I’m sure not a good writer, but I want to share my story with you. My earliest passion was music in general, and piano in particular. I took lessons with a piano teacher in West Haven, Connecticut. I was nine when I started. He quit teaching me after two years. I wanted to play Night Train! He wanted Sound of Music! Our dispute ended with him leaving for good.
Public school did not want a walk-in two months into the school year after my failed Broadway Show career. Yes, I was on Broadway in The Happy Time, a show starring Robert Goulet. I was a chorus line kid. After two months of rehearsal, I was fired! I guess my dancing wasn’t even close to being good, and my voice changed, too. Dear Dad was there and helped me through that time by acting super disgusted with me, blaming it all on me. I was devastated, I suppose, but I knew Broadway wasn’t in my future. I returned to school only to be met by pissed-off, non-helpful teachers, not to mention bullies who thought a show biz kid was fair game. I begged my folks to put me in a private school, but they weren’t having any of that. In the meantime, I got my first gig at a seedy bar in my home town of North Haven, Connecticut. For me, piano was it, plus a touch of Hammond M-3 organ. Those were my teenage rock days. Talk about Passion! I just loved the great blues piano players, and love of jazz soon followed. Of course, my parents still wanted me on Broadway. Not much had changed, I’m sorry to say!
“Nah, bye-bye” was my response. New Orleans blues piano had me hooked, with dreams of performing on Bourbon Street. But first, I ran away to San Francisco! There I was, 15 years old, in San Fran and learning how to be street-smart and street-quick. Yeh, I still remember and love that time of life! But it wasn’t long before I returned to a weepy mother and a silent father (rare), trying yet again to live with my parents and have a real home. Mostly, it worked out. Or at least as well as could be expected.
I returned to North Haven High School in 1971, by then an aspiring jazz piano player. I was shocked when a first-year teacher from Buffalo, New York, named Jeff Resnick, was hired to teach music at the high school! He had this crazy idea to actually teach jazz music instead of concert band. Heresy! Revolution! He quickly rounded up a bunch of musicians from the school, and formed The Jazz Workshop.
What shocked me the most was that the school administrators allowed him to do that! At least for a while, anyway, until they tried to get rid of him, fearing the unavoidable Sex, Drugs, and Rock-and-Roll lifestyle. Thankfully, they failed!
Jeff attracted different types of musicians, all very fine people with great talent.
Man, we sure had a lot of stories to tell in 1971-1972! But Professor Jeff already wrote a book about that year! Here’s a hint about what that school year turned out to be, taken from his book.
"Word went out. The second week saw the arrival of the hold-outs from both sides of the tracks, but only after hearing about what the new guy had in mind for a school Jazz band. We quickly added a few drummers and percussionists, an unbelievably gifted guitar player, a banjo player, mandolin player, several more singers, and a gentle giant of a piano player whose massive paws covered several octaves."
"Frankly, I didn’t turn anyone down. There was no need to. They were all so damn proficient, so eager to please, so hungry to perform, that I knew I’d figure out a way to showcase the talents of all without needing to sacrifice even one. It turns out they all had their own bands, so what followed was a free-for-all of young musicians eager to show the world what they could do. More than forty-five years later, I can honestly say that I have never experienced quite the same level of excitement and anticipation as I did those first two weeks of my very first teaching job. We didn’t just have a Jazz Workshop, there! We also had a Blue-Grass band, a Rock band, and everything in between. It just doesn’t get any better than that. I was sure I would spend the rest of my life at this school. Naive, I’m afraid, as you’ll soon learn."
"Anyway, I can admit to you now that I was in awe. I thought I was a pretty solid musician in my own right, and had even taught Music classes at UB. But these kids were teaching me about things I hadn’t yet learned through my own experiences. Performers like Captain Beefheart; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Frank Zappa; and, Jean-Luc Ponty. Their repertoire put me to shame. So much so that I decided to get out my trumpet and join the band! Sitting here today at my computer, keying this all in, I can’t help but be reminded of two of my favorite movies of all time: Mr. Holland’s Opus (Richard Dreyfuss) and School of Rock (Jack Black). I love those movies. I can’t see them enough, probably because I lived them in 1971-72. I could have written both screenplays."
We put out an LP record album together, funded by a semi-crazy local businessman.
We performed at The Quinnipiac College Jazz Festival, excited by the well-deserved recognition of our guitar player, Bill Marinelli, as Outstanding Jazz Soloist.
We were interviewed on-air by New Haven radio stations. We played concerts throughout Southern Connecticut, including an exciting show at the student union at Yale University. Looking back, that was a fun time for all of us. Too bad Jeff had to deal with a fart-filled school of unhelpful heads. But he did. And we did, too, despite everything and everyone attempting to stand in our way. The Jazz Workshop advanced me in all ways, especially in listening to all forms of music. So many thanks to Jeff for getting this sometime teen drunkard on the way to a life of playing the music that he loved. Steve Allen helped, as did Jack Dupree, and Dr. John, too.
For me, the journey after high school has been piano bars and night clubs, starting in New Orleans at age 18. Yes, I made it to Bourbon Street after all, even if it was at another seedy dive. I was playing basic blues well enough to get gigs without much trouble. Now 64 years-old, I’ve played all over the world. Some great shows, and some God-awful ones, like November, 1991, in Norway.
Today, cruise ships are the only full-time gigs left in the Piano Bar world. My final years in The Biz are upon me. I’m completing my fourth year on a paddlewheel cruise boat churning out of Oregon. Yes, a real piano gig, no artificial electronics allowed! Frankly, I’m glad that retirement is near. Today’s audiences are tethered to smart phones more than live music. Matrix in reverse! One more year to go, then a place with a window and a Jack Russell Terrier. I tried the mating thing, but I guess I just prefer the solo life. No different than my music. Don’t worry, though, I’ll still play gigs, just not seven days a week as I do now on The American Empress.
Okay, that’s all I got, folks! All the best, Jeff, my guide through teen turbulence. And, to all the fine musicians and comrades of The Jazz Workshop, thanks for allowing me there.
Frank Glenn. (Or, the alter ego, F. Zoar!)
Emails welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: A quick note on “Zoar.” I came up with that name because of a religious cult that chained themselves in caves and cut out their tongues so as never to speak again. Maybe this was considered a way to stop the constant arguments with parents? So I became a member of my “Separatist Society of Zoar.” No, not a religious nut case, just more whiskey and piano and fewer words! Thank goodness I cut way down on the the whiskey, though, which is why I’m still alive to play the piano 47 years later!