Greetings JazzPianoSkills Fam!
This past week I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss jazz piano with jazz pianist, composer, author, educator, legend, and friend, Dan Haerle. You can watch and listen to this podcast episode at JazzPianoSkillsPodcast.com or you can check it out at the JazzPianoSkills YouTube Channel or any of the popular podcast directories (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, Amazon Music, Pandora, etc.).
Needless to say, it was great to visit with Dan and as is the case when you sit down with any old friend, you reminisce about days of old and the many blessings you share because of your relationship. Our conversation took me back to 1984 when I first arrived on campus at North Texas State University (now called the University of North Texas). I was a young man full of dreams and excited to begin my jazz education at the internationally renowned University of North Texas Jazz Program (considered by many to be the best collegiate jazz program in the world - which it is).
I arrived on campus in August of 1984 and if you know anything about Texas you know that August is HOT, blistering hot! So, there I am - hot, nervous, and scared! Not hard to understand why I was hot but nervous and scared? Yep, because I knew, deep down, I was about to quickly learn how I stacked up to other jazz pianists from around the world. I had no idea what lied ahead of me and thank goodness I didn't. If I had not been naive I would have turned around and quickly headed back home to Illinois.
After arriving on campus and moving into my dorm room I immediately began practicing and preparing for my quickly approaching placement audition with the man, Dan Haerle. I did not know exactly what to expect in the audition but I knew I had to have a jazz standard prepared to play and for whatever reason, I had decided to play a beautiful Duke Ellington ballad called, "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good". I had no idea at the time how applicable Duke's tune title was going to be to my current situation.
Audition day arrives and I head over to the College of Music from my dorm (McConnell Hall) which sits diagonally across the street from the music buildings. I enter the jazz wing and walk past Kenton Hall (named after jazz legend Stan Kenton) and proceed down the hallway to Dan's office. The hall is filled with the sounds of musicians from all over the world warming up and preparing to display their amazing skills to the UNT Jazz Faculty. Intimidating? No doubt. In fact, it is probably the most intimidating sound that I have ever heard in my entire life! The door opens and Dan Haerle is standing right in front of me - I can't believe it! Here stands the man that I have known for several years through studying his books which all contained his picture and bio on the back inside cover. There we were - the two of us - Dan looking at me and me looking at him. He looked very serious and I know I looked very nervous. Dan says, "are you, Bob Lawrence?". I quickly respond (with a shake and crack in my voice), "yes". Dan says, "come on in" and I thought, "oh boy, here we go!"
Once I entered Dan's office the intimidation factor grew exponentially. I quickly noticed the walls filled with pictures of jazz legends that he had rubbed elbows with throughout the years and placed right above the piano staring directly at me was his autographed photo of Bill Evans; dang, I was about to pee my pants! There was no turning back now, it was showtime. Dan, says, "go ahead, play me a tune" so I placed my shaking hands on his piano and began to play my Duke Ellington tune, "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good". I can't remember exactly what was going through my mind but I'm pretty certain I was actually praying as I was playing (not a bad strategy at times such as this). Once I completed the tune, Dan asked, "what were you playing?" I responded, "that was a tune by Duke Ellington called "I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good". Dan firmly fired back, "I know the tune! I asked you, what were you playing?" Now, I am totally confused and caught completely off guard - I had no idea what he was asking me so I simply stared back at him with a look of complete confusion, a furrowed brow, and a jaw wide open. He then asked, "was that jazz?" I quickly realized that this was not going exactly how I planned or envisioned it going. With much doubt in my voice I responded "yes, I believe it is". Dan gently disagreed and informed me that jazz had already been invented. In other words, there was much work to be done to improve my jazz piano skills; voicings, improvisation, feel, articulation, time - pretty much everything!
I am so thankful for that experience and the years to follow where I had the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the most inspiring and creative people (faculty and students) that I have ever known. I look back on my Masters and Doctorate academic years at the University of North Texas with much fondness and thankfulness - it was a jazz thrill every day!
Again, it was such a joy to see and spend time again with my jazz mentor and friend Dan Haerle. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Dan; so many pearls of wisdom so listen very carefully! Be sure to visit Dan's website - you can check out all of his amazing books plus he has a ton of free jazz resources available to help you discover, learn, and play jazz piano!
Dr. Bob Lawrence