Friday, August 24, 2007

Two not-so-different musicians

Inevitably, children look back to particular experiences in their childhood and point to seminal moments or events that, at the time, seemed insignificant then but now have an entirely new meaning. This happened to me last weekend.

As a Father's Day present, I took my Dad to see jazz trumpet player Chris Botti. For background, you should probably know that Dad played trumpet when he was younger, and somehow, I'm unable to remember how exactly, so did I. I can promise you that my talent was barely noticeable most likely due to my lack of commitment and passion. But to this day, I have always appreciated the skill, commitment and sacrifice of talented musicians, and Botti certainly falls into that category.

Over the years, Botti has become a giant among men. I saw him a few times back in the early 90s, when his claim to fame was opening for or playing back-up to rock musician Sting. Even at that time, he always made me itchy to play the trumpet again (half seriously). His performances made me step back and realize that had I had the same commitment and drive that could have been me.

But fame or not, Botti remains a gentleman and there's much to be learned from him. As the headliner of this show (indeed, he was the only name on the bill), he had a supporting band of four extremely talented but virtually unknown musicans. On several occasions, Botti would step back from the stage, actually out of the spotlight entirely, and stand in the darkness, allowing the band or a soloist to play uninterrupted and in the spotlight on their own. Botti shows us that he's still modest enough and still remembers where he came from. He knows this means the world to these guys to be here and not be playing back-up, but rather shining in their own right.

Botti also found a young girl in the crowd who he determined was a musician herself, and actually a violinist, of all things. It seemed ironic, as he pointed out, that she chose violin in the day and age of Paris, Brittany and Lindsay. Botti, having dropped out of school to become a "serious" musician (because no "serious" musician is still in school while they're trying to make it), gave the young girl a light-hearted but profound lecture along the lines of "do as I say, not as I (or the fallen young pop princesses of today) do." I felt his message in the rows behind that girl and I hope she felt it as well. It just made Botti seem all-so-human and sympathetic.

I don't think 30 years ago I had any idea I'd be recalling my trumpeting experience with such fondness. At the time it was drudgery sitting in my room alone and plodding through "All My Loving", the Hogan Heroes theme song or the Burger King jingle alone. Really, the only reason I stuck with it at all was to be in band class with my friends. But there were the nights when Dad would come upstairs and play with me. It was that half hour or forty-five minutes of his instruction that I remember best. To you this might seem a vast exaggeration, but in my mind's eye and ear, Botti was different from my Dad only in his notoriety and fame. The sound was the same, the lessons were the same and the impression remains the same: a gentleman who cares enough to acknowledge, teach and love openly. And for that, I am forever fortunate.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

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