Jazz and Royalty
At The Jazz Base is released today. I’m enthused, as usual,
but something’s missing. It has nothing to do with the record
itself – it’s me. If you’ve never been on the
receiving end of the phrase “it’s not you, it’s
me”, then you’re not a grown up. That’s a dreaded
phrase for sure, but in this case, it’s true. I am telling
my CD, “you’re fine - I’m the one with the problem”.
What’s the problem? My name.
It’s not that I don’t like it – I do. It’s
just not as effective for selling millions of records as it could
be. For one thing is, it’s confusing. People still get me
mixed up with Walter Beasley. Not you, of course. After all -
you found me here. Other people however, still don’t get
Walter and I laughed about it when we first met at a jazz festival
in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. We traded stories about fans
and industry folks getting us all twisted up like paper clips.
Veasley and Beasley – two twins you can’t separate
or tell apart.
Walter, being proactive by nature, did something about this confusion.
We were playing a concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together
and he came up with the following brilliant plan:
“When we play the first tune, why don’t you take
a solo in the beginning over the groove?” Walter asked.
“Cool”, I replied, never passing up a chance to show
“Then, when you’re done, I’ll say something
like, ‘that’s Gerald Veasley. He plays the bass. I’m
Walter Beasley. I play the saxophone.’”
“Then I’ll point to you and say ‘Veasley’
then back to myself and say ‘Beasley’. Then I’ll
play the melody.”
I shook Walter’s hand, somewhat envious that I hadn’t
come up with this idea.
After the concert, it became apparent that Walter’s audience
education had worked. At the autograph-signing table, no one approached
me with For Her, Walter’s latest CD, and asked me to sign
it. Everything was going smoothly until about 15 minutes into
the autograph signing, when a 40 something gentleman shook my
hand warmly, looked me in the eyes and said “Walter, I have
all your CDs”.
I cracked up. Walter looked annoyed. Najee didn’t seem
to know what all the fuss was about.
I have a new plan. A name change. You might say, “after
seven CDs under the name Gerald Veasley, it’s a bit late.”
To that, I would say, “mind your own business”. It’s
never too late to act on a good plan. Besides there is a precedent
for name changing in jazz.
Does anyone really think that Kenny G was born to proud parents,
“Mr. And Mrs. G?” Does anyone believe Boney James
could have a younger brother named “Chubby”? Don’t
even get me started on Euge Groove.
So why can’t I become, “Gerald V”? Too obvious.
What about, “Gerald Vee”? That’s more creative.
Or I could go all the way with, “Gee Vee”. How does
I agree. None of these quite get it.
Personally, I like the way jazz names sounded in the old days.
Edward Kennedy Ellington became Duke Ellington. There was only
one count, Count Basie. Benny Goodman was the King of Swing. Even
Aretha Franklin got in on the act and was elevated to the Queen
of Soul. And Prince really got it right by getting straight to
the good part – the royal title.
Charles Mingus tried to coronate himself Baron Mingus. Nobody
bought it. He didn’t stick with it long enough. He also
tried wearing a derby. I’m not willing to go that far.
Are you ready for my new name? Cover your eyes. Now open them.
It’s either that, or my twin Walter and I will have to
stop dressing alike.
Since I’m a good sport, please visit www.walterbeasley.com.
Oh. When you’re finished, please buy, order or request At
The Jazz Base by Gerald Veasley. AKA Earl Gerald.
See? It’s sticking already.
The Day After. Great party last night. Thanks to John Ernesto
and his Stage Right partners for making my birthday party at the
Jazz Base a memorable one. Thanks also to Jim Bokosky and his
Sheraton staff – especially Anthony and Joanna. Everything
was wonderful – my family and I were treated like royalty.
Thanks to all the friends and musicians who came out. It meant
a lot to me. It also meant a great deal to the Institute of the
Arts in Wyommissing, PA, as it was the deserving recipient of
the proceeds from last night’s event.
Do you want to know what happened?
Usually my stories are long-winded. I’ll make this brief,
in “bullet” style.
GV’s Birthday Party at The Jazz Base
* A big cake
* A slide show showing me at various life stages. The highlight?
