JazzPianoSkills welcomes jazz pianist and professional tennis coach, David Shields. Based in Australia, David has enjoyed a lifetime of coaching tennis and studying jazz.
Welcome to JazzPianoSkills; I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It’s time to Discover, Learn, and Play jazz piano!
I am happy to share my interview with jazz pianist and professional tennis coach David Shields.
David has combined a love of music and sport, tennis in particular, that has taken him worldwide. He studied piano from an early age, mainly classical works, but jazz was never far away. At the same time, he was working on his tennis game and went on to play through college, with a stint in the Army thrown in.
Teaching tennis became a primary focus for the next few decades. He received an offer to teach and play in France and spent four years there. The piano was always there off the court, and the studies continued.
David has lived in Australia for nearly 40 years, with the past 20 years spent producing and presenting jazz programs on Melbourne radio. He is looking forward to a never-ending journey at the keyboard.
Now, It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome to JazzPianoSkills, Mr. David Shields.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 0:29
David shields, I've been threatening you for a long time that I'm going to have you on jazz piano skills. And I've made good on my threat. Here we are.
David Shields 0:43
You have and I'm, I'm trembling now this is no, this is this is going to be good fun.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 0:50
Yes, it is going to be fun, man. Because you know, I've known you now. You've joined jazz piano skills. I guess what, maybe a couple years ago now, has it been that long? A
David Shields 1:02
couple of years? Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 1:05
David Shields 1:07
probably, just on two years
Dr. Bob Lawrence 1:09
know each other. Two years. Yeah. So we've got to know each other back and forth over those two years time. And I'm fascinated with just how much you know about jazz, you're like a walking encyclopedia of jazz. And I'm also fascinated, because you are a professional athlete and trainer, tennis coach. And, and I want to talk about all that stuff today as well in relationship to jazz studies. But before we before we get off to the races here, I want to just kind of turned the microphone over to you. And I want you to share and introduce yourself to the jazz panel skills community. Man. Tell us about your childhood, your background, how you got into music, how you got into this love of jazz that you have. So just the mic is yours, my friend just fill fill us in.
David Shields 2:10
And we've only got three days to do this.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 2:15
Well, we can make it four, we can make it
David Shields 2:18
well, seriously, I feel a bit of a ring in here. I feel like I've jumped the queue in front of a whole lot of others who and the other interviews you've done with professional musicians and Jamey Aebersold. And how do I compare with that that's, that's impossible. But it's a real treat to be on here and be able to talk with you. I started a long, long, long, long, long time ago playing piano. Had a piano in the house. I grew up in the middle of Kansas. And there was always music around there. I listened to everything my mother had, I've still got her seven, eight albums of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. We grew up with that music Frank Sinatra show tunes. So there's always music in the house. And there was always something around. And the piano was a huge part of what what we did. My sisters and I both took lessons. I think I had the better teacher. But she I don't know why they why we got split up. But no, I had a brilliant teacher when I was when I was growing up to the point that I was playing mostly classical, almost all classical at that point. But to learn things that really made a big impact on my music life and what I've done since then, things like you know, learning the Chopin military Polonaise when I was, I was 11 years old. And I still play it. i It's something that I don't know. But what I have learned from you, and this is really, really important, is that only pushing buttons. That's all it is. And what I've learned from you in the last two years, about the difference in learning music, or actually playing music and understanding it, my mind, my head is just exploding every week. And you've got to understand that you have given us over to you. I've got about 2000 pages of of lesson notes from you. There's no I don't have enough time left in the world to learn all this stuff. But that's it's really, really important. And I went on and I played piano for a long time and then went to went college, get playing. And I suppose growing up I was I was asked to play things in school concerts or a lot of recitals and things and and that just kept me going but went to college and then I went into the army. And I was I was introduced to J. MC Shan when I was in the army now, my mother introduced me to it. This isn't just, she played me his music and that she actually introduced me to him. I was home on leave one weekend. This was in probably February 1973, I think. And my parents picked me up, we drove to Wichita, and went to the Canterbury Inn in Wichita. She said, I've got I've got to introduce you to somebody walked in there. And here's Jay McCann sitting at the piano with Paul Gunther in the corner playing drums and Claude Williams, on the bass and the violin guys. Now, I'm hoping everyone knows who Jamie chan he is and was, as one of the great Kansas City blues pianists had his own big band. He was instrumental in getting Charlie Parker his first start and took him you know, Charlie worked with Jay for years and years, and then they both went to New York and they changed directions. But to sit in that little club, right next to him and watch him play, and to listen to Claude Williams, who and I remember. Wow, who was it, Bert. Bert talked about one of your other interviews, talked about meeting caught and playing with Claude Williams. llegan. Just incredible, right? To be a part of that. And part of that history is was was really I've got a couple other Jamie chan stories. I'll tell you there. They both have bittersweet endings, but they're, they are good. But from there, went, went back to back to college, still playing tennis all the time teaching, started teaching tennis in 1975. I think so I've been been teaching about 47 years now.
