Monday, March 30, 2015

Listening to a Living Legend

“Playing with me today is a living legend…”  I sat up in my seat.  Did Victor just get introduced by the bandleader as a living legend in front of this crowd of people?  I have known Victor Lewis for a number of years as part of our extended family.  Yes, I knew he was a jazz musician and a teacher.  We always manage to talk music and always planned to jam together.  This, however, was the first time that we actually saw him playing live.  I have always known the man first, so to hear that introduction…

I wonder if someone in the future will refer to me in such a high accolade.  I believe that at some point in our lives, we all begin to wonder what our legacy will be and how other people will perceive our lives and actions.  Yes, along with our friends, we are caught up at this point in our lives in providing for our family, making sure that we have a roof over our children’s heads, there is food on the table and clothes to wear.  From an initial point of view, we hope that the positive lessons we teach our children have a positive impact on their lives and the lives of those around them, and on to the next generation.  It is the lives of the people that we meet which we will not know what the impact on their lives will be and where our legacy will be seen.  Once we leave this planet, we all hope that our eulogies contain the words to express how we felt we touched the lives of those that we leave behind.

I thought about it as I was listening to the music.  What will my legacy be and will I be around to reach legendary status?  I looked on stage at the person sitting behind the drum set, completely focused and fully alive in the moment of creating jazz music.  That is someone doing something he loves.  In addition, as a teacher at the Mason Gross School of Music, there is the opportunity to give back to other potential musicians, teaching and encouraging them to follow their dreams and passions.  The message is universal, be consistent and persistent and have patience to reach your goals.  After the performance, a small crowd of aficionados gathered around this “living legend.”  It was great to see, however, to me, I still know him as just Victor.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Playing in the Band

This past weekend, a friend asked if I could sit in on keyboards for his band.  I jumped at the opportunity!  All I needed was the time, place and the list of potential songs (most of which I knew already) to prepare.  For a musician, it is always our goal to play, and if possible, play in front of other people, besides the people in the band.  The day of the gig, I realized that this was the first time in about 18 years that I will be playing in public with musicians that were not in my band.  Oh, no!  I realized that I was stepping outside my comfort zone, one that I had drawn around myself.  Being able to rely on playing the keys is one thing.  Would I gel with the other musicians?  Would I be able to “play along” with them?  

I realized there would be one skill that I would need to rely on most, one of the skills that we all have (to some degree), but forget to use at certain times – Communication.  Whether used at home, at work or, at play, effective communication is important to our successes.  In this case, I do not mean my ability to talk, per se, but using my ability to see and to listen.  Seeing lets me know what song they want to play next, when songs start, when songs end and when a solo is “passed” to me.  Listening lets me know where they are in the song, lets me know what chords they are playing (which I can also see form the guitarists fingers) and lets me improvise together.  I was up for this personal challenge.

Through email, I reached out to the guitarist to make sure I had the correct versions of the songs, which included one transposition.  When we were at the venue, I asked some last minute questions.  Everyone in the band was friendly, helpful and encouraging.  I was beginning to feel good about the gig.  There was still a little nervousness before we got on stage.  We all made eye contact, and then the “count” for the first song was given.  In my head, I was thinking, “take a deep breath, relax…” still a little nervous.  As the first notes were being played, a sense of calmness came over me.  It ends up that the title of the first song summed up the feeling of playing, “How Sweet It Is.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Variety is the Spice of Life

While visiting my brother, Jeff, in Miami, he took me out to eat at Zuma.  Zuma offers Japanese inspired small plates meals, so that you can taste a variety of excellent food.  We ordered four plates. Each of the items that we ordered had a different taste and texture.  As we sat there savoring every bite (it was that good), it dawned on me how infrequently we take the time to savor the things that take place in our life.