Age16, sporting an afro and crushed velvet tux
* Meg and the Cliftones, performing “In A Gadda Da Vida”
– a favorite from my era
* Trumpeter Rob Diener rapping the Sugar Hill classic “Rappers
Delight” – sober
* Guitarist Dave Cullen singing “Do I Do” –
* Me singing “Hit the Road Jack” – definitely
sober, but delirious from laughing so hard all night
* A presentation of his and hers Jazz Base leather jackets, courtesy
of Stage Right Productions
* A twenty minute version of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”
* A story about ageing gracefully, featuring Joe Zawinul, the
composer of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”
* Air conditioning
* Joke cards about being old
* An unusual version of “Georgia” that included spelling
* Will Brock singing “Home” – sober, but spirited.
* The Berks Jazz Fest Horns and the Geraldettes
* A whole lotta love. I don’t mean the song, I mean the
night was full of a “whole lotta love”
* Old friends. New friends. Family.
* The realization of how fortunate I am
The problem with having a journal like this is that people actually
read it. And make comments. I didn’t expect comments.
Upon reading my bagel and jazz story, a friend of mine, Glenn
Fox advised me, “Do yourself a favor and carry a plastic
knife in the car. Life would be so much simpler.”
As you can see, Glenn is a Jazz person - and an attorney.
Glenn is in fact, a visionary – he’s the one who
suggested I seriously consider doing a radio show. The rest is
Regarding bagels and knives, today I have taken matters into
my own hands. I made my own bagel sandwich in my own kitchen using
my own knife. A very big knife.
As I have said before (July 1, 2005) it’s a DIY world.
Do it yourself.
Anyway, enough of this dilly-dallying. I’ve got a party
to go to.
Ah, the life of a celebrity.
One more thing - I met Gervase once. You may remember Gervase
from the reality TV show, Survivor – the season when another
guy took all his clothes off and walked around the island naked
like he owned the place. As a reward for his cunning and exhibitionism
he took home a million dollars.
Gervase took home celebrity status.
He and I met when we were celebrity judges at a signature cocktail
contest. Don’t ask.
Gervase was a cool guy. I have his phone number somewhere.
What? You expected more? I told you already, I’ve got a
party to go to.
While working on ideas for my radio show on WJJZ, I stumbled
on something interesting – my own music. I checked out one
song, which led me to another, then another. Before I knew it,
I had devoured four of my seven CDs. What’s that old potato
chip company slogan? “Betcha can’t eat just one!”
I have a confession to make. Once I’m finished with a record,
I rarely listen to it. I’m on to the next thing: rehearsing
the band, promoting the CD, playing shows, changing the world,
etc. By the time I’m finished with composing, recording,
mixing and mastering a project, I’ve heard it a zillion
There are some artists who are constantly listening to their
own music. If you walk up to him and he’s listening to his
iPod, and you ask, “What are you listening to?” he’ll
say, “check this out.” You put on those ubiquitous
white headphones, and lo and behold, it’s one of his very
own tunes. Again.
To me, this is the equivalent of checking yourself out in the
mirrors in the gym. It makes sense to make sure you are using
proper form when lifting, pushing or running on something, but
some guys check their own bodies out incessantly. Like kids in
the back seat of a minivan, these guys keep asking their muscles
“Are we there yet?”
The most interesting thing about hearing one of my own tunes
is not just the fact that I say to myself, “Hey, that’s
pretty good!” It’s the memory that will inevitably
pop into my head - a memory about the process of recording it.
For example, when I hear Optimistic from the Love Letters CD,
I reminisce about recording a lot of that record while on the
road with Grover Washington, Jr. I carried a recording rig on
the tour bus and did a lot of mobile recording in hotel rooms.
One of my crowning achievements as a mobile engineer/producer
was recording Pablo Batista’s congas in the bathroom of
a northern California hotel room. I hung the bedspread over the
shower curtain to dampen the reflected sound, positioned the microphone
perfectly on the conga drums, sat Pablo on the – what’s
the word? – throne, and reminded him not to flush.
When I hear Quiet Storm from the Soul Control CD, I think about
being on a conference call with Bill Jolly and Philip Bailey from
Earth Wind & Fire trying to work out the key. I remember thinking,
“this is the guy that sang Reasons – cool.”
I also remember living in Mark Knox’s studio (along with
co-producer Richard Waller) for three days and nights trying to
get the CD completed by the deadline - sleeping on his floor,
the sessions fueled by chocolate donuts and orange juice. Mark’s
business partner, Frank, was not amused, although I’m sure
his advertising clients thought we were as harmless as alley cats.
