How Jazz Changed My Life

I hated jazz. Jazz was the most boring, lame, outdated music in the world. If there wasn’t a wicked guitar solo or vocals it wasn’t worth listening to. (I did listen to some classical music, and for some reason that didn’t seem ironic to me at the time.)

My oldest brother started playing drums in his high school jazz band, and he started to listen to this horrible jazz music instead of Boston or Third Eye Blind. It didn’t make any sense.

I was 13 at the time and I was all about that rock music. Then something crazy happened.

One day as I sat downloading music on Napster, playing a ripped off PC version of Final Fantasy (they were simpler days), my brother walked up and asked me if I wanted to come to a concert with him and his friends. He got free tickets to see the Ray Brown trio live in Salt Lake City.

I had no idea who Ray Brown was, but my brother said he was great and I wasn’t about to pass up a free concert. So I went.

What happened next was somewhat of a miracle for me.

I sat in the back of the crowded hotel event center, surrounded by my brothers friends and lots of grown ups and began to witness something that I had never seen before.

I watched as Ray Brown played an instrument I wasn’t even aware existed, and was twice as big as any stringed instrument I had ever seen play improvised solos that blew my thirteen year old mind to the moon.

Ray took what looked like a behemoth instrument and played some of the fastest, most exciting solos those little ears had ever heard. He would back up his drummer and pianist in the most skillful ways. I understood in that moment why jazz musicians use the word “tasty” to describe a great lick or solo, when the Ray Brown trio played, it was so good I could almost taste it.

I remember to this day the moment that I decided I wanted to play upright bass. When Ray pulled out the bow and played a beautiful and moving solo over My Funny Valentine I was hooked. I had to play bass, I had to play jazz. Nothing in the world was going to stop me.

A few weeks later I started taking lessons, then I joined the high school’s summer orchestra program. I was too embarrassed to play with the orchestra because I had no idea what I was doing. But I would close myself off in a practice room at school and practice for three hours straight, every day, all summer long.

I joined the orchestra and jazz band when I got to high school and continued to play as much as possible.

Later I moved to Arizona with my family and, through a summer jazz workshop, I got accepted to the Mesa Community College jazz performance program.

I flourished as a musician at MCC. I practiced and jammed with great musicians there. I studied with Fred Forney, who taught me more about jazz in the one year that I was there than I learned in high school, and more than I would learn at Brigham Young University about jazz.

When I got back from my LDS mission I got accepted into the Brigham Young University school of music and quickly started playing in every ensemble I could.

Over my time at BYU I played in virtually every ensemble there was. I played in their top jazz bands, orchestras, concert bands. I started gigging at nights to help pay for school and was making some money, I still needed to work part-time elsewhere, but it was some extra income.

I met my wife in the practice room hallway of the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU. I enlisted into the National Guard and now play with the 23rd Army Band. I’ve had the privilege of associating with some great musicians and continue to play music whenever I can.

My career goals have shifted while at BYU. Not all of my experiences in music were positive and I needed to make money, which music was not going to provide.

Even though I don’t play jazz as much as I used to I have never regretted the time I spent learning that art. I have made great memories, amazing friends, I found my wife (who is perfect and amazing for me), I have gained experience in life and music. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world.

Ray Brown died the year after I saw him in concert. He passed just months before he was scheduled to come back out to Salt Lake again. So I didn’t get to see him perform again. I’m OK with that now, because this way my only memory of Ray Brown was a life-changing one.

So thank you Ray Brown and jazz music. You are truly an inspiration.


Who are your musical inspirations?