“LIFE IN THE BABY LANE"
by D.D. Jackson
[originally published in DownBeat magazine, Jan./07]
My firstborn son, Jarrett (named, of course, after a particular jazz pianist whom I admire) was born a few weeks ago and cliché as it is, life will never be the same. Having a baby is like gaining access to some secret society that has always been there all around you, but to which you never were granted the entrance key until now. It’s a world of baby registries, baby photos, and strange new sources of obsession (who could have imagined that every healthy baby bowel movement and full-throated scream would be such causes for celebration?)
Having a baby has also allowed me to start seeing the world through my son’s eyes, with everything a new adventure, from his first glimpse of the sun, to his first smile (a very recent innovation!), to perhaps most strikingly for me, his first real exposure to music.
Recently, I held Jarrett at my piano in my left arm while playing melodies and chords with my right, and could only marvel as his cries – at least for a few fascinating moments – ceased and he began to listen with greater and greater interest to the sounds emanating mysteriously all around him.
Observing his reactions, I was taken back to my own first discoveries with the piano, in kindergarten, when, fortuitously for me, my teacher also served as the school’s music teacher and would play for us at every opportunity. Each day I would sit and watch her like a hawk, and soon began going home and begging my parents for a piano. When they finally obliged me with a beautiful, used, mahogany-colored Heinzman upright, I still remember playfully touching the keys even as it was carried into our family room by the movers for the first time. I would subsequently sit, enraptured for hours on end, fascinated with the strange, dark rich resonance of the lower keys, the brittle, fast-decaying sonority of the upper, and the manner in which the different notes vibrated in colorful and endless ways.
Yet somewhere along the way as I matured and ultimately fashioned my career, the necessity of making a living, my over analysis of the specifics of the jazz language I went on to embrace, the roller coaster ride of the music business, all gradually caused me to move increasingly away from this early, youthful infatuation. I practiced less and less, eventually focusing on other areas of interest – composing for different instruments, writing, music technology, and reserving exclusively for live performance those inspired moments of self-discovery at my instrument.
Now, sitting at the piano with my newborn son, that sense of pure, unfiltered emotional expression and connection with the piano has returned, as I receive constant reminders of why I became a pianist – and musician – in the first place. It is an invigorating feeling.
Having a son has also had the surprising effect of placing the real, day-to-day responsibility of family life completely ahead of musical pursuits in importance for the first time in my life. I’m sure, however, that as the adrenaline rush of new fatherhood wears off, I will see fit to attack my craft with new vigor, armed with a vast new source of inspiration from which to draw (much as my marriage to my wife Liz informed my latest CD “Serenity Song”.)
And if any other motivation to pursue my art is needed, there’s always the advice David Murray told me years ago when I asked him why he seemed to work at every available opportunity. “Want to know why?” he asked. “Have a child!” and it’s all clear now.