The jazz guru

Well Sean, I have something to tell you,” said, Vinney, my drum instructor as he sat beside me getting ready to wrap up the lesson. “This unfortunately is going to be our last lesson with one another. I am starting a new career next week and it will be taking up all of my time. I just wanted to let you know that you are one of my favorite students and I think you have some real potential as a drummer.”

“Man, this sucks," I thought to myself.

Vinney was this hip, cool Rock 'n Roll drummer and I’ll never find another instructor out there like him.

Just as the thought crossed my mind Vinney said, “Now, just because I’m no longer going to teach you, I still want you to pursue another instructor and I have just the right person for you! He’s a little older and he’s not a Rock 'n Roll type drummer, however, you will teach you things that no one will ever be able to teach."

He then reached down to his briefcase and pulled out his notepad and a pen and began to write in script the name of the gentlemen that would supposedly teach me all I need to know about drums and technique. As he was writing, I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was the end of taking lessons.

After Vinney was done writing on the piece of paper that I knew would just end up in the garbage, he placed the paper down on my practice pad, took his drum stick and pointed at the paper and said, “This man will change your drumming world and bring your talent to the next level.”

I looked at him, smiled and said, “OK, I will give him a call.”

Knowing full well I wasn’t going to call him. Vinney, then placed his hand on my shoulder, and said his final goodbye speech, packed up his sticks, books and briefcase and made his way to the door. He then turned around and said, “By the way, he’s big into jazz music. It’s not like the Rock n’ Roll we learn here together, but trust me, it will really help you with your chops.”

The door closed behind Vinney and I said softly under my breath, “Jazz music? Why the hell would I want to learn how to play jazz? Help with my chops? I think I have pretty good technique already, and I’m a Rock 'n Roll drummer.”

I then starred down at the piece of paper, shook my head and stuck the piece of paper in my pocket. A few weeks went by and I would occasionally think about calling this jazz drum instructor by the name of Sonny Igoe.

After much pondering I thought, “Maybe I’ll just call him and see what he’s all about. It can’t hurt to give it a try.”

So, that next morning I grabbed the phone and began to dial Sonny’s number.

“Hello?” Sonny said.

“Hi, Sonny? My name is Sean McCormack and I was referred to you by Vinney my old drum instructor.”

“Vinney? I don’t know a Vinney! What are you trying to sell me sir?” He replied.

“Uh, nothing. I was told to give you a call in regards to taking some lessons with you,” I said.

Then there was that eerie silence on the other end of the phone.

“Hello?” I said.

The next thing I heard was a very hardy and contagious laughter on the other end of the phone.

“I’m just messing around with you kid, I just want to make sure you have a good sense of humor before you decide to take some lessons with me. You can’t always be so serious you know" he said.

I began to laugh and agreed with him.

“So, I’m free Sunday morning at 6:00a.m., it’s an hour lesson for $100. I will see you then?” he asked.

I said, “Uh, Sunday? 6:00a.m.? Uh, yes I will be there.”

“Great, bring a smile, a good attitude and oh yeah, your drum sticks!” he said.

Sunday morning I was awakened by my alarm clock at 5:20a.m. I reached for my alarm and laid back down.

“Jazz music? 5:30a.m.? What am I doing? Just get up and do this Sean, it may be all well worth it.”

So, up out of bed and got myself ready with all of my sticks, smiles and a somewhat of a good attitude. After about a half hour drive I reached my destination and was let in through the backdoor by Sonny’s wife.

“Sonny, Sean is here and he has a big smile on his face. So far so good!” she shouted down to Sonny.

I made my way down the staircase and was greeted by 80 year old, happy-go-lucky gentleman. He shook my hand and thanked me for coming by and told me to take a seat. I couldn’t help but look around at all of the black and white photo’s hanging up in the studio and I began to realize that this guy was a big deal. We sat down at our practicing pads and he told me to pick up the drum sticks and just alternate the sticks by hitting the drum pad.

I picked up the sticks and began to strike the drum pad, thinking to myself, “This is odd.”

“OK, stop," he said. "We are going to start from the extreme basics of holding the drum stick and learning to strike the drum properly.”

He then picked up his sticks and began to demonstrate exactly what he wanted me to do. It seemed so basic to me, and I felt as if I was moving my potential in the opposite direction. Fast forward seven years later from our first session and I was still taking lessons with Sonny. I learned so much from that man, from day one to the last session we had. From holding a stick and striking the drum properly to reading jazz big band chart music.

He opened up so much potential in my playing abilities and I grew and learned so much about music and about life in general. Here was an 80-year-old man who when behind the kit, played like he was in his 20’s. He was filled with so much knowledge and insight about the drums that I never thought I’d learn as much as I did from him that first time we met.

Mentor

In life we all try to find someone that we can look up to and learn more from. In my case, I had and still have the opportunity to learn from the best, my father. I remember the day I made the decision I wanted to become a Plumbing Contractor.

I'll never forget his words, "Plumbing is the easy part. Knowing how to deal with customers is the hard part."

My father is not one to literally sit with someone and show them how to do certain plumbing tasks. However, he is one that you can learn from just by watching and observing his techniques and the way he speaks and handles plumbing situations and customers.

I’ve learned so much from my father about business and about life. There are times that I still think I know more than he does when it comes to plumbing, but then I’m quickly reminded that I still have a lot to learn. I try to keep an open mind when I’m working out in the field every day and I try to soak up as much information as possible.

Become open-minded

During the end of that lesson I had with Vinney, I thought I had learned everything I needed to know about drumming and that there was no one out there that could teach me quite as well as he did. I quickly shot down the idea of reaching out and learning from an 80-year-old jazz guy.

Good thing I had a change in heart and decided not to box myself in and become close minded. I learned so much from Sonny, not only with my rudiments and reading of big band music, but about life in general. Whoever it is that you look up to and learn from, it is important to never think you know it all and that there is always room for improvement in life and in business.

You must learn to adapt to change and be open minded to learning from others. Either you look up to someone older than you or you may look up to someone who is younger than you. Regardless of who it is or how old he or she is, you must keep an open mind. Never box yourself in!

Let me know who your mentor is in your life. Please email me. 

Sean McCormack is co-owner of BMC Plumbing and Heating Inc. He can be reached by email at seanmccormack99@yahoo.com; phone 845-596-7770; Twitter @seantheplumber1; and Periscope @seantheplumber. Visit www.seantheplumber.com.

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