Thomas Chapin

Please support this beautiful documentary and tribute to Thomas Chapin

Thomas was an incredible artist and person, originally from Manchester, CT.

I wasn’t a close friend, but he always remembered me the different times I would see him, always was welcoming, warm, and gracious. That is exactly how I remember him.

Thomas was 9 years older than me, and had also been a student of Jackie McLean’s. Jackie was like another father to me, but much older and from a culture, time and place I had yet to learn much about. I looked up to Thomas in that regard and he was someone close enough in age as to be inspiring in a way only someone that close in age, and also from Connecticut, and also an alto player, could be.

When I went to hear him play in Hartford, he invited me to sit in. I was probably about 17. I was shy and nervous and he made me feel comfortable and brought out the absolute best performance I could have possibly made.

His music was so on the edge, and constantly fresh – I didn’t fully appreciate that when I was younger as I was still at a stage just trying to assimilate familiar things – but now, all these years later I listen to all the many recordings he made and I am doubly inspired all over again – to keep seeking, to keep reaching out, to not stay safe inside the comfortable confines of what is familiar.

He was truly special, unique, gifted – and most of all entirely generous of himself, his spirit and his art.

I don’t think I ever had more than an hour’s worth of conversation with him in sum total – but many, many smiles and knowing looks. We shared similar roots and a love of music and words weren’t entirely necessary.

I wish I had the opportunity to get even closer to him – but his energy lives on quite strongly, and he still has new things to show me everyday.

$250 Chinese Made Soprano Saxophone Review, Opus USA

Purchased from KTone in Queens, NY – arrived in two days. Nice case, mouthpiece, reed, cork grease, cleaning rags, swab. Horn plays surprisingly well. Wouldn’t think twice about bringing it on a gig. http://stores.ebay.com/Ktone-Music-Store

Like Money In The Bank, Or Sowing And Reaping

Comparing life to a mortgage….

We are born with nothing. We have no clothes. We rely on our parents or guardians to provide for us. When we become adults, many of us will purchase a home. We start careers or businesses. Most will need to rely on a mortgage – and know that if we live long enough we’ll see our investment grow. Then, one day, we’ll be able to cash in on that investment for a different life somewhere else – or leave behind a nice inheritance to whom we please. We work, we invest, we end up with a profit and – we hope – time to enjoy it before we are too old or too sick.

I’m thinking that the real payments in life aren’t the ones we make to the bank. Every time we are devastated by some illness, pick ourselves after some disaster, or even suffer at the hands of our own mistakes we make a payment to ourselves. Our internal bank of wisdom and compassion grows ever larger. The more we keep going, the more we endure, the more adversity we overcome the richer we become.

The catch is that, quite unlike the home equity we can cash out and spend, by the time we have enough wisdom to really do something with it we are too old and have burned so many bridges we can never return to reap the rewards for ourselves.

The only sense I can make of my comparison is that the only consumption, or spending, of this amassed wealth is through helping others. We live our lives, we learn our “lessons”, and maybe we get a chance to tell some younger person, or some person more poor in wisdom and experience, or someone who simply wants to listen to the lessons we learned.

The only illness or infirmity that can keep us from spending this type of wealth is our own bitterness and reluctance to accept the events of our lives as the lessons they are – or perhaps the short sightedness of those who need to hear it.

Not With the Band

There was a physical therapist I met a few years ago when I was in the hospital. She was a very nice older middle-aged woman and we got along well from the start.

We got talking about our lives and it turned out she had been a dancer many years before. While she loved dancing, there were other things she wanted and wasn’t finding in her life. The lifestyle didn’t suit her and she moved into her current line of work helping folks like me learn to move our own bodies in better ways.

The thing I remember best about our brief acquaintance was a conversation that started out with a question I get asked frequently. It is an innocent question—but one filled with deeply rooted emotion for me.

The simple question was if I go out to ‘hear jazz’ anymore. My response, as always, was that I don’t play much saxophone these days, that I favor the piano, and that no – not really – I don’t go out to hear music much.

People’s’ response to my answer is usually one of surprise—or maybe a little embarrassment when they realize that I left a music career behind in a tactical decision—and perhaps that seemingly insignificant small talk of an ice breaker is just the opposite; and leaves me feeling defensive, nostalgic, and even a bit regretful all at the same time.