With virtually every song there’s a story - some significant,
some silly. There’s also usually a narration to go along
with the story. In fact, I can barely hear my music over the thoughts
in my own head. The narrator’s voice sounds like Barry White.
What Is Jazz?
I am going to solve this riddle once and for all. If you know
someone who is curious about this topic, direct that person here.
Even though I’ve been playing it, teaching it and studying
it for years, I’ve never been able to define jazz –
Yesterday, since I was running late in taking Taylor to Sunday
school, there was no time for breakfast at home. I did what a
typical harried American parent does – stopped for fast
food. I am not proud of this and please don’t tell my mother
–she would say it’s a disgrace.
TJ and I decided to split a bagel sandwich on the way. We would
use the drive-through and share the sandwich, both as time saving
measures. I won’t reveal which fast-food restaurant, in
case I need their corporate sponsorship one day.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Placing a food order without eye contact requires trust. It typically
involves an awkward communication – speaking and listening
through a billboard - followed by an unsentimental exchange of
money with one person and then the release of your food by a brand
new person. You never get to know anybody.
This was one of those days when the order taker and I just didn’t
connect. This is what happened – exactly.
“May I take your order?”
“Yes, I’d like an bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel,
and can you cut it in half, please?”
“We don’t cut bagels, would you like anything else?”
“Wait a minute. You don’t cut bagels?”
“No sir, we do not cut bagels!”
“Do you have a knife?”
“Yes, we have a knife!”
“Then just cut the bagel in half, please!”
“Ok. Anything else?”
“Yes, I’ll have a coffee with cream and sugar and
a Boston Crème.” The donut was for my daughter. Honestly.
This transaction was not as quick as I had hoped but at least
an understanding was reached. When I pulled up to the window,
the server even apologized. I graciously accepted.
As we drove off, I handed our order to TJ in the back seat. Meanwhile,
she was cracking up – imitating me, using her annoyed father
voice as she repeated, “Do you have a knife? Do you have
a knife?” over and over.
Anybody who has ever ordered food in a drive-through knows the
number one rule – always check your order. Always, no matter
how charming the server. So naturally I asked TJ, “Did she
“Nope. Do you have knife? Do you have a knife?”
No doubt you’ve experienced this type of negotiation. You
have a simple request that does not fit within an employee’s
guidelines and you can’t break through. Not with logic,
and certainly not with common sense.
Some people can’t deviate from the script.
They are not jazz people. Jazz people can improvise. They can
use the script as a guide and then use their own creativity and
flair. Jazz people are brave enough to exercise their own judgment,
if necessary. Jazz people are the best at customer service and
make excellent meter maids.
You are a Jazz person.
What is Jazz? Cutting a bagel when you have a knife, even though
it is not in the script, is the essence of Jazz.
"Smooooth Jazz WJJZ". I am practicing saying this on
my way up to the radio station. I am to receive more training
today from Frank Childs the music director. He is, like Ken the
rock-climbing guy, very patient and encouraging.
Frank is helping me prepare for the launch of my own radio show
on WJJZ on Sundays from 3 to 7 PM. One of the things he has told
me is "just be yourself". Sound advice.
I have asked my radio friends for advice - people like Pat Prescott,
Dave Koz, Paul Scott, Alexander Zonjic, Steve Williams, Tiffany
Bacon the guy who is hiring me - Michael Tozzi and of course,
my son Kyle, who is a radio "lifer".
They all say, among other things, "just be yourself".
I don't want to be myself.
I want to be Barry White.
This leads me to the topic of Authenticity. Like the theme, Travel
Light, this is stuff I give talks on at the Bass BootCamp. People
pay big bucks to hear my lectures on these topics. You are getting
it for free.
Show a little gratitude.
Actually, they pay big bucks to learn to become better bass players.
While I have a captive audience, I share my ideas about Traveling
Light, Authenticity, Taking The Breaks Off.
Nobody throws anything at me or heckles. Actually some folks
leave the BBC feeling quite inspired to change their lives. One
day I'll tell you all about it.
Not now, though. I've got to practice, "Smooooth Jazz WJJZ
By the way, check out www.wjjjz.com. Let Michael Tozzi know how
brilliant he is for hiring me. It's a good way to show your gratitude.
