Thanks to Nicole and Danae at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center‘s CPAC where Terri Anderson Burnett works for inviting me to speak for one of their “Black History Month” events. I gave a talk and presentation centered on the topic “African Americans and the Vote“ and enjoyed learning lots while doing the research for this opportunity. A couple of years ago, I spoke at their “Martin Luther King Jr. Day” event.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
I enjoy discovering new facts while doing research to give talks, presentations, and even music clinic. What I learn each year during Martin Luther King, Jr. and African American recognition periods is always enlightening.
Having lived long enough to be a “Papa” and “Nana” (grandfather and grandmother) now, we’ve actually lived lots of significant and interesting “history” ourselves.
Ultimately, we’ve found that despite the inherentissues and mythswithin human society, the fact is that there is only one race – the human race. We are one family.
According to a Harvard study, music is indeed the “universal language.”
This and other contemporary studies reinforce my beliefs in this regard as well.
No matter where we’ve visited or lived in the world, we were able to communicate with others through the common bond of music. That’s cool.
On January 24, 2020, I had the honor and privilege of sharing research and methods with my colleagues and peers at the annual Missouri Music Educators Association In-Service Workshop Conference. Sponsored by MMEA and Conn-Selmer, Inc.
T went with me and we had a pretty good time together as well.
Every year since we have been together, we have had a “winter vacation break project.”You know this type project. Yours probably could even be one like our office bookshelf and office storage space morphed into. It’s something that you plan to get around to doing, but never do during the course of the year because you can find what you need in the immediate and are able to get done what you need to get done despite there being no organized system in place to facilitate efficiency and accountability.
BUT . . . WE TRULY ARE ORGANIZED PEOPLE . . . REALLY WE ARE . . .
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher . . . is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist’ . . .”
– Maria Montessori
Nonetheless, it never fails that we find a better system or more logical process to use somewhere in our day-to-day living that helps out tremendously.
And it seems that during the course of simply living, while continuing to learn and grow, we will periodically find that old systems and methods are no longer functionally useful.
THE LIBRARY OF A COUPLE OF ACTIVE PROFESSIONAL WOODWIND MUSICIANS
“The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”
– Jean Piaget
We use everything in our office bookshelf space as part of our business activities, woodwind studio teaching practices, and individual studies as professional musicians.
So, in our experiences, such resets are usually a good thing.
SOME HISTORIC ITEMS + JAMES R. FUCHS AND CHARLIE MOLINA
“It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.”
– Ella Fitzgerald
I started playing a band instrument in the 9th grade, which is still late by most standards. In addition to the cursory learning to play some rudimentary form of the recorder, I studied the violin in the 4th grade growing up in Paola, Kansas. Yes, Paola, Kansas. However, I participated in private music programs at our church and had pretty good general music classes during grade school and junior high.
“Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Involve me, and I understand.”
– Chinese proverb
Mr. Jim Fuchs taught me clarinet and saxophone. I played clarinet initially and then essentially played the saxophone from the 10th grade onward. Paola had its own music store in town back then too. That’s how I first met Charlie Molina, who was one of the owners and a Conn Clinician. I auditioned and successfully passed auditions to qualify for the military music programs of both, the Army and Air Force. I chose the Army.
“I’m still learning.”
*The main photograph of this post is from our family trip to England during Christmas time – exactly 5 years ago on this date. All other photographs are during the work.
A former colleague of ours from our days in Germany in the late 1970s sent these recordings of our Army band back then performing in several contexts.
This colleague, Bruce Shockley is a fantastic musician and still performs professionally.
The included photographs in this post that are not taken by me or T are primarily from the personal archives of two other former colleagues, Bob Levitsky and Dan Flake.
GERMANY TOUR YEARS: 1976-1980
What is interesting for us today is to now look back at those days and realize 1977 was only 32 years after the end of World War II, the Cold War was still a thing, and our job with the military was to go around playing music to spread goodwill.
To get a contextual idea of what contemporary life for us in Germany during those years was like visit the House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany website at https://www.hdg.de/
We thought our children and grandchildren might find it interesting to listen to us performing music when we first met (and before we were married in 1979).
We were also just 21-year-old performing artists and gaining experience.
Although we were playing 250 to 300+ concerts and ceremonies each year by then, we were still new professionals.
Working that much builds chops and perspective.
The first two recordings are from a partnership concert and are representative of what the concert band sounded like. In addition to ceremonial music, it also demonstrates the type of music we most often played for German civilian audiences or important functions. T plays flute and I play alto saxophone on these recordings.