Pretty much full time around the world. And it just it just went on from there. I was offered a chance with working in a tennis club in in in Florida with with Harry Hoffman. And there was a French family who came through one of the one of their sons was was playing, went out to dinner with him one night, they said would you come and be peers private coach in Lyon. So I went to France for four years, and played WoW, taught there and play but still kept playing piano. I had I found a teacher there who was a friend of the families. They're the most amazing teacher I've ever had. French Oh, except for you. But okay, she was an amazing teacher to the point that I would go in there for my lesson on Sunday afternoons, a 45 minute lesson. And almost every week, she would say, Oh, that's pretty good. But let's stay, stay have dinner with the family and then we'll go back and play some more. So we did. She asked me to play things that I had no business playing. I've got an autographed copy of she sent me a copy of the Chopin's Polonaise fantasy. That is just mind boggling, right? But one year from I happen to happen on my birthday one year, she invited her teacher, Madeline developer let to the house and Madam developer let came in and played a concert for us. All the Chopin preludes start to finish from memory. She was 86 years old at the time. Oh, my goodness. And we just sat there and listened to that. And I was doing some research to the hill a few months ago, just to see where, what her history was. It turns out and now Amy and Nancy and Anita will enjoy this. The finger exercise and independence is Isidore Phillip, who wrote two volumes of finger independence. Absolutely incredible. Much better than Hannon and journey and all of those. But not him development that was a student of visit or Phillip in Paris at the Conservatory. So this is where I go back to the history of the generations and the connections that I've had with with the piano and it. But it's all it's all classical right now. Up to that point. So this is where I'm on my journey now with you and with working on jazz. And that's playing jazz is one thing. I've been involved with it for a long time been doing radio work in Melbourne for about 20 years now producing and presenting jazz programs. So that's where I get a lot of contact with the musicians, emceeing jazz festivals, and, you know, album launches and interviews and all of that. That's why I say I'm, I feel like I'm on the wrong side of the mic here because I'm so used to interviewing people instead of being interviewed. So I don't get to talk this much. Right. But the people I met and one of your your great sayings and you do it all the time that the greatest thing about music is, is the people you meet. And I absolutely agree with that. And it's, it's true with tennis as well. I've met some amazing people through tennis, traveling around the world, but the music, right, the people that I've met through interviews and concerts and listening, to sit down and talk with Charlie Haden or sit and talk with Lee Konitz. Right? Or Jackie Jeanette, oh, my good to be able to sit and talk with these people and find out. What's, what's it like? Why do you why do you play the way you play? And what are you talking about in the in the masterclass the other day? How do you practice improvisation? What do you do? Right? And I was able to talk with these guys. And I asked Lee Konitz, one time what's, what are your favorite things to play? And how do you keep playing so many things over the years? And he said, You know, I only play about a dozen tunes. And that's why I play all the things you are because it's infinitely changeable. You can do anything with it. Right? And to hear that from him. at the, at the birth of the cool with Miles Davis. Right? That's, that's incredible, to listen to that and to be able to hear him. So, you know, I've had some some really, really fortunate chances to meet people and talk with them and just sit
you know, the to Jamie chance story. I've got to share these with you there, please. The first one was playing a concert, he was playing at a jazz festival in Salina, Kansas. And I'd caught up with him a few times. They had the break, he came over the table, we're sitting chatting, and I said, you know, it's really good. Some of the things that you just used to do with Charlie Parker that was was really groundbreaking and things that you got him to do. And he said, You know, I think I've got some old tape somewhere that we might have recorded years ago. Here's my address in Kansas City stopped by some time and pick them up. And my jaw went again, no doubt. Yeah, leave it
Dr. Bob Lawrence 12:46
was Yeah, no doubt.
