Last month, I was invited down to the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami to give a master class and concert to the school’s jazz piano majors. Truth be told, I had studied jazz piano at UM for a year back in 1988, before leaving to apprentice with Kenny Baron, the pianist that would become my mentor at Rutgers University. So returning to UM two decades later as a guest artist and clinician would prove to be an honor, as well as a chance to revisit my musical youth.
The world outside music schools may change, but the environment in which a musician gets his or her proverbial chops together has remained virtually unaltered for generations. You listen, you learn, you practice your brains out until your hands, ears, and mind become synchronized. Being back at UM after so many years in the “real world” made me realize what a utopian atmosphere music school really is. Seeing younger versions of myself practicing, performing, and viscerally moved by just talking about music made me realize how lucky I was to have had the chance to study in such a nurturing atmosphere as that one.
Presenting to the students was a rare chance to give back. I told them, through anecdotes and examples from my own professional career, that never giving up is much of the battle in mounting a music career — that no matter how offbeat their musical ideas may seem to others (and even themselves at times), it’s that very unique perspective that makes true innovators sound the way they do. Believing in yourself, and staying open and positive to what life hands you, can carry you a long, long way. My career is proof positive of that very idea.
After finishing my lecture, I performed a few of my own songs with a rhythm section from the school’s concert jazz band. Hearing kids nearly half my age play my music with fire and ferocity reaffirmed my faith that the music of tomorrow is in good hands. In the words of Reverend Al Green, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
I returned to New York with a sense of accomplishment. Two decades ago I set out on an uncharted path towards a career in music. Returning to the place where it all began showed me, and the talented students studying there, that anything is possible if you never give up.