We played everywhere from historical concert halls to outdoor concerts for combat arms specialty troops on maneuver training out in the woods. And events that included most everything in between those two…
The song titled “Corazon” is from the Woody Herman band’s library.
It also documents the first ever improvised jazz solo that I took with the jazz band in Germany.
The second song is an adaptation by the famous arranger, composer and former military musician Sammy Nestico titled “Dvorak’s Theme.”
The main photograph of this post is of the Jay McShann tribute big band saxophone section which included (left to right):
Gerald Dunn, Christopher Burnett (yes, with the large Afro hairstyle), Dennis Winslett, Bobby Watson, Ahmed Alaadeen and Kerry Strayer (not shown).
I had actually met the great Jay McShannand interacted with him several times.
This tribute event was held in early 2007 at the historic Gem Theater in the jazz district of Kansas City.
Alaadeen, who first introduced me to Jay, invited me to play in this tribute – but, I don’t think he was formerly authorized to do so because the cats initially acted somewhat surprised to see me there with my horn.
Even though nobody said anything to me, I figured it out when there were three alto players during the first set. Awkward. Normally I would have left under such circumstances and not even played but I listened to my inner voice and stayed.
And since I had actually met Jay and interacted with him several times enough to have gotten to know him somewhat, I wanted to simply add my musical voice to this tribute.
It turned out to be a very nice event honoring a true master of jazz and blues.
Jay McShann was also the first professional bandleader to hire Charlie Parker.
We played two sets. Bobby had to leave after the first and let me play lead the next set.
All of the players were pretty nice to me since I could play the parts and was there unawares and sincerely by invitation of a KC jazz master.
This was my introduction to the realities of life in the music outside of military bands.
Sometimes you just have to make a place for yourself in life and the music industry because others won’t do it for you. What a great opportunity and honor this was.
Those are the types of substantive lessons I learned from the late Ahmed Alaadeen along with the technical aspects of music we studied. He was my last great teacher.
I’m still going strong and have artistically established myself teaching music in addition to performing and composing.
I began my career by serving 22-years with the professional military bands system.
And 2018 marked another career milestone of being professionally active on the at-large music industry scene for 22-years after military service. That’s pretty cool.
2019 marks entry into new territory of sorts…
As my late brother who was truly a world class musician once told me:
We started a tradition in our family several years ago called Thanksgiving-Christmas where we select a timeframe during the season that allows everyone to come together at the Burnett Grandparents’ home to celebrate both of these holidays at the same time with one another.
Thanksgiving-Christmas is a convenient practice when you have adult children with families and lives of their own.
You really only have one family.
You always gain new family members – related by blood and related by bond.
You always lose family members along the way through death and drama.
Family members come and go in and out of your life for whatever reasons.
All of the music I write is motivated by life – a person, place or thing.
THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG
Being a child of the US Civil Rights Era (literally, I was born in 1955), I watched my parents work twice as hard to just be even, vote for the first time in their forties and never teach hate or negativity to us children.
I also saw the stresses of life as a black family after they left military service society contribute to their ultimate divorce.
The last conversation I had with my father before he left for good was one where I saw a tear in his eye.
Until then, I had never before seen him even come close to crying.
He saw that I noticed and told me that crying isn’t a weakness but a strength.
“When we cry it is our purest form of sincerity and it’s a form of communication that is beyond language.
And when we cry angels sing.”
I never forgot that wisdom.
Anytime I confront issues of social justice I remember how important it is to provide sanctuary for those in our charge like our spouse and children.
I’ve had to start over a few times over the years dealing with life matters compounded by the fact of who I am as a man.
We have a thing in our family that is a commitment to never leave anyone behind because we all are going to be wounded by society and life at some point.
I’m committed to living a positive life, with love and one of meritorious self-determination.
Sometimes you run into people who hurt you for that, but I always remember – “when we cry, angels sing” …
And we grow stronger too.
I’m not a poet by any means. But all of my music also has lyrics although I perform and record my music instrumentally.
“WHENEVER WE CRY”
May not be en vogue To be so open and sincere Being in love finds a way To expose every weakness and fear To reveal all of your sunshine and good cheer
So don’t be put off by the moisture in my
Eyes can only see Some things and how they need to be In life’s rude games sometimes played Or those times when we forget to use our best selves
As your own child takes those first steps Hold your breath