27 June 2022

Music and me

I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t listening to music. My regret is that I never learned to play anything. Like so many people my age, I learnt the recorder at school, but I never actually liked the sound. Then, when I was 11 years old, I got the chance to learn trumpet. There were only two trumpets available and four of us were selected. We had to provide our own mouthpiece. However, a spell in hospital meant my place went to someone else.

I don’t know if I would have had the dedication required. It would have been good to have the opportunity, though. Apparently, my aunt and uncle offered to pay for piano lessons for me. We had no piano and no space for one, so it never happened. A little later, when I got into jazz, I wanted to learn saxophone. In my inner world, it was going to be either soprano or baritone sax. Harry Carney from the Duke Ellington orchestra was probably the influence for baritone. Here’s Harry playing with Duke Ellington in 1966.

Incidentally, you need a lot of puff to play baritone, but Harry Carney had an additional trick up his sleeve. He could do circular breathing, and use that technique to enhance his playing, not just as a party piece.

I don’t know where the idea of soprano sax came from. The first jazz musician to play soprano was I think Sidney Bechet. He’s still probably the greatest.

I don’t know if my school would have helped, but I never said it out loud anyway. Working class kids like me tended not to have high expectations. I was pleased enough to have made it to Grammar School. It never occurred to me to expect anything else. Now, looking back, I realise that I listen to the piano most often, whether classical or jazz. My hands still twitch when I listen!

Despite never learning to play an instrument, I was introduced to much music via listening to recorded music at school. The music teachers I had were fairly open-minded, so played a wide range. It was mainly classical, of course, but not always. It was via music lessons at school, too, that I learned to listen to music. The teacher handed out miniature scores for a piece, then play something from say the second violins. We had to follow that in our score as the recording played. We didn’t need to read music for this. It was enough to follow the up and down sequences in the melody line. After a minute or so, he would stop the music and ask us which bar we were now on.

I don’t recall being particularly good at it, but it worked. I can still listen to a symphony and separate the different musical lines as the piece unrolls. It works in jazz too, providing a key to what many seem to think is just noise. Without the ability to separate the various instruments, I’m sure that is the case. I am eternally grateful to that teacher from so many years ago who left that legacy. Thank you, Mr Tweddle (always pronounced Tweddell!)

1 Comment

  • I find your description of your music experience interesting. I did have several years of piano when I was quite young, played by ear, but our life circumstances altered and I was not able to continue with the lessons. I, too, wish I had been able to continue with music. My decade older brother had learned the trumpet and played through high school, years later with D.C. bands after he got out of U.S. Navy at end of WWII and was going to electronics training there. Mom took me to local Philharmonic Orchestra Concerts where we lived in Great Lakes state. Orchestra was led by a prominent musician who had played with Paul Whiteman Orchestra. I developed a broad music taste but loved Gershwin’s melding of classical and jazz with “Rhapsody in Blue.” Jazz continues to be a favorite to me. Coincidentally, I married a man whose avocation was as a professional jazz musician playing the upright bass. Before I met him performing occasionally with the Quintet on the live talk show where I worked he had his own jazz groups including a vocal one similar to the Hi Lo’s.

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