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You see, Leonard was a musician. He played the clarinet and saxophone. He was an old-time Dixieland player and loved every minute of it. In addition to being a musician, Leonard had been a sergeant in George Patton’s 3rd army during WWII. More about that in another blog.
Today we will talk about him teaching me how to think about art and judge who is the best artist. Actually, this discussion was about, who is the best musician. But the principal is the same.
I was a budding musician at the time and, of course, I wanted to talk about music “and all that jazz”. Although the difference in our age was great, we were kindred spirits in that we both love the music.
Leonard had spent his late teens and a lot of his twenties traveling back and forth across the southern states playing Dixieland clarinet and saxophone in dives and honky tonks. The stories he told could and did intrigue a teenage musician, with zero experience, all day long for days on end.
His family could care less about all that. I, on the other hand, loved it and spent as much time as his wife would let me on the floor in their front room with records spread everywhere listening to Leonard’s music stories and old jazz in the background.
Most young musicians then and now begin their musical life competing for “first chair” in beginning band. As I have grown older… That getting older theme keep popping up doesn’t it? Anyway, I have debated in my mind if that is the best way to encourage young people into practicing. However, it works so I’m not too critical of the idea.
The reason I bring that up is that on the particular afternoon of my listening session with Leonard I ask the question. “Who is the best clarinet player in the world?” I expected to hear a name like Benny Goodman, who I knew was one of Leonard’s favorites.
Well, old Leonard, we all thought of him as “old Leonard” because he had hair as white as a sheet of typing paper, stopped what he was doing and lit a cigarette. He took a puff, thought about the question a few seconds, it seemed like a long pause to me.
Finely he looked at me and said, “I don’t think anybody plays Woody Herman quite as good as Woody Herman does.”
What the… What does that mean? I couldn’t bring myself to ask for clarification. He seemed to like his answer. Then, it came to me. Nobody plays Woody Herman quite as good as Woody Herman does.
I have to say that the lesson he taught me with that simple answer has come back to me again and again when thinking about music, fine art, people, and many other things and ideas.
So, who is the best artist, the best drummer, the best photographer, the best trumpet player, or (and here it is) WHO IS THE BEST PERSON? Nobody does you as well as you do!
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