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Lessons from a Jazz legend

Johnny O'Neil

Johnny O’Neal

My wife and I were in Manhattan recently.  It was her idea to travel up to 103rd Street and Broadway at 11:45PM on a Saturday night to go to the Smoke Jazz Club.  A good friend of hers had recommended we hear the Johnny O’Neal Trio play a set of music.  I didn’t know who Johnny was.  Only later did I find out that he is a piano legend and had appeared in the film “Ray.”  What I discovered after only a few minutes is that I love jazz, especially the jazz that Johnny plays.

We experienced 2 great sets of music and did not leave until after 3 AM (we lost an hour due to spring forward).  Things don’t close down early in NYC.

I am not a music expert but Johnny was different than most of the musicians I have listened to.  He taught me two things.

  1. Speak softly.    Rather than pound on the keyboard Johnny played softly.  His band followed suit.  The audience listened intently.  No one instrument was dominant.  The harmonies came out and were fantastic to listen to.
  2. Promote your friends.  There were about 60 of us listening to the music.  In the second set Johnny called out friends by name to come up and play with him.  There were jazz musicians from around the country that were there listening to the music.  A guest base guitar, a guest keyboard, a guest drummer, a guest vocalist …  At one point all three of the members of the Johnny’s trio were in the audience and we were listening to the guests jam and make some beautiful music.  Every one of them was fantastic.  The team was fantastic.

I learned third thing as well.  Life is full of wonderful surprises if you look for them.   If you are ever in the area magic happens in a small bar in an out of the way corner on the upper west side of Manhattan on Saturday nights.  Check it out and enjoy.

Speak softly and promote your friends.  These lessons will get you far in Jazz.  They will also get you far in life.

Until next time – all the best!


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