David Shields 12:48
It was just incredible. He gave me his address, wrote it on the back of a deposit slip out of his checkbook. I think I've still got it.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 12:58
Oh my gosh. Oh, that's hilarious.
David Shields 13:01
So but I never I never got I was playing a tennis tournament in Kansas City one year and I was going to look him up and just never had a chance to do it. We did catch up a few times. After that once in France. I was in Lyon, working a tennis club coaching this kid and winning the local music shop. The big poster on the wall l Fitzgerald playing it at this outdoor amphitheater. This is the middle of July in summer in France, beautiful time. Ella Fitzgerald with opening act Jamie Chen, and the Quartet. Now I was up course you got to see Ella. But I was really happy to see Jay again. And there was there was a girl of tennis club who I was I was teaching English to this group of business people and one of the people in the class. She was a big jazz fan. I said, Look, you want to go see Ella Fitzgerald. Yeah. Great. That's great. So off we went. And I went down. We got there. We got our seats. And then Jay and guys were warming up and getting set up. And I went down to stage and just said Hi, honey. How's it going? Caught up a little bit. He said, hey, look, when we finished we finished the set, come backstage and we'll we'll have a chat. We'll catch up. And there's my dilemma. I'm at a concert to watch Ella Fitzgerald with with this girl who's interested in elephant trail didn't know Jamie chan at all. Right? So what's what's my what's my choice? What's my choice? J finished his set. And I and I did I did what I knew I had to do. So I made sure I got it. I got her a ride back to the no I didn't know. We sat there and right. Oh my god. We saw Ella and you You know, the one one thing that strikes me most about Ella Fitzgerald was Paul Smith at the piano. Absolutely incredible that he only died a few years ago. But he was he was an absolute giant and accompanied elephants for years. brilliant pianist. Absolutely brilliant. So it was it was worth it not I did TJ a few times after that anyway, so that's I didn't miss too much. Right. But yeah, and I made the right choice.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 15:30
I made the right choice. But that's the right choice.
David Shields 15:33
This is the Yeah, this is the mix of, you know, tennis and music and, and I'm so glad that I'm doing this, this journey with you right now because I I love it. I absolutely love it. But it's driving me crazy. I just, there's so much to learn. And it's so much more difficult. It is it is so difficult compared to the to the classical piano. You know, I'm playing right? When I was in Florida, I had a teacher there who forced me to do a solo concert. And she said, you're going to you're going to play this concert, it's an hour long program, you pick whatever you want to play, but you also have to compose to pieces. And, okay, good. So I did. And, and it was recorded. I don't know what happened to the recording, it's gone. But one of the pieces, I did a prelude recording, I wrote one. And then the second one very, very catchy title, I called it composition number one. And that was it. But that was that that's a sort of pushing that I've had to play things that are beyond me, and you talk about this all the time, you've got to go beyond your comfort level and just keep going. So now we're in the key of B major. I'm still, you know, it's it really is not that easy. But it's, it's fun. It's so much fun, right? Be able to do this. And also to know the music. That's, that's where I think I've got a slight advantage over some who may not who may just be coming in learning right now. But I've I've had so much contact with music and with jazz musicians and piano and different instruments, that's that's made a huge difference. So I can I can feel the music. And I know, I know what it is. And I'm like, I know, I've heard it before. So, right, I'll try to play it again. But that's, that's where we've ended up with the crossover easing credit. I've been taking notes over the last week or so since you got a hold of me and and just the comparisons of what I do and what you do. What I do on the court, what you do with the keyboard is is really the hill there's so many crossovers.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 18:01
Yeah, and, and yeah, and I want to talk about that a little bit, David, because, you know, obviously, your musical path has been quite a journey, you know, from a classical background, you have this profound love for jazz, and the history of jazz, the music of jazz. And but I want to set that kind of thing aside for a second because I want you to talk a little bit about, you know, you're a professional tennis coach, you know, you're there in Australia, you've been, you just mentioned that you've been coaching and teaching professional tennis, tennis for 4040 years, 40 years, right. And so I want to talk a little bit about the discipline that you have acquired over the years as a professional athlete, as a tennis player and and as a tennis coach. And I want you to talk about that a little bit in the demands of of, of being an athlete and a professional coach, and how that parallels with the demands and the mental side that you have found that isn't necessary with regards to the study of music, whether it's classical or jazz, just the study of music in general. So can you talk to us about that a little bit?