One more thing, right now Barry White is on the radio. I swear
What if you could shed things that you don’t need anymore
in your life? What if could get rid of that extra layer you carry
around – outmoded, overly critical and completely inaccurate
ideas about yourself, for example – and do it as easily
as a cat? What would that feel like?
I call it Traveling Light.
Traveling Light is about choosing what concepts you want to hold
onto and getting rid of the rest. Think of it as a garage sale
- in your head. There’s a lot of junk up there.
Let’s take a quick inventory:
“I’m not good at math.” “I’m a
“I’m just a country boy.” “I’m
a city boy.”
“I’m lazy.” “I’m a workaholic.”
“I’m too young.” “I’m too old.”
Where does this stuff come from? You store it in your head, without
ever really looking at it. You may think - at least it’s
yours. It’s not. And it’s so heavy. It’s also
ridiculous, dragging these self-concepts through your life, day
after day, like they are suitcases full of diamonds. They are
Let’s take the age thing. Who told you that you were too
old? In the blink of an eye, I will turn 50. Society will tell
you that this is old. Really? Yes, this is not the ideal age to
decide to become an Olympic gymnast. Just about everything else
is fair game.
The fact is, we don’t know the extent of our capabilities.
I try to teach Taylor this every time she says she can’t
do something. Guess what? She uses my lessons against me. She
won’t let me get away with saying, “I can’t”.
Last week she talked me into rock climbing.
The folks at Eastern Mountain Sports (www.emsclimb.com) must
have an excellent employee-training program. They do not laugh
at you. No matter what.
Say for instance, you have an eight-year old daughter who takes
to a thirty-foot rock climbing wall like a grade school Spiderman.
Suppose this girl gets to the very top (on her first attempt)
through sheer determination. You are looking up at her with your
mouth wide open. She repels down beaming and saying, “Now
it’s your turn, Daddy.”
The twenty-something EMS employee (at least if he is named Ken
and works at the Philly location) won’t laugh. Your wife,
or husband most certainly will. This is what spouses do. Your
spouse will double over with laughter, especially when you position
your 6’3” frame against the wall, place your hands
and feet strategically the way your daughter did, and you can’t
even get a foot off the ground.
“You can do it Daddy.” Try again – no go. Try
to block out your spouse’s laughter reverberating throughout
the building. Shake out your left shoulder, which is now rebelling
and full of doubt. The doubt is contagious.
Except for Ken – he believes. Or is a very good poker player.
He says, “Try to keep your body close to the wall, like
this. This will give you more leverage. Then push off with your
left leg.” You concentrate on this simple set of instructions,
offered with the most patient and reassuring tone of voice. Try
again. No Go.
Now you are laughing. And looking for a way to get out of the
harness without leaving too much of your self respect behind.
Even this is too hard. You can’t get the thing off. Ken,
who ought to be rock climbing employee-of-the-month, is not helping.
You are stuck in the harness, which is now starting to feel like
the biggest wedgie since the close of the Garden of Eden.
Then – out of nowhere - acceptance. Not that you can’t
do it, but that you haven’t figured out how to do it. “What
if I start with my right foot instead of my left?” Try again.
You are off the ground – you’re actually on the wall.
You say to yourself, “Don’t celebrate - think about
the next move.” Something is clicking. You are moving. You
are halfway up the wall. Your arms need a rest. Straighten them
out and coax the blood to go back where it belongs.
“You can do it, Daddy”. It’s Mommy’s
voice. That’s enough to propel you another 10 feet.
About a foot and a half from the top you run out of gas. Everything
hurts and the wall has won, but at least you made it this far.
It’s time to come down. Except nobody will let you. Everybody
wants you to finish. They don’t seem to understand that
you are out of strategies and have hit the physical limit of your
arms and legs. Your arms and legs were in their prime when Nixon
was making mix tapes in the Oval Office.
Eighteen inches away. What are the limits of your Watergate Era
will? Try again. Rest. Try again. Rest again. This time, try like
you expect to make it. Shed the doubt that is housed not in your
exhausted limbs, but in your head. Reach up. Step up.
Cue the heroic theme music. A father’s lessons validated.
A husband’s reputation redeemed. Another typical day at
Eastern Mountain Sports.
Ken is not visibly impressed. He is wearing the facial expression
of someone who is accustomed to seeing people do what they think
they can’t do.
The limits to our potential are stored in that cluttered garage
called the human mind. I’m having a garage sale. Anybody
need a slightly used age excuse?