Under the hustle and bustle of daily living, we get up, go to work (or school), come home, eat dinner, be involved in community activity (e.g., rec sports, religious, other), spend time with the kids, and spend time with our spouse.  On the weekends, work is replaced by family activities and spending some time with family and friends.  I know that there are people that promote taking the time each morning to meditate, so that you can ground yourself for the day.  However, during the day, it seems as if we are forever running from one thing to the next and do not really savor the little moments.  As golfer Ben Hogan put, “As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”

Maybe that is why we need to schedule downtime.  I am talking about an hour or two here and there.  I mean a couple of days now and then, to recharge our batteries and take a few days away from our daily routines to slow things down.  Having a short break does provide the chance to observe what goes on about us; take in different and sometimes new experiences, and sometimes doing something that we would not normally do.  I am not a beach person, but sometimes, it is nice to sit, listen to the waves and enjoy the world around us.  We are here on this earth for a short period of time; it is up to us to maximize our experiences while we are here.  As a friend recently pointed out, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Shiner

“Wayne, pay attention to what you are doing,” my Dad must have said to me on many occasions. Growing up, I had a linoleum cutting kit that came with sharp tools used to whittle a soft area over harder wood. Not staying focus meant I could cut myself, which I learned the hard way.  My parents also bought me a wood burning kit, where you used a different tips connected to a handle that was plugged into the wall.  Yes, I did not pay attention and burned various shaped holes in my Mom’s plastic, fluorescent orange place mats.  I am not sure why my parents bought me these potentially dangerous “toys”, that will be a different article.  Whether I listened or not, Dad’s advice was good and could be used on almost anything we do.

So what does this have to do with the black eye that I have in the picture? My wife and her friend went to Florida and I happily picked them up from the airport at midnight.  I drove the friend home and then headed home.  As I got out of the car, I “popped” the trunk, walked around the car and as I reached the back I “flicked” the truck open – something that I have done hundreds of times in my life.  I bent over to reach into the trunk to retrieve the suitcase. BAM!  What I did not notice (“Wayne, pay attention…”) was that the trunk lid either did not go up all the way or “bounced” and was coming down.  In the great debate about when you are hit in the head does one see tweety birds or stars, I can now vote in the stars section.  This was a reminder that you still need to pay attention to things even if you have done them 100 times before.

I guess my quote of the day is:
“Pay attention to what you are doing.” ~ Arnold Zeiler

Monday, March 2, 2015

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We spent the last two weeks visiting colleges as our daughter, Rebecca, has narrowed her final decision to these schools.  We are very excited to see where she will be heading next year and know that this is not an easy choice.  She is turning 18 this week and has reached the point in her life where she has to make her first big decision in her life.  She is about to join all of those college kids, weighing in her mind what to do.  Some might see this as an end to childhood, but others, like myself, see this as a start on the next exciting part of her life, and making decisions will be a part of it.

During her life, like the rest of us, she will come across different broad approaches that people and organizations face when asked to make a decision:
  1. Make the decision and stick by it – This can be either swiftly made or time is set aside to make the decision.  Sometimes the relevant factors are captured, or the decisions are made intuitively.  Generally exhibits high confidence in ability to make the choice. 
  2. Paralysis by Analysis – This group is very good at gathering information, making lists and including relevant and irrelevant points.  While doing one’s due diligence is important, some have the tendency to spend too much time on this.  The outcome is that the decision takes a long time to make, and in some cases, things change and a new decision is required.
  3. Indecisive – Point number two can give this impression, but it really stands on its own.  We all know someone, or an organization, that has difficulty making choice: they will not know what to do.  Usually there is a lot of hemming and hawing, and the big question of, “What would you do?”  This approach can lead to stagnation…
  4. Procrastinate – Promote the fact that there will be a decision, but at some point in the future.  Can use words like, “We will defer this for now,” or “Let’s see how this plays out,” or, “By next year, ‘things’ will change in our favor”. 

Merriam-Webster defines the word Decision as

  • a choice that you make about something after thinking about it : the result of deciding
  • the ability to make choices quickly and confidently
  • the particular end of a legal or official argument : a legal or official judgment

I have confidence that Rebecca will make a good decision, and in a timely manner, and will stick by her decision (should second-guessing be a category?).  As parents, Debbie and I will support her decision, as we will throughout her life (I expect to be around for a LONG, LONG time).  We can provide counsel for her, but decision-making will now be a part of her life as she really begins that transition to adulthood (yes, our baby is growing up).  College, continuing education, job / entrepreneurial choice, a spouse, buying a house, etc. are all in front of her, her older sister Gab and all teens. This is where they make the choice that will define how their stories will be written.  I look forward to reading the book of their lives and being there for them.