My friend the therapist surprised me. I went through my usual mental contortions of saying ‘no’ and trying to make this answer sound reasonable in such a way that most people would take my answer at face value and forget it. To my shock; she said something a kin to feeling the same way as I—having been a performer and left it behind, how difficult it was to go and see other people perform.

This might seem shallow at first – but imagine a relationship with something (or someone) that is so deep that your every breath is taken for it. All your dreams revolve around it. Everything you are, every friend you have, everywhere you’ve been, every victory and defeat – all involve this relationship. One day the relationship ends. You change. Your perceptions change. Your needs change. For one of a million reasons you just have to leave.

I sometimes look back on those years with a heavy heart – and though I know why I made the decisions I made – I don’t need to relive my twenties on a regular basis. In fact, it is painful to do so.

I still derive great pleasure from music. I bought a piano. I play it often. I’m constantly trying to work out new things to play. My listening tastes have expanded into new areas. The music is still in me. There is still a saxophone inside my head that gets played – so much so that on the rare occasions I do pick the instrument up, it is all still under my fingers. But this is all very private for me now.

There was a deep sense of belonging to something back then. This need to belong went way back to my earliest roots as a player in my teens. Maybe it is that camaraderie and the being ‘one of us-ness’ I miss. Maybe I feel like an outsider,  just a patron, on the other side of the curtain with no back stage pass.  It isn’t ‘us’ anymore and I cant say ‘I’m with the band’

Thinking About Music and The Ghosts of Past, Present and Future

Charles Socci with New England Jazz EnsembleI’ve been thinking about music a lot lately—playing music. If you’ve seen my main site, www.socci.com then you probably know I started out my adult life as a musician. Indeed from the time I was eleven or twelve years old it became my life’s main mission.

Somewhere along the way I got lost. I lost faith. I became bitter and discouraged. I gave up. I even considered it a victory.

I’ve told the story of my musical education and history here. I won’t bore you with that.

Music became everything to me while I was still in high school. All of my friends, everything I did centered around music. As soon as I could drive I was sitting-in at a dark and funky jazz club in the south end of Hartford. The owner wore a gun on his ankle, but he was a true patron of the music. I didn’t have my first real girlfriend until I was 18; and she was a music student where I went to college.

I met Jackie McLean, the legend, in my teens. He took a musical interest in me as he did many young men. Eventually I entered into his African-American Music department and earned a Bachelor of Music degree with a major in Jazz Studies.Tony Scherr

This college period is something i continue to try and understand today. I had two options for higher education: one was to follow my friend Tony Scherr down to North Texas State where he was quickly rising to the top and getting recognized for the amazing talent he is. My other option was to continue following Jackie and attend his program at the Hartt School of Music.Jackie McLean

I chose to stay with Jackie which may not have been the best decision for me at that time—although these things are had to tell—and hind sight being what it is, who really knows. I had already around two years of private Saturday lessons with Papa Jackie. Saxophonist-ic-ly speaking I had already received about as much as I was going to receive from him in that period of time. Jackie’s style of teaching the instrument and the language were mostly about mimicry—I remember his wife Dollie’s comment one day when she heard me practicing that all Jackie’s students sound just like him. Most players start out ‘aping’ or mimicking somebody. But Jackie’s influence was just so strong… And there wasn’t anybody else around to counter it. I eventually switched from alto to tenor. The lessons were also about playing together, learning tunes, and being exposed to recordings of saxophonists I might never have been exposed to—Earl Bostic, Don Byas, early Dexter Gordon. He showed me and demonstrated the nuances of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. He taught me to navigate Giant Steps. But I think after those two years I had gotten most of what Jackie was going to give me.

I decided to enter the Hartt School for a variety of reasons. It would have seemed like a betrayal on some level to leave Jackie, I felt a strong responsibility to stay near my Mother and my Brother (who was extremely disabled) and I was probably just plain afraid of going away and actually standing on my own two feet so far from home.

