My Inspirations: Irving Fazola

My Inspirations: Irving FazolaWhen I approached editor Andy Senior offering to write an occasional column about light hearted musical musings all and sundry he gave me his blessing, so it is my privilege to herein present my inaugural column to you.

I paraphrased the title from one of my favorite tunes, Bob Haggart’s delightful “My Inspiration,” composed for the great clarinetist Irving Fazola who recorded it with the Bob Crosby Orchestra. Haggart conceived his musical journey in three parts. The first section is in the key of G minor; brooding low-voiced chords rumble underneath a sobbing, repetitive six-note motif in the melody. The tempo is contemplative, the beat subtle. Staying in the same tempo, Haggart moves to his next theme: a 12-bar blues in the parallel major key to the first section (so, G major). While the feel is still melancholy, this simple change of key offers a brighter sound, a ray of light peeking through the clouds. An abrupt halt to this section catapults us into the third theme, introduced by a four-bar drum with brushes. The tempo is doubled for this final section; over the chords and structure of the first two sections, Fazola and the band wail away in joyful abandon.

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I find meaningful parallels between this jazz tour-de-force and the past 16 months of my life. When my wife Anne and I safely returned home from an extensive tour in CA on March 16, 2020, we knew it was time to hunker down. We shared most everyone else’s notion that this “virus vacation” would last a few months at most. Fast forward to the present, and we have spent more time in our home and studio in Mystic, CT over the past 16 months than we have spent during the previous 16 years! And that’s precisely wherein lies the inspiration for my inaugural column: finding joy in the unexpected. Because (and only because) our performance-based travel schedule screeched to an abrupt halt, we’ve “seen” more of our families and friends around the world via Zoom and FaceTime; become gardeners—tripling the amount of space devoted to growing green things this year vs. last; baked two to four loaves of bread a week; made kimchi, hummus, and other healthy foods; explored the rejuvenating powers of Yoga; read more than ever before, both for fun and study; expanded our musical repertoire; discovered scores of new hiking locations and historical, sprawling cemeteries; and embraced the beauty in stillness.

Irving Fazola
The inspiring Irving Fazola

We also realized how amazingly fortunate we are for our health, our home, our hobbies, and the hope we habitually harbor in our hearts. So many with so much less have suffered so much more than have we. A few months before the pandemic shut everything down, I was examining the notion of one’s place in this world with drummer Kevin Dorn as we drove together to a gig. We discussed that although we are both fundamentally optimistic people, gnawing, clawing demons are always searching for a breach in our defenses. We agreed that imagery helps a great deal. I mentioned some “mantras” I daily recite (the first one is simply, “Embrace Positivity; Erase Negativity”) and Kevin brought up a marvelous image to which I return almost every day. Let’s call it the “Cosmic Roulette Wheel Conundrum.”

Kevin suggested that when you are feeling at your lowest, you imagine a Roulette Wheel on which every slot represents a human life on earth—so this Roulette Wheel has over seven billion slots. Your choice is to accept your lot in life by not playing the game or take your chances to improve your situation. If you spin, once the ball comes to rest in a slot, that is the person you immediately become, assuming their identity and everything that is (or isn’t) in their lives. You only get one chance to spin this wheel; it will disappear after you’ve played. For a moment, give this question some serious contemplation: Would you spin the wheel?

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That’s it for my maiden voyage, campers! Among other foci, future columns will feature stories from my earlier musical life, some heartwarming, some heart stopping, several so outrageous you’ll insist they couldn’t possibly be true, but I promise you they are. Stay safe, stay sane, play and/or listen to some great music and above all, to quote a departed mentor and friend of mine, pianist Ralph Sutton: “Keep breathin’!”

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Jeff Barnhart is an internationally renowned pianist, vocalist, arranger, bandleader, recording artist, ASCAP composer, educator and entertainer. Visit him online at www.jeffbarnhart.com. Email: [email protected]

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