My dad is an amazing musician

February 7, 2010


This is an article that ran in the local paper, profiling the Dixieland jazz band that my dad headed up when he was in high school. That’s my dad on clarinet and my uncle on piano, both at the left in the photo. My mom gave me this photocopy a couple of years ago; it landed on my fridge and there it has stayed. I don’t remember now if it’s an old article that she just unearthed or if it’s a recent reprint. At any rate, it’s a fun and interesting thing to have.

Stepping away from the familial connection for a moment, just look at those boys. Do kids who start comparable groups these days have uniforms? Would kids even have a jazz band, or do they just go for—oh, I don’t know—some hip hoppy, dancy thing that they could present on So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent?

Yes, I am out of it.

But apparently my dad and the fellows were not. They played such prestigious events as intermission at a square dance, the straw hat promotion day, the West Side picnic, a meeting of the Young Adult Klub. I’m not poking fun here, but how much more wholesome can you get? Do we long for those innocent days when children were named Vernon and Myron? I just might. People were nicer to each other and didn’t go barreling down the freeway in their Chevy Suburban gas hogs thinking everybody better get outta their way.

My grandfather—my dad’s dad—was fairly musical in an informal way. As a kid and young adult, I remember Grandpa often strumming his ukelele and singing (with a deep voice that would hold about twenty Tiny Tims), or producing a unique double-toned whistle that I could never imitate. My uncle still plays and was a piano tuner by trade. My dad is just about the most incredible musician that I know of.

Although he played the clarinet in his youth, my dad is very much a keyboardist. My parents both always played piano, and my dad was pretty adept at the pipe organ for a while, too. His first career was as a professor of music at the small liberal arts college in the town where I grew up, and he moonlighted as the Methodist church organist for a while. Then he became a piano and organ salesman, which he still is, though the organs have evolved into digital keyboards, and the pianos as well are just as likely to run on motherboards as have hammers that strings.

As a salesman with a storefront, my dad has ample opportunity to “demonstrate.” This puts his playing skills on display whether in the presence of customers or not. The talent that my dad has that I never developed is that of improvisation. He doesn’t need to read music and it seems like he can sit down and play anything.

Every now and then, he gets a piano-playing gig. When my grandmother was still living, her fellow residents would always look forward to his visits because he would sit down at the piano and provide some dinner music, just because he enjoys playing.

I began piano lessons when I was six or seven and added the flute in fifth grade. For one of my college graduations, my parents gave me a digital piano. I’m ashamed to say that it’s been unused for too many years. Maybe I will dust it off one of these days in conjunction with this mini-creative renaissance I’m having.

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