HOW I LEARNED TO PLAY BY EAR

January 28, 2015

THE DOWNBEATS

Here’s a 1963 picture of “The Downbeats” with our matching red blazers.  I’m the towhead on the right with the clarinet.  Our pianist had an unnerving habit of calling off complex Broadway arrangements he had worked up at home.  During this show, he started playing “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from My Fair Lady) in C.  I was doing all right, until we got to the bridge.  It modulates into the key of E major, which put my clarinet in F#.  Suddenly, i was awash in a sea of 6 deadly sharps, like an accidental waiting to happen.  I felt about as graceful as Charlie Chaplin on ice skates.  I wished i had skipped the gig and gone surfing.

Three days later, i met Alvin “Al” Learned, the founder of the legendary Westlake School of Jazz. Al promised to arm me with the tools i needed to calmly…

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