All Jazzed Up with Nowhere to Go

Mike Lawson • Archives • December 9, 2014

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Directors Really Do Make a Difference

The year was 1982 and I was a high school sophomore. I had been playing guitar since I was nine years old, almost entirely self-taught. I didn’t really read notation. I understood rests, repeats, basic things like time signatures, and the difference between a treble and bass clef, but the ebony notes dancing along the staff were a mystery to me. I could, however, read guitar chord charts, and if I could hear a song played while looking at a chord chart, I could generally tackle it within one or two passes.

The one thing that made me eager to start my sophomore year was the opportunity to audition for the jazz band. Jazz band was typically reserved for juniors and seniors. I knew the band director wanted a guitarist, but the odds of a sophomore passing the audition were dreadfully slim. I’d asked around and learned that there were no other guitarists in the high school who were interested in playing in jazz band, let alone capable of passing the audition. I contacted the band director and arranged for an audition before school started, and to my delight, I passed it.

That following summer I toiled endlessly running rides at an amusement park, all the while dreaming of that first jazz band practice. I saved every cent I made that summer in order to buy a new electric guitar and amp. On the first day of school I proudly wheeled my new rig on a dolly into the band room. I was so excited! I was finally going to learn to read music. I was finally going to get experience playing with other great players, playing respectable music. Perhaps I was a little too excited…

It was quickly explained to me that our first period jazz band class, if you could call it that, was basically a free period the first half of the year for the juniors and seniors in the class (all of whom were first chair in the marching band), because jazz band didn’t do any
performances — or any work at all for that matter — until marching season was over. I was crushed. I had visions of comping chords all year behind a horn section playing big band swing hits from Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Count Basie… instead I was
shown a music closet where hundreds of pages of charts had somehow found their way onto the floor, forming a mountain of sheet music as hard to reassemble as a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. If I wanted charts to mess around with while the juniors and seniors napped across the band room chairs, I was told to clean up the mess and find something interesting to play.

So clean up the mess, I did. And find charts to work on, I did. On my own, I dove into songs like “Mood Indigo,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Take the A Train,” and “In the Mood.” Of course, I was forced to do this with my amp turned off, so as to not disturb those sleeping or doing last night’s homework, but I digress. The jazz band ended up doing only two performances that school year. I couldn’t help but resent the experience as a wasted opportunity. I didn’t return to jazz band the following year. That probably went without saying.

As we take a look at 50 Directors Who Make a Difference in this issue of SBO, you’ll meet an awesome band director from each state. These are the teachers I wish I could have worked with when I was an eager young guitarist, hoping to find my place in the school’s
music program, ready to master my instrument. This outstanding collection of music educators represent some of the best in their states’ respective music programs. I can only imagine how great of an experience it is to be a young musician performing under their
inspired direction.

Congratulations to these amazing teachers. It’s an honor for me that my first issue as editor of SBO honors them.

Mike Lawson – editor

P.S. – I want to give a special welcome and thank you to Paige Tutt, our new associate editor. She did an outstanding job helping pull together my first issue of SBO as editor, and I’m excited to be working with her. 

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