Sunday, May 9, 2021

Music is my way of keeping my brain from turning to mush

If you read books and articles about longevity and the ways in which you're supposed to take care of yourself as you get older, you will inevitably come across the admonition to challenge your mind continually.

Whether it's learning a new language, taking a class, or just doing difficult crossword puzzles every day, the idea is that your brain is like a muscle. And as with any muscle, it must be constantly worked or else it will eventually lose functionality.

I would argue my brain has already atrophied somewhat, but my weapon of choice in the fight against cognitive decline is the tenor saxophone.

As I've mentioned before, I take weekly private lessons from a marvelous sax player and teacher named Ed Michaels. Ed is a talented musician and educator, and just an all-around good guy. I get excited for Mondays at 5:30pm, which is when I get the Google Duo notification indicating that Ed is calling and it's time for our virtual lesson.

These lessons, and my subsequent practice sessions throughout the week, are not easy. Nor would I want them to be.

Ed throws a lot at me, but he does it with a smile and always with the encouragement that he's doing it because I'm "an A-plus student." Whether he's just saying that to make me feel good or he really means it, it doesn't matter. It always inspires me to work harder.

And hard work it is, as I've never formally learned, for example, chord structures. Seventh chords are the foundation of jazz improvisation, so I spend a lot of time playing outlines and scales around major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh, half-diminished, and diminished 7th chords.

These are, as Ed calls them, "The Big Five." And the sound, feel, and sax fingerings for them do not come naturally to me. Thus, I have to drill myself continually.

I'm getting there. I'm no Charlie Parker, nor will I ever be, but slowly, I'm getting closer to playing like Bird than I ever have.

It's not only fun, it's also making my mind work hard, which is largely why I do it.

Forty years from now, when I'm a drooling mess and about to keel over, my goal is be able to play the best solo on "Autumn Leaves" you'll ever want to hear.

I almost can't wait.

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