A Fire Beneath Me This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

When I was four years old, Jazz music sounded like the simplest form of music on the planet. Due to my ignorance and young age I was under the assumption that people just got up and played a good song. Because of the somewhat simple and repetitive rhythmic phrasing, it belied the true intensity and complexity that the music holds. I was entirely unaware of the significance the music holds in our culture, and in the progression of music to what it sounds like today. As I aged, the truth began to reveal itself; often, showing little by little.


The first time I became aware of the musical complexity was at 6 years old. I was with my mom’s boyfriend, Stuart, listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while cleaning dishes in our kitchen. For a while I just listened intently to the sounds, but then I became weary of the music. It sounded like every song was pretty much the same, and the poor recording quality made it hard to get in to the music. The old-timey music didn’t have a solid backbeat like the Grateful Dead or the Beatles, and the chord progressions didn’t have a simple structure to follow. The improvisational nature of the music led me to believe that anybody could play it, so I ventured a guess.

“Stu, I don’t really get it. These guys are supposed to be really good at playing, but couldn’t anybody do that? I mean, it’s not like they’re really playing a song or anything. It’s all just random.”

He laughed the kind of laugh that meant I was just too young to understand, and it fell heavy on my ears. The years of teaching young drummers came through in the calmness of his voice.

“It’s not that easy. These guys are just good enough to make it sound easy. You don’t know it now, but what they’re doing takes a lot of talent and even more hard work.”

Immediately, I was taken aback by the words. I began to listen closer, really trying to hear the music for what Stu said it was. The rest of the dishes flew past, my hands moving at lightning speed. Eventually, when I was done, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table with my wet hands drying while cradling my face. I had sat there for thirty-five minutes just listening, intent to find the beauty. Due to my age I could only appreciate it so much, and eventually moved away from it. Throughout the rest of my childhood, through my adolescence, I was exposed to the music through family and teachers. The sound of Coltrane and Davis were familiar to my ears, but not yet to my hands.


I started playing Jazz when I was fifteen, in the Jazz Workshop with Jamie Macdonald. I thought the few months of playing through Syncopation and listening to some heavy swingers like Davis, Coltrane, Art Blakey, and Louis Armstrong would have paid off. Little did I know that I was barely scratching the surface. Although I was able to play the basic ride rhythm, that wasn’t enough to make the music sound good. I sounded mechanical, like a giant cymbal-monkey, and didn’t really connect with the music.

I didn’t recognize that playing swing feel with more than one person requires the drummer to take control and set things straight. A drummer also needs to be able to stay consistent even though other people will often solo over what they are playing. Over my months in that class, I was pushed to my abilities and beyond. There’s a difference between a true greenhorn and one whose mettle has been tested. I had taken the test, and proven that I wanted to progress. From then on, I’ve felt the fire lit beneath me.





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