I was chatting with a legend.
If I'm lucky, I'll expect another one,
more opportunities like this
in my entire life.
Many evenings found the two of us chatting
at Preservation Hall, in
Me and Kid Thomas Valentine.
We talked about making a living as a musician
about managing a band.
I recall one night when his Algiers Stompers
playing at the
Hall (twice a week in
back in the late 1970s).
After their first set, the band took
I joined them in that back room, sipping on
styrofoam cup of coffee. Kid Thomas was
enjoying a sandwich he brought from home.
Short, slim, and already in his eighties,
Thomas still played his hot, bluesy, percussive
trumpet just like he did in his twenties.
This was the style young Louis Armstrong learned,
before he popularized a more colorful style of
playing that focused on bold harmonies and
his rapid-fire solo technique.
Armstrong's newer style swept the jazz world,
but Thomas clung to the old way he played so well.
It's the way of the world, you know: Everywhere
you look, fads become
trends, which become
standards that spawn new fads.
Change is everywhere. How many of us do work
today that didn't even exist a generation ago?
I knew this: Thomas was one of the earliest jazz
pioneers in New Orleans. And his old, rough style
still thrilled fans worldwide, me included.
one of the last men to play that
still had it!
I wondered where I'd be at his age. And I
put those thoughts aside. But I still
wonder, you know?
I wish I knew then what I understand now!
What questions I'd ask Thomas! To hear stories
that now I'll never hear.
Instead I started this evening's conversation with,
"Tom, how did you begin playing in a band?"
At the time that was the best I could do.
How would YOU talk with a god?
Here's what he told me (in my own words,
"Well, I got together with a few kids. We barely
knew how to play, and we knew only one song.
So we practiced. And practiced. We played that
song over and over. We played it fast. We played
it slow. We played it loud. We played it soft.
We practiced it so much we'd never forget it."
Fascinated and curious, I asked, "Tom, what
was that song you practiced so much?"
And he replied: WHAT? THAT WAS SO LONG AGO,
WHO COULD REMEMBER?
Hmmmm, I said to myself, a good sense of humor.
I don't know how much of the story is true, but
there's an important lesson here.
Here it is: Whatever we practice, THAT'S
what we'll get better at.
In other words, whatever you want to get
better at, THAT's what you need to practice.
This lesson has helped me through the years
and I rely on it every day. To enhance some
of my good habits and to stop reinforcing my
You do it too, I'll bet, whether you realize it
or not. So we all need to be thoughtful about
whatever we work on and how we do it.
It's not brain surgery. I'm sure we all know this.
It's just that shortcuts and errors always lurk
around the corner.
Keeping that always in mind, I'm playing music
nearly every day. Entertaining people and
always practicing. Practicing.
Mostly at private events like weddings and parties.
But occasionally at public festivities somewhere
in the San Francisco Bay Area.
If you're looking for upbeat, elegant music for
an event coming up, played exactly the way you
want it, here are 2 things you can do: