i had the honor of hearing kenny wheeler perform last friday up in cedar falls. my good friend chris merz runs a pretty remarkable program at the university of norther iowa. he and bob washut (the man responsible for making their department legendary) have a wonderful situation, complete with a talented and flourishing student body that is tirelessly supported by the administration and the community at large.
chris brought kenny in to play some small group pieces with the faculty group and perform the complete sweet time suite.
i sat second row with my good friend russ, and had my face coated with kenny's unforgettable flugelhorn sound. the sextet pieces (tsx/flg/pno/gtr/bs/dm) allowed more blowing space for kenny and chris, but certainly paled in comparison to the majesty of the suite from music for large and small ensembles. rachel price, a recent music grad from uni, played the role of norma winstone to perfection. simply hearing kenny play this music live was enough for me - his immediate sound + chris's excitement for this concert in particular + sensory recall of listening to this album a ton + remembering playing for jan with musical spirits dave dunn and erin fishler = all i could handle. to boot, kenny is 81 years old. sure - he came out with a cane, sat throughout the gig, didn't necessarily sound like he once did earlier in his career, and cracked only one tiny smile at the very end of the evening. but for crying out loud - he is 81!
checking out concerts like this leave me both inspired and depressed. the writing is incredible, so open and spacious and modern. the soloing stretches my ears in six different directions only to rubberbandsnap me back to reality. the body of work and litany of collaborations is astonishing. are my tunes this good? do my solos give people a similar euphoric aftertaste? will i have as decorated a bio? will i actually live to be 81?
i guess i just assume that, when i see live music from people who i ogle over, they must be having these experiences 24/7. does chris potter play jaw-dropping solos with his underground band every day? do the bad plus play shows every night to sell out crowds? does han bennink spontaneously create ingenuous performance art daily? does kenny wheeler routinely lead renditions of his large group pieces? probably not, on all accounts. i don't see these guys go get the mail, sleep in, wash dishes, stare at the checkbook, gas up the car, fold laundry or change the toilet paper.
i realize that maturing artistically is all about the process. every little step i take (hello bobby brown) gets me to the bigger goals that i set in front of me. giving consistent effort with a refreshing and reevaluated commitment to creative work steers my ship in the right direction. taking an inch of inspiration from these great performers and stretching it into a mile is a well established formula for personal growth. most of all - i need to remind myself of these ideas so i can keep my sanity without throwing in the towel. it reminds me of this great tevin campbell tune from quincy jones' album back on the block.
famous guys named kenny: lefty with handles kenny anderson, funnyish sports reporter kenny mayne, smooth jazz hairdo
kenny g, soft rock star kenny loggins, kenny from south park, and botox disaster kenny rogers.