at the music stand. I, the novice bandleader, asked him if he wanted to bring it home to take another look before the recording session. He looked at me, laughed and said: if I can’t play it by now, I won’t be able to play it tomorrow anyway!

When we were in the studio the following day one of my other teachers Reggie Workman to my surprise dropped by to hang out. We had just started to record the title track What I Miss and came out into the control room. I was furious with myself and thought that I had played the worst ever and flunked the situation. A feeling that I luckily do not get very often. But at that moment, I felt embarrassed and was sure it was the end of my career as a jazz musician in New York. To my surprise, Reggie greeted us in the control room, saying: you will not be able to do a better take than that! I, luckily, kept my mouth shut and thought if this master musician who played with John Coltrane perceives it this way, I better surrender to his judgment. In hindsight, I would say that he had a point.

So, concluding, in those moments described above, I learned two things: it is not about perfection in music, but about getting into it and having fun with it. And that if you are not careful, you can get mislead by your feelings and perception when trying to judge whether the music you just played was any good. You have to trust the music, let it be your guide, and enjoy the ride!

At the link below you will find the title track What I Miss†.

Please take a listen for yourself!

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