North Texas State was a world famous school for musicians at that time. Jackie’s comment about it was, “well what are you going to do…. look at cows?”. But the truth of it was that instead of a few saxophone players, all vying for Jackie’s attention and all trying to out best the other at impressing him, there were dozens or maybe even over a hundred saxophone players. What I needed was the experience of finding myself, my own voice, and then rising to the top of that group of other players. I needed that kind of challenge. I already had all the Jackie McLean I needed to absorb, or could absorb. Where the experience at Hartt was all focused on replicating the small jazz ensemble classics like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; North Texas had a full spectrum of music. There was an emphasis on commercial viability for a musician… Were you ready to go out and join the real world and make a living playing music; or were you going to go out into the world with limited skills, no doubles, and little exposure to the vast pallet of musical genres – or worse yet maybe an attitude that the music you had learned in school was the only ‘real’ music, or hip music, and everything else was square. There was a whole community of musicians of various styles and skill levels who played together frequently at North Texas. It isn’t always the school, or who teaches at the school. Its about your peers and the overall philosophy.

I realized the need for doubles while I was at Hartt and I began incorporating them into my bag of tricks, finding instruction when and where I could. To mention hind sight once again, I suppose if I knew then what I know now I might have been able to get a whole lot more out of the place professionally.One thing that stands out strongly from my days at Hartt are Jackie’s History of African-American music classes. These classes were filled not only with learning about the African origins and obscure pioneers of modern American music; but also became a mouthpiece for the expression of Jackie’s political and social opinions. His first hand stories of the jazz legends were also fascinating and could only truly be delivered with his inimitable charismatic style. These things—like his playing—formed an indelible impression on me.

I hung out with the A-list Hartt jazz guys for most of the time. Then I started to develop something of an attitude in the way of having my own feelings about certain things that didn’t quite fit the A-list Students of Jackie McLean club. I found myself cast somewhat out. I took a few lessons with some other famous saxophonists which probably alienated me from the clique even more. Somewhere around my junior or senior year everything stalled for me. I remember dealing with a depressive episode, which I hadn’t dealt with since high school. I became very emotional and broke down one day. Jackie’s response to that was to say that in the nursing homes they take the depressed people and move them away from everyone else so they don’t bring everyone else down. He also expressed negative opinions about me taking any kind of anti-depressant medication. When I look back on Hartt, I wonder if those last two years or year and a half were really a waste. I should have moved on.

I graduated in 1988. Jackie shook my hand on stage; and that was it. I was turned out into a world I had no idea how to deal with and was also completely unprepared for.

My first real gig out of school came through one of my friends from Hartt, a fine pianist majoring in accompanying. Norwegian Cruise Line needed a saxophonist for the ship band on the MS Southward. SouthwardA small cruise ship by today’s standards, it seemed quite large to me. I never really had a contract. There was a contractor who staffed the musicians. I sent him a photo and some cassette tapes of myself playing some lounge tunes. I was hired and flew out to Los Angeles to meet up with the ship.

The Southward turned out to be a pretty tough experience. The band I joined decided to hate me from the start. Part of it was that I was simply very young and very green. I had a huge Jackie McLean sound on alto and that concept just didn’t fly in a lounge band playing The Days of Wine and Roses. I hadn’t really developed my tenor playing yet and it just sounded rough. My doubles on flute and clarinet were a little weak. Part of it might have been some jealousy—they bet each other money on who could pick up a certain ‘babe’ in the disco one night. I won. The trumpet player was a vicious alcoholic and used to beat on my door in the middle of the night on his way back from the crew bar and tell me how badly I sucked. It was rough—really rough.

I stuck it out. I never even really thought about going home. They tried to get me fired. The contractor came on the ship and stood next to me all night as I played the gig. After the gig he said he didn’t know what the big deal was. He said I was a little green but other than that I was doing fine. I did learn a few things from the band leader/pianist who was from New York and half Cuban half Columbian. He taught me how to do a proper head butt if I ever got into a bar fight… I never have gotten into an actual bar fight (witnessed more than few…); but i continue to remember the maneuver just in case a smile, psychology and reason aren’t enough to overcome the situation.

Soon, those guys went home which was a huge relief. The band was replaced (and I stayed) by a super gentle band leader/bassist named Sam Goldenhar from Houston who was also a North Texas State guy, Manny, a pianist from the Philippines, Las Vegas Larry on trumpet , and my friend Jim from Hartt. We all got along super well and the music was good as ship lounge bands go. I was glad I stuck it out. I went home in December and was promptly dumped by my girlfriend. It turned out we’d both been unfaithful during my four month absence. She didn’t want to reconcile. I was suddenly stuck in Connecticut; in December; alone with no idea what was going to happen for me next. (note: I’ve since learned there are two kinds of people, those who wait for things to happen and those who enable them to happen – being the second is a huge advantage in the music business).

