Many autobiographical sketches revolve around the fact that the subject of the story began to learn how to play a musical instrument at an early age and after a minimum number of years became an accomplished performer or teacher.
I too had early hopes of becoming a musician and began the study of the violin at age seven. This was perhaps a false start. Not only did I not like to practice, but my teacher moved out of town and there was no one to take his place. One benefit remained. I had learned to read music in the treble clef and count the time value of the notes.
My interest in learning to play a musical instrument smoldered within. This ambition was partly sparked by my Aunt Essie who played the piano at family gatherings. Theseoccasions gave me an idea of how popular music was performed in the 1930's. I eventually got started on the piano by procuring some sheet music and teaching myself to pick out the notes from both the treble and bass clef on an old upright piano that we had at home. I was also able to learn how to read some of the chord symbols included in the sheet music.
At age fourteen, still interested in improving my music playing capabilities, I learned that the local Junior High School band director wanted to increase the number of players in his performing aggregation. For some reason, a friend and I were then asked to become a part of the band expansion by learning how to play the bass horn. Though neither of us knew anything about playing a wind instrument, the director was optimistic and told us that we could begin our school band career by taking up the horn, putting our lips to the mouthpiece, puffing out our cheeks and pretening to correctly manipulate the valves. To the credit of the two fakers (and the band director) we did become reasonably proficient on the tuba and even continued to play in our High School years up until graduation. My friend terminated his musical career at that point, but I would go on to play the bass horn at the University of Oregon where I had enrolled at school.
During those days of High School tuba, I also had the good fortune of becoming acquainted with a schoolmate who hadaspirations of forming a dance band. He could play the alto saxophone and was looking around for other people who could play the instruments called for in the stock dance band arrangements available. With brash confidence, I told the prospective leader that I had played the violen and that there was no reason that I could not transfer that knowledge to the string bass (even though the tuning of the bass strings was backwards from the violin!) This proposal was accepted and so off I went to but a new Day acoustic bass, paid for in cash that I had accumulated by working during the summer for my Dad.
Thus, we seven became an early version of grage band goise makers. Eventually the school principal heard rumors of our showmanship and gave us the opportunity to play dance music for our fellow students in the school auditorium. The long term result of this first public performance was that we were approached by a local businessman who asked us to play at a public dance hall in Carlton, Oregon. He would have no doubt preferred hiring musicians who were older and had more experience, but nearly all men who had recently graduated from High School had been drafted into military service. In addition to our employment in Carlton, we were later asked to play at several other dance halls in the area, and this kept us quite busy until we all graduated from High School.
After graduation, I joined the army and was sent to Japan, I was fortunately and temporarily able to play with a Japanese dance band located near Kyoto.
When I returned home from military service I continued my semi-professional string bass activities by playing for fraternity and sorority house dances during my student years at the University of Oregon. Later, after college graduation, I bagan playing with a variety of pick-combos and full sized dance bands inthe northern part of the Oregon Willamette Valley and along the Oregon Coast.
During these acoustic bass playing days I began to develop an interest in the electric organ because my Aunt had purchased a new Hammond organ and was encouraging me to learn how to play it. My new interest went well mostly due to my earlier keyboard experience but also because of the knowledge that I had gained at the University of Oregon while studying music theory. Within a few years, I began to learn to play pipe organ with a teacher who later made it possible for me to play at a local church. In addition, I was also asked to direct the choir at the same church. This proceeded fairly well, but I soon found that dealing with a group of singers was not the same as being a solo performer.
In about 1970, Claudia, one of my daughters, decided that she wanted to play the classical guitar so I arranged for lessons. Of course, I decided to learn something about that instrument as well. I only played for a few years because I found that the long fingernail requirement for playing classic guitar created a conflict with playing deyboard instruments. My daughter continued on with her musical studies and became an accomplished performer and teacher in the Vancouver, Canada area.
When I retired from business at age fifty seven I decided to continue the expansion of my music knowledge by studying jazz piano technique with Pat George, a well-known pianist around the Portland, Oregon area. This motivated me to take some academic training at Portland Community College where courses were available in the study of music theory, composition, arranging and improvisation. After two years of study at PCC I developed the ability to write piano compositions and to arrange music for jazz bands.
The first major piece of work that I did after leaving school was to create a book of jazz piano pieces and with the help of my daughter Claudia, I saw that book published first through the Western Board of Music and then through Conservatory Canada in Ontario,Canada (see related article "The Right Changes, The Right Time for details).
My latest project in music has been to conceive an original harmonic theory called transtonality which points to way to the use of linear harmony and the expansion of fluency and propulsion of tonality. The result of these harmonic explorations is now available in my book entitled FROM THE TOP DOWN
I hope your journey in music-your climb up the musical ladder-will be as rewarding as my own.
James B. McDaniel