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VO4TA: My First Time

I met the trombonist Wycliffe Gordon in the Upper West Side cafe where I was waiting tables. "Off Center" has been closed for a long time, but I learned a lot there.

I remember asking if he was who I thought he was.  He made a joke, looking around in a mock panic (probably for the benefit of the girl he was sitting with) and then he was very warm.  Congenial.

He asked what school I'd gone to.  Who I'd studied with (I now make the joke that I am a "recovering trombonist") and then he said:  "Why don't you send me some of your arrangements?"

So, I did.  I sent him my arrangements.

They were trombone quintet arrangements of Jimi Hendrix songs, ink jet printed on the back of PATH train closure notices.

The paper itself was blue.

I sent them in a registered letter envelope which required a signature for receipt and I put them in the mail about 6 or 9 months later. Actually, it could have been almost a year.

You can't make any of that up.

I had no knowledge of the correct way to submit or the professional standard I was striving for, so I didn't deserve a reply.  I did nothing right.  In retrospect all of the weaknesses in my submission are obvious - humorous in fact.

My friend Edwards helped me put the package together.  When I got back the return receipt - there was Wycliff's signature.  And no other response.

"That's great!" Edwards said.  "But I didn't hear anything. He didn't say anything!" I said. "Yeah," he replied. "But you DID it!"

In my early twenties what Edwards said meant almost nothing to me and I didn't try anything like that for a long time. But what he saw was that value lay in the fact that I DID it.  Only now, many years later, can it register that throwing my ill-thought-out, amateur, naive "hat" into the ring didn't make that submission better, but I could have learned how to submit better by failing more frequently.

I now see the fact that I DID it (Edwards' emphasis, not mine) could have been the first step in a series of extremely productive failures if I had known how to not be demoralized. And those failures would have been more valuable than a thank you note from my hero.

Hugh P Klitzke is voice casting director and studio manager for a leading bi-coastal talent agency.

He doesn't really know what a "recovering trombonist" is, but everyone laughs when he says it.  

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This is a personal weblog. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own and are not those of any of my employers.



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