Fate is funny thing. Two weeks later, Tom Murray – another Hartt saxophone player – called me to see if I was interested in doing a ‘bus and truck’.

“What’s a bus and truck”

“That’s where they take a show on the road and you ride the bus and everything else goes in the truck”

It turned out to be a non-union tour of the Broadway show 42nd Street. I auditioned and took the gig. This gig was probably the greatest opportunity I had to really start trying to get some kind of controllable sound together. A big sound would be great for playing with Elvin Jones, but not so much in an orchestra pit. It helped me get my clarinet going pretty well also. I was out with that show for about four months. Charles Socci 1989We went to Israel which was an educational experience. Hanging out with the cast and crew was the most significant exposure to gay culture I’d ever had and also an educational experience.

Through 42nd Street I became affiliated with a summer stock theater in Long Island and spent two summers playing shows there. Again, this was great training in terms of discipline and the doubles. I was pretty sure I’d have an entree into some kind of music scene in New York now and I used the money my Grandmother left me to buy a studio apartment in Washington Heights, Manhattan, NYC.

This was followed by a national tour of Dream Girls. It was pretty low budget all the way. The bus leaked. There were petty rows among the cast; but we did over one hundred performances all over the country. I can now say I’ve been to all 50 states except Utah and Nevada.

After Dream Girls and another summer of summer stock I started really questioning what my musical career was all about. I will say this though, in terms of keeping your chops together, playing a show like this 8 times a week or more and having to play it EXACTLY the same way every night is incredible discipline. Boring. Soulless. But, great discipline.

The first thing that drew me in to music and jazz specifically was the language. The language I couldn’t speak with words. Telling the world what I was feeling in my heart. Expressing and creating. Those things always felt so good to me. I could always escape in the music and say exactly what I was feeling even if I couldn’t put it in words. Musical theater just wasn’t making that happen for me…I moved back home with my Mother and dated a local girl. I worked in an office for a while. I played with a local party band on the weekends. I scrounged up some cash and made my first CD, which I did nothing to promote or distribute. I drank wine and smoked pot and played around with a tape recorder and my instruments at night. My brother died. I taught private students at home and through various music schools during the day. I got my chauffeur’s license and drove limousine and taxi part time. I broke up with the local girl and met another local girl who soon became pregnant and gave birth to my son Alex. Three years later my daughter was born.

Charles Socci and Mike Jones with SharkpoolI found other bands to play with. Some were better than others. I was starting to get work with some of the better wedding bands around. I played in bar bands and drank a lot. I played in Puerto Rican Salsa and Merengue bands (great for building chops). I made another CD, for an actual label with actual distribution but I never promoted it. Most of the stuff I was doing was leaving me empty inside. Little of it had to do with that internal soul language. I got bitter. I resented the bubble headed brides. I resented the bubble heads period—the yahoos. I was working so much between the limo, and the teaching, and the gigs and I had nothing. I made $18,000 that year – with no benefits. NobodyCharles Socci forced me or put me down; but I felt like a real man would be taking care of business; not living with his Mother and being a dead beat Dad. Marriage plans with their Mother never worked out. I had a quick fling with a 20 year old chick I met in one of the bands. I began getting really bitter. A trumpet player friend of mine had enrolled in technical school and was loving it. I’ve always been technical. I had a computer long before most people. I began thinking I should exploit that technical interest because the music thing had become bullshit as far as I was concerned. So I did just that, graduated at the top of my class and had a job before I even finished. $37,500 and full benefits. Man, I thought I won the lottery.Charles SocciSo I became a professional computer guy. I stopped taking a lot of the gigs. They stopped calling. My horn went into it’s case in the corner and has mostly stayed there.

I think about this and it is just weird. It seems like a waste. The music was me and I was it. There could be no Charles Socci without it. That all changed.

Time has flown by. I moved into that New York studio when things with the BABY MOMMA finally died for good. I got another computer job and did really well with that but never returned to the music.