David Shields 19:24
Oh, absolutely. 99% of it comes back to fundamentals. And I know you stress that a lot. And I'll start with paper practice. That is is one of the most important things that I've learned from you and learning to step away from the instruments and learn theory and chords and scales and and everything that is necessary to be able to play. The same thing happens with tennis and something that I try to get through to the students, the players all the time is that you don't have to be hitting tennis balls to improve. You don't have to be on the court. So invariably, we get a wet day the rain comes down, the kids is all wet, you know, we can't do anything. And the parents are even worse. Sometimes. They're thinking, right, I'm not paying this guy to teach my kid how to play tennis if we can't hit tennis balls, but there's so much that they can learn off the court. There's so much they can learn about the history about the strategies about the basic things like the geometry of the court. Everything I teach is really based on geometry and physics. And like we talked about in music, everything is only ascending descending scales and arpeggios. That's it right there. It's pretty simple. Right? Tennis is the same way. And I tried to get that across to them that if you understand the geometry of the court, that hasn't changed in well over 100 years courts exactly the same size, physics haven't changed since forever. The way the racket acts on the ball, the way the ball spins, the way the ball bounces, right? That's constant, right? That's never going to change. The way the game is played, is changing a little bit. Sure the players are getting stronger and faster, the hitting the ball harder, equipments changed. But basically, the game was exactly the same as it has always been. So there are things that you can learn off the court, or just by watching us just sit down and watch this match and see what you can pick out. Same thing you talk about, sit and listen, if you don't understand something, that's okay. All this, you know, the 1000s of pages of notes that you've put out to us. There's no way we can learn all that. But if we just sit and listen, listen to music, listen to monk player, listen to Miles Davis, listen to I was listening, Stan Getz the other night. And it's just there's always something you can learn a joy without actually having to play without having to hit a ball, or get on the court. That that session, I think I sent you the video about that just basic backyard skills you can do with a racket and ball, you don't have to have a court don't have to have a partner, you don't have to have anything, just racket and ball skills, right? Really, really important. So that's, that's one of the most basic things I can I can say. And then it's just keep things simple keep keep your focus on on what's important. What's right. What you really have to do. I know I wrote down a couple of notes about what was I talking about? Just to to improvisation, limit your choices, to increase your creativity. That's right, and you've been a big focus on that improvise on two notes, improvise on one note, right? Well, I do the same thing with one of my favorite drills with the players is to get one player on the baseline one of the net, I feed the ball to the baseline player, he has to have a passing shot, it's got to get a pass the net player, but he can only hit to certain parts of the court, he's not able to hit everywhere, he can only hit that spot or this spot. And he's got to be creative with the way he hits the ball or she hits the ball. Right? They, they have to be able to think their way through that without having, you know, tons and tons of options. And it's the same thing with with music. And I really love that. That's it, it's made a big difference in the way that I play the way that I approach things. But I'm hoping with tennis players, it's the same same thing. You don't have infinite choices. When you are on a tennis court, you can only hit a ball in certain places. You're limited by the court, the net gets in the way. You know, where are you going to put the ball? So,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 24:08
right, you know, to be able to write you know, it's interesting because that words limitations, right? We it's amazing to me how many musicians fail to realize there's limits. And I would think that in the professional athletic world and in tennis. As you just said, there's limits right? And until we understand that limits does not mean, anything's lacking. It doesn't mean that you cannot be creative or successful playing because of limitations. It's just the opposite. And if we don't understand the limitations, then what happens is mentally, everything is way too confusing. And you know, you've heard me you've heard me say this before in the past to that, you know if Music and I would assume the same thing for tennis, we could just take the word music out of this sentence and slide tennis, tennis into it that I say all the time, if if music is easy upstairs, if music is easy here, then you have a chance you have a shot at being successful downstairs in your hands. If music on the other hand is complicated upstairs, then I can guarantee you, you have no shot downstairs in your hands. And I would assume that the same could be said for tennis. If tennis is simple here, then you got a shot with the racket in your hand, you actually have a shot. But if tennis is complicated up here in the head, in your mind, then good luck with that racket in your hand, you're gonna be a big racket, because the chances are, you're not going to be very successful. It might it might, it might stepping out way too far on a limb there.
