I’m just a living legacy of the leader of the band. – Dan Fogelberg
“What was I thinking? This is too hard for me to play. Who am I trying to impress?’ All these thoughts run through my head as I get ready to take the stage, guitar in hand and lump in my throat.
It’s 1980 something and for extra credit, in my college music class, a group of us offered to put on a short concert for the professor and students. We discussed what songs we would play and the professor agreed. We were all in!
I picked a piece I knew the professor would like. “Moonlight in Vermont” A classic in the jazz world and one that challenged my abilities. You see, the professor was a local jazz vocalist that sang in clubs. She was a professional use to playing with talented artists from all over the East Coast of the US. She went by the stage name of Ms. V.
The day arrived and before class the three of us that were set to play meet to decide who would go first. I was set to go last. The first musician played the violin. She picked a peppy little tune that met her skill level, she had been playing about four years.
The second musician played guitar too. He took a while to set up as he had what looked to be every electronic device known to man to hook to his guitar. Wah-wah pedal, time delay effect, pedals that I don’t even know what they did.
He made that guitar scream. He did a loose version of the Star Spangled Banner ala Jimi Hendrix that lasted a good ten minutes. It was like the scene from Back To The Future where Marty McFly takes the legendary Chuck Berry song Jonnie B Good and morphs it in into a Van Halen guitar solo.
The classes response much like the kids in Back To The Future, staring at him with his guitar in disbelief which then turned to a good round of applause.
Now was my turn and even though the group of students numbered only twenty, it happened. Stage fright. Self-doubt. I had been playing guitar for more than ten years this should not be a problem.
I take the stage feeling my face turn red, the palm of my hands sweating like a fire hydrant opened for the street kids to play in. “Moonlight in Vermont” is a technically difficult tune with odd chord progressions and some tricky riffs. I knew by the reaction of Ms.V that she wanted to see if I could pull it off.
As I get seated to play a plan runs through my head. I’ll play something I know that is easy for me and then play the harder tune. Prepare myself and settle my nerves. I launch into “Ode To Joy”. It is one of those tunes I could play with my eyes closed even if my guitar was out of tune I still had the fingering down by heart and it was the anchor I needed.
I looked up at the audience and Ms. V when I finished and I can see the look of confusion on her face. This wasn’t the song I proposed. I took the leap of faith and invited Ms. V on stage and asked her to join me for an impromptu duet of “Moonlight”. The lyrics are really quite beautiful. and I was certain she knew the song.
She jumped up and I hoped for the best. She was brilliant and while no Johnny Smith, I held my own. We got a standing O from the group of students. It was a great day from me and I was honored she agreed to accompany me.
I learned that day that although it is nice to stay with the familiar but, when you stretch and get out of your comfort zone, you can make beautiful music together.