I was afraid in those years I hung out at my Mother’s in Connecticut. Those were the years I should have been in NY trying to get around and play. I did a little bit but the whole thing terrified me—like sick to my stomach, walls closing in, have to get out of here NOW terrified. So I just couldn’t do it… try and hang on the scene. Hang on the periphery of the scene. Begging the question, ‘What Scene?’ – there is so much going on in NY. There is so much talent. New talent continually comes in. The thing was I felt like the only thing I was really good at was bebop saxophone a la Hartt and a la Jackie McLean. I was really mixed up as to who I was as a musician. I didn’t know. When I say maybe Hartt was a mistake for me, that is what I mean.

Today, my horns sit in the corner but my keyboard stays on. I married and share a two bedroom apartment with the sweetest and most wonderful woman in the world.Charles Socci Kristin Socci I haven’t had a drink or used any drugs in four years (7/18/03). I’m constantly playing piano. I love to play free form improvisations that wander in and out of different keys and tonalities. There was a time when I was playing saxophone this way and making private recordings of myself. It was very freeing. At the moment I’d almost pay for the opportunity just to play with some crappy band at a wedding. Even the soulless musical prostitution that it is—I just miss having the horn in my hands and communing with the band.

My intuition tells me that opportunity will arise again. I’m just not sure exactly when. So guess i better get out those horns and start putting them in my mouth.

Please bring this piano to meOh – and by the way – I’m definitely lusting for the touch and growl of a fine piano. This 7′ Baldwin will do nicely. If you feel charitable, won’t you buy it for me? I hereby send this wish out to the Cosmos for one grand piano. (my wife only agreed to a full sized upright, and I guess I’d settle… but I’ll give up my comfy chair if i can have the grand… Pretty please?)

Cruise Ship Gigs and an Egyptian Incident

The first steady music gig I got out of school was as the saxophone/flute/clarinetist on a cruise ship. The ship sailed out of LA on three and four day cruises down to Mexico, Catalina, and San Diego. My friend from school Alex, a really fine pianist, got me on the gig through an agent who worked for the cruise line company in Miami. They flew me out to LA and I spent a night in a hotel before meeting up with the ship in San Pedro the next day. I shared a very, very small cabin with no windows with another friend of mine from school, Jim. Jim was also the drummer. The evening before our first hit playing together was surreal. I had never been aboard a craft that large – nor seen anything like it ever before. I had never even been in a true luxury hotel or a casino resort before, which is essentially what cruise ships are – big floating luxury resort casino hotels. I stood out on the top deck as the ship made its way to the ocean from the dock. It was a warm August evening. I was alone and a long way from home.

The band was five pieces, trumpet, sax, piano, bass, and drums. We played lounge music and dance music. We also played the books that the various entertainers – jugglers, magicians, singers, and comedians brought for their acts. Things were really difficult on that first run. There was a mixture of alcoholism, resentments, and general unhappiness among much of the band that my gig came down to a sheer matter of having the tenacity to stick it out and not come home. Eventually the problem personnel in the band got changed out and the new band was a lot of fun to work with. I stayed for three months until I went home. The agent wanted me to stay through Christmas but I didn’t want to do it. I was always proud of myself for sticking it out through that rough time. It was extremely dark for a while; but got so much better. I didn’t do my second cruise ship until about seven and a half years later when I went out on the world cruise. That was a much bigger ship than the previous one. I replaced another saxophonist who couldn’t do the gig any more. My friend Alex also did the gig for most of the time I was on it. Musically the gig was about the same, but we added a trombone. The drummer, a woman named Cindy, was the bandleader. Mostly the gig was very laid back. The cruise went through the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, India, Africa and into the Med before ending in the UK which was where I flew home to the States. Both of the ships I worked on were managed by Norwegians. There was a definite rank and pecking order of people who worked on the ship. There was an officer’s dining room and an officer’s bar. We were part of the Entertainment Department and we ate either in a dining room for mid-level crew, or we ate in the main mess hall with all the other non-officers. It really wasn’t that big a deal. But if you are sensitive to that kind of thing – it could be a big problem because there were always subtle reminders of rank.