David Shields 26:01
Not Not at all. That's That's exactly. I try to get players to, to again, limit their choices, keep it as simple as possible. And understand that if if you can hit a great old American tennis coach Vic Bryden, who used to say, learn how to hit the same old boring shot every time and you'll always be a winner. So you just right have to learn to not get complicated, right? You know, if I'm if I'm on the court, and I've got a choice of a shot, I just play the shot that I know I can play, right. And if my opponent picks it up, and gets it back to good, right, that's just the way it is. But I only have one, I only have one thing in my mind only a one shot to worry about. Instead of trying to approach the ball with, oh gosh, if I hit it here, hit it there. Or maybe I can maybe he'll think I'm gonna hit the it's not gonna be done. Right? You just cannot cannot play.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 27:00
Right? Yeah. So, you know, I'm always, I'm just always amazed at the similarities between the discipline that is needed to become an accomplished musician, how those same disciplines apply to anyone wanting to become an accomplished athlete, I'm always amazed at just how much of an overlap the disciplines are. It's, it's fascinating. So you already have you already have built into your DNA, being a professional athlete, a professional coach, you already have built into your DNA, that which is needed to become a very accomplished and successful musician. So you know, with that in mind, I want to kind of shift the conversation a little bit to the music side of things. So share a little bit with the jazz piano skills listeners about your jazz journey. Be if you would be candid enough just to kind of share with everybody you know, how you practice how you approach things at the piano, how you approach things away from the piano? What What have what has been the most frustrating aspect of studying jazz and studying piano, jazz piano? What What are things that you found that have come very natural, very comfortable for you can I know that's a lot to cover. But if you could kind of just speak openly about those various aspects of your journey.
David Shields 28:32
Well compare comparing jazz piano with classical piano. It's is a nightmare. It really is. I didn't realize how much I didn't know that. And that's probably my that's, that's as honest as I can be. There is so much that I've raised just in the last two years, there's so much that I've learned. And look, I've listened to jazz for years and years and years and years. And I love it. I love to listen to it. And I listened to players play and think this is this is great. This, this must be really easy. It's not because I start to get into I know they're only 12 tones. And I know it's not limitless, but it feels like it sometimes. But what I'm doing now is really getting back to basics of things like progressions. 2513625 ones are really working on those building up from from the shells to the three note to two handed voicings, even some rootless voicings. I mean, I love Bill Evans. So, right, you've got to throw some of those in as well. Right. Right. But I have started to do a lot more away from the piano work with just writing down okay, what's this progression? What's, what's the fifth of the key of B? What's the six of E flat? What? And you put that out on the masterclass a few weeks ago with the the little flashcard ideas of filling the blanks and do this away from the piano. That was, that was so good. And it's something that I really have to do. Look, I can read you, I sit down and read the music and I'll play it. But I want to be able to do that and get in the middle of a piece and still be able to keep going. One of my big horrible story out when I was young, I was playing classical stuff playing in a recital, playing list, Hungarian Rhapsody. I got in the middle of it. I got stuck. I couldn't remember. I just could not remember, I didn't have the music. Right. And I got stuck. And I played it. I now went back to measures oh, let's try it again. Oh, it was so frustrating, nearly walked off. But somehow I got through it. But that's what I love about jazz I can I can actually make those mistakes. And they sound as long as I make them two times in a row. It sounds okay. So
Dr. Bob Lawrence 31:15
Oh, that's great. Oh, yeah.
