"Tom, would you like some coffee? "
I was chatting with a legend.
And if I'm lucky I'll have another one or two
more opportunities like this in my entire life.
Many evenings back in the late 1970's found
the two of us chatting in the back room at
Preservation Hall, in New Orleans.
Kid Thomas Valentine and me.
We talked about making a living as a musician
and about how to manage a band.
I recall one night when his "Algiers Stompers"
were playing at the Hall.
After their first set, the band took a break.
I joined them in that back room, sipping on
my 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 his 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, new fads become trends, which become
standards that in time inspire new fads.
A fad in his youth, Thomas was one of the earliest
jazz pioneers in New Orleans. And his old, rough
style still thrilled fans worldwide, me included.
Thomas was one of the last men to play that
old style, and he still had it!
I wish I knew then what I understand now!
What questions I'd ask Thomas!
Instead I started this evening's conversation with,
"Tom, how did you begin playing in a band?"
How lame! But that was the best I could do.
How would YOU talk with a god?
Here's what he told me (in my own words,
not his, of course).
"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."
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
it contains an important lesson.
So here's that Tip I promised you:
Whatever we practice -- good habits or harmful ones
-- that's what we'll get better at.
Why am I talking about PRACTICING?
Whatever you want to get better at,
THAT's what you need to practice.
And stop practicing whatever doesn't help.
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
what 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 are tempting, so errors
always lurk around the corner.
Keeping that in mind, I'm always practicing --
Helping people celebrate and always practicing.
Mostly at private events like weddings and parties.