The Things We Actually Have Control Of

As I write this I’m listening to three student jazz groups playing. (I have one child in each group so I sit in between the three rehearsal rooms so I can catch snatches of each group as they play.)

Last week these groups held auditions. One of the students who auditioned got his placement today and wasn’t willing to accept it. He is the oldest bass player that tried out but was placed in the lowest of the three groups. I understand where he’s coming from. It’s embarrassing and discouraging when something like this happens. He spent the two hours of rehearsal time sitting in the hallway refusing to participate.

We all go through these kinds of situations. I think the key to getting through is to spend our time and energy focused not on the larger situation but on the things we can control.

So what exactly is in our control?

  • Our emotions
  • Our judgements
  • Our creativity
  • Our attitude
  • Our perspective
  • Our desires
  • Our decisions
  • Our determination

Pretty much everything else is outside of our control. But look at all we do have control over! This list encompasses so much. If we all learned to control even a sliver of this we would be unshakable.

I hope the young man decides that he is going to go forward and grasp this opportunity. This could be an important turning point for him. We rarely have control of the auditions in life but we do have control of our actions after. Taking control of those things we can control makes all the difference.


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The Joy of Artistry

Today I watched an amazing jazz pianist play in a way that filled me with joy. Yes, he was teaching a class full of young vocalists who don’t always hit the right notes or come in at the right time. This wasn’t a gala performance at the Kennedy Center. But his playing was both superb and infectious. It made me want to get out an instrument and practice!

Seeing mastery in action is amazing and awe inspiring. We don’t see the years of hard practice, the disappointments and trials that shaped the artistry we hear today. But knowing those things were part of his journey in one way or another make celebrating his achievements even more fun.

Here is someone who strives! In that moment I heard beauty, joy, and soul come out of his playing. I’m so grateful for the artists who make experiences like this possible.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and practice making some art.


For those that are curious, the amazing pianist is Mr. Charles Williams. He teaches at the Kansas City Jazz Academy and two of my children have the privilege of studying with him there.


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In Memory of Roy Hargrove

As a gawky high school freshman I was invited to do something really cool and join the high school jazz band. Our school district put freshmen at the junior high, so it was pretty neat to go to the high school a couple of times a week and play music with the upperclassmen. I was the only bass player in the high school system so it didn’t matter that I wasn’t any good; if they wanted a bass player they were stuck with me.

By my sophomore year I was practicing a lot and started to really enjoy jazz. By my senior year jazz band was my main activity and the thing that identified with more than anything else in my life. I was pretty good and played throughout college and even spent a few years playing professionally. Jazz is still a huge part of my life, and I happily claim to be the world’s nicest jazz snob. (I can’t help it if jazz is the greatest. Some things are just true!)

During those years in high school when jazz became so important to me, there was a group of musicians on the scene in New York who became known as the “Young Lions.” They played amazing music that revitalized and rejuvenated jazz, bringing many of the great musicians from the late 60s and early 70s (like Dexter Gordon) back onto the scene to play with them. They inspired a generation of jazz fans like me. Musicians like Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Mulgrew Miller, Russel Malone, and Bobby Watson. Roy Hargrove was a giant among the lions.

I’ll never forget the evening at the Gem Theater when I watched Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, John Patitucci (one of my bass idols), Brian Blade, and Roy Hargrove perform as part of Herbie’s Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall album tour. I went expecting to spend the evening in awe of Patitucci. I’ve always been a huge fan of Herbie Hancock. Brian Blade is my favorite living jazz drummer. Michael Brecker was an incredible jazz savant. But the thing that impressed me the most throughout the night was Roy Hargrove. On stage with jazz legends at the top of their instrumental fields, he outshone them all. His solos were amazing journeys of poetry and emotion, full of fire. I went in expecting to see one of my favorite bassists blow me away. I left deeply touched by Roy Hargove’s music.

Years later during a difficult time in my life I discovered the album Earfood. I spent many hours listening to it. More than any album since Joshua Redman it became an anchor that could bring me up when I felt down.

It’s shocking when someone dies so young. There was so much music left for him to play.


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