David Shields 31:18
But, but that's that's really is my, my goal right now is to be comfortable enough with enough of the changes enough of the rhythms. I know we're getting to the rhythmic patterns now. And that's, that's a very, very important part. And luckily, I can feel that a little bit easier. That's it's not something I have to break to count out all the time, because I did that my my teacher in France was was adamant about about counting and getting the time right and playing WC, right? If you don't get the rhythm, right, it just, it sounds horrible. So she was she was very big on that. Right? So that's, that's really, I need to do a lot more work away from the piano and, and get the things in my head. Those who say if they're clear in my head, it'll come out in the fingers. It really does.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 32:17
Yeah, yeah. Well, yes, you know that that is so important. And you're right, I do stress that a lot, right? The study of the study of music away from the instrument, and the things that you're that you've mentioned, that you're doing is absolutely gigantic. It's monumental, right? Understanding keys, you know, being able to spell your scales, being able to identify the chords that are produced by the scale, being able to spell those chords, being able to understand the function of those chords that oh, that's the two chord, that's the five chord, that's the one chord. That's like, you know, that's so that's foundational type information, that the reality is the reality is this. If that is not, if you do not have a command of that data, if you do not have a command of that data, then it really is irrelevant how much technique you have, how much skill you have physically on the instrument. But if you do not have the command of that data you will never ever develop into a jazz pianist. That's just, those are just brutal facts. Right? That's, there's no, there's no shortcut, right? There's no, you know, learn how to play jazz piano in 30 days, learn, you know, look, you know, play your first gig in 90 days. I mean, you know, there's none of this shortcuts stuff, even though that a lot of times people fall for that thinking that there's a shortcut, but like, like, my dad always used to say, there's no longer there's no longer way to get anywhere than a shortcut. You know, so, you know, if everybody looks for that magic, that magic sentence, or that magic pill, or that magic wand, or that, you know, that shortcut that's going to save them, you know, years of practicing, but the reality of it is, is just not there, right? I mean, and I think I think I speak for all of us, we've all tried to find it, but it ain't there, right? It's just not there.
David Shields 34:23
Well, you can get to the point where, sure, you can play the notes, you can play the tunes, that's fine. But it just, we're gonna do that anyway. And what what I really enjoy about what we're doing now with the, the progressions of of the lessons, if you look at face value of what you're putting out there, it's very complicated. It's very technical. It's very academic, it's, but then all of a sudden, boom, there's a tune. And guess what all that stuff we've been working on fits into the tune. Okay. Hey, this is good. In Indiana, that's what we want to do. We want to play, we want to play music. We want to play tunes. But let's play music. You know, if I just want to read music and play, play out of a book, I can do that. That's that's fine. But this, this goes that next level, really, really more important, I think. It's like, like on the tennis court. First thing I look at one of the players can he or she move? What's What's the movement, like, don't care about hitting a ball, anybody I can teach somebody hit a shot in five minutes. That's, that's easy. As long as you stand there, you don't move and I feed the ball to you exactly in the right spot. I'll teach you how to hit that ball. And a lot of players who do that, but you move them away three or four steps and the ball starts to bounce a bit higher or lower out to the side and a bit of spin and you have to adapt, you can't do it, they just fall apart. So the basics have to be there. And you've got to understand the basics. Like understand the functions, understand the chord progressions, understand the differences in the keys and how they how they work in tunes. That's why I said yesterday about about giants, because you've got keys running all over the place.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 36:22