Crew life for me in both cases was pretty good. Sharing a living space is never the optimal situation but we made it work. I was very young on my first ship gig, and since the cruises were only three and four day cruises we got a lot of young passengers who really wanted to let loose. Crew areas were off limits to passengers, but certain crew members could frequent the passenger areas as long as they didn’t cause any problems – and as long as they paid their bar tabs. Crew were also not allowed in the passenger cabins. *Those rules were broken on occasion* There was also a crew bar where crew could drink very cheaply and many did. On my second ship I was already a father and I really missed home. It was also a much older and wealthier crowd as they were the only ones who could afford to pay to be on a world cruise – which was tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on how long you stayed and what type of accommodations. I had a friend named Brian and we used to hang out in the crew gym in the afternoons and hang out over a few beers in the evening. Cruising in the South Pacific was beautiful. Most days I would get up late, go up on deck and just hang out in the sun and breeze. Then I would go workout, have lunch and take a nap! Then there was usually an afternoon rehearsal for something, time for dinner, and then we would play four sets at night. After our sets we’d go to the crew bar for cheap beers or hang out in someone else’s cabin before hauling off to bed. I missed my kids terribly the entire time I was gone. These gigs are great for young people who don’t mind being away or other people who can fit into the lifestyle. There were one or two married couples who worked on board. I can’t imagine a marital spat under those circumstances though. Musically its artistic death. There isn’t much chance to be creative, and you can’t simply hop the train or get in your car and go somewhere to get away from it all. You are stuck there. You never get to go home from work.

As an aside, shortly after this photo was taken, I was sitting on a tour bus with one of the dealers from the ship casino. It was just she and I on the bus and this young Egyptian peddler, perhaps 14, came to us trying to sell us some kind of souvenirs. My dealer friend wasn’t interested, nor was I but he wouldn’t leave us alone. Finally he flipped us off and turned away. Something about this hard sell/flipping off routine hit me at some primal level and I leapt off the bus and chased the kid for a dozen yards before getting back on the bus. Soon an entire cadre of local gift shop merchants surrounded the tour bus and I was sure we’d made the next day’s headlines at Al-Jazeera. They brought the kid back to the bus, called me to the door and then slapped him several times across the face as an apology – of sorts – I guess. I felt bad for kid being humiliated like that. I felt like I overreacted and should’ve just let the whole thing slide.

(Photo of me at the Pyramids in Giza 1996)

Around the World

I saw this cool thing this afternoon while surfing Flickr. You check off all the countries you’ve ever been to and it generates this map. There is one for U.S. States as well; but I’ve been to all of them except Utah and Nevada and it would’ve looked like I might be *gasp* *wheeze* *cough* Republican the way the map is colored red on blue…

Back in 1996, which seems like yesterday, I was hired to play the woodwind book in a band aboard a very luxurious cruise ship. We made all these ports of call.

Picking Up The Alto Again

Today I picked up my alto again. I won’t say how long its been. I more or less turned my back on music in the late 90’s. It wasn’t a difficult decision at the time. I had two young children with my partner, was still living at home with my mother, and was driving taxi and limousine to survive. I took every gig that came along. I played a lot of weddings. I played in lots of bars.

As my twenties – can I call it my delayed adolescence? – came to end I realized the importance of things like health insurance, benefits and a steady salary. I felt incomplete as a man that I couldn’t provide any of those things for myself or my children. I was tired of playing Brickhouse and Mustang Sally. My best year financially in music I spent half the year on cruise ships, and the other half teaching and driving taxi/limousine — with no benefits and not a whole lot of money to show for it — especially those months away from home — I was getting bitter. One thing that wasn’t so bad was teaching. I had some really great kids that I taught — some I still hear from on occasion.

An alto playing acquaintance of mine was doing well in the technology field as a consultant and a trumpet playing friend of mine had begun a one year course at a local vocational tech school in computers — he suggested I check it out. So, I entered the computer school the next quarter. I got hired by a company before I graduated. The market was really hot back then for IT. As my career in technology progressed, the saxophone took a back seat.

At the moment I have time on my hands. The saxophone has been calling my name – taunting me to revisit sounds and moods and people and places I haven’t heard, or felt, or seen in years. So many ghosts. So many possibilities never realized…

Remembering Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean died March 31, 2006. He was 74.

I met Jackie in 1982 when I was 16 years old. I was seriously into being a jazz saxophonist by that time and it was a friend of mine from high school who brought me to a concert of Jackie’s students at the Hartt School.

I still remember that concert which featured Sue Terry and a bunch of Jackie’s other students but mostly I remember Sue; and Jackie shepherding his flock. I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to be.

I started listening to Jackie’s music around that time. One of the first albums was Swing, Swang, Swingin’ and his solo on “I Remember You”. The other one was Demon’s Dance with Woody Shaw and Jackie’s burning solo on “Floogeh”. The music touched my soul. There began my obsession with Jackie McLean.

I wrote him a letter that was half fan mail and half inquiry about his jazz degree program and he wrote me back. I still have that letter in a scrap book. He had this really off beat way he folded the letter into the envelope – I remember folding my letters exactly the same way for many years to come. I know that’s weird – but you see Jackie was THAT cool. All his students wanted to do almost everything just like him.

On his invitation I went up to Hartt and met with him, several albums in hand (New Wine In Old Bottles was one) for him to autograph, which he did graciously. One album he signed “To Charley – I’m Betting On Him Being One of the Best One Day” Imagine me – a 16 year old boy in the presence of one of the LEGENDS – a man who KNEW Bird and had recorded with Miles, Monk, Mingus and Art Blakey and he said that to me, in writing! Few people I’ve met in life have shown more grace than that.

After talking with him for a while that day he invited me to his home for a lesson. I began going to his house in Hartford for lessons about twice a month. I’d call Dollie (Jackie’s Wife) on the phone and ask for “Mr. McLean” (I must’ve sounded like a telemarketer). If he wasn’t busy with the Collective or practicing he’d come to the phone and we’d schedule another lesson. I’d go to Jackie’s house on Saturday mornings. He’d show me scales, patterns, ways to play long tones, and turn me on to recordings of Bird and Trane. We’d trade choruses to Jamey Abersold play-a-long recordings. He showed me how to play Giant Steps. A famous quote from Jackie, “It took me six MONTHS to learn Giant Steps… and I was in jail!”. When the lesson was over, he’d tell me to go home and memorize everything he had shown me and then call him back. I always did and within a week or two or three I was calling on the phone to make a date for more.

I remember the Saturday Penelope died – A lovely sweet dog whom Jackie adored. I remember Jackie placing a flower with her when they came to take her little body away.

I’ll never forget the day a student in one of Jackie’s history classes made a rather insulting and very disrespectful remark that I can’t or won’t remember. What I will NEVER forget is the look on Jackie’s face. His entire ESSENCE changed, like a master actor his posture changed, he cocked his head and he leaned on the podium pulling his lips back so you could see his teeth. His eyes shot pure penetrating rays of death in this kid’s direction. It was FRIGHTENING. A bitter chill filled the room. I don’t think he actually needed to say anything – The kid left without any additional drama. Jackie Mclean, for all his grace and patience, was not one to be messed with.

I remember the time Jackie took me out to lunch at a restaurant in Hartford’s North End. His intention was to introduce me to the whitefish sandwich. It was the best meal I ever had. I remember the first time I went with him to the Artists Collective in Hartford. We pulled up and parked along Clark Street where the old home of the Collective used to be. I got out of the car and it was the first time I’d heard West African style drumming. The entire building shook with energy. The sound filled the entire block. It was amazing.

IÂ remember Jackie’s little red Honda car. I remember when he bought the buff colored Caddy. Jackie told me how he and Rene had driven up to Cape Cod and taken the new car through it’s paces on the way.

I remember one time Jackie went to Japan for Blue Note and brought me back a Sake cup (because my name is spelled Socci). “Its a Sake cup for Charley Sock-ee”. Despite the creative pronunciation of my name I cherish my sake cup.

I remember when Sonny Rollins came and did a concert in Hartford at the Lincoln Theater, and Jackie took me and a handful of other students back stage. Jackie introduced me (at that point speechless) to Sonny. Sonny said (in his inimitable Marvin the Martian-like speaking voice) – “CHARLIE – that’s a very special name [as in Charlie Parker], do you know that?”. I still have the program Sonny autographed, writing “1968” instead of “1986” for the date. I always wondered if there were any kind of odd significance to the error.

Jackie was much more than a teacher or jazz legend to me. He had a profoundly powerful influence on me as a human being during my late teens and my years at Hartt. He was someone I am more than proud to have known. I will never forget Jackie McLean.