Right, but you know, you know, that's interesting, because if there, if you were going to if you're going to label anything a shortcut, the irony is the shortcut would be the grunt work. All the grunt work that we're doing right, all the grunt work are the keys and, of course, good relationships. Because, you know, I tell students, I tell students that start with me all the time, like if, if a new student was coming into my studio tomorrow, here, Dave, David, here would be one of the very first things I would say to them as to okay, there's two ways we can approach this. We can I can teach you the way I can take the path where we're going to work on a lot of do a lot of grunt work a lot, a lot of grunt work for a significant amount of time. And at the end of that groundwork, you're going to be able to play 1000s of tunes, that's approach one approach to tell me what song you want to learn. And we can poke around on that song for about six months, and see how well it goes. Or we can poke around on it till you get tired? How about that, we'll poke around on it till you get tired of that song and you want to try it up? Try your hand at another song. We can do that. And we can flounder around that way for as many years as you're willing to pay me tuition. And, and, and see how that goes. So which approach that's approach B. So do you want to approach a? Or do you want to approach B? Because that's really what it comes down to. If you do the grunt work, because the grunt work is found in all the tunes, the skills are found in all the tunes. So if you're learning the skills that are in all the tunes, then you'll be able to play all the tunes. But if you want to just work and font, you know, flounder around on a piece of music, trying to put pieces of a puzzle together, we can go that route too. But it's just not going to have the same benefits. So but that's but that's the reality. That's the choice that lies before you. Or before anybody wanting to study jazz piano. That really is the choice, Option A option B pick it and we'll go.
David Shields 38:37
And you know, the funny thing is you learn that one tunes spend months and months and then a year later you've forgotten it. You can't play. You can't play it what happens in Yeah, well, we go back, we pick another Yeah. I've got a repertoire of six tunes that I can play and it took me 12 years to learn that now. No, that's but it is the same with with the tennis players I you know, they want to go out and play they want to, they want to go out and hit balls. And I see the kids do this all the time. They they go out. And in almost every case, if I if I turned 44 Kids loose on the tennis court with with balls and rackets, they will go to the baseline and start whacking balls back and forth. Every second or third ball goes in the net or in the fence or over the fence. And they waste all their time just because they think they want to play. And I said not just move in closer hit the shortest softest shot you can hit and hit 100 of those. So in three minutes, they'll hit dozens and dozens of balls and they get the feel they start to move better. They get their focus that attention is better. And then they can start to move back and back Move back. But you can't go out and play a full match. The first first thing up you just don't have the skills to do it. So it'll help quite a tennis sort of, but not really.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 40:04
Yeah. Ah, that they're there, you're saying so many good things there, David. First of all, you mentioned the word skills, you said you got to know the skills of tennis, if you're going to want to be able to play the tennis game, right? The game of tennis, you got to know that the skills or, or you can just you can do things that kind of look like tennis. But it's not really tennis. And the same thing, and the same thing happens in music as well, you got to learn the skills in order to play the game of music. And if you don't, if you don't learn the soils, in order to play the games of music, then you're putzing around on the, on the on your instrument, with with things that kind of sound like music, but it's not.
David Shields 40:54
Now that there's a big difference there, and that's, I just think it's so important to get back to basics and learn that learn the fundamentals know what you have to do to build on it. Because if you don't have the base, you can't build anything, it just it just all falls apart. And it proves itself very quickly. You know, if you if you're trying to, I don't know, run a big scale or, or playing 17 chords in a row and changing if you don't, if you don't know them, you can hunt and peck and figure out a way to get there, but it's not it's gonna sound terrible. And the rhythm and this is what has gotten me over the past few weeks is just that the rhythm and that how important that is to feel the music so and tennis is the same way there's a rhythm to the game that uses a rhythm. It makes it easier. Hmm.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 41:56
Yeah. Yeah, that's That's it. That's really interested. Yeah. Yeah, that's, that's, that's interesting that you bring that up, because there absolutely is a rhythm to any athletic game, right? There's a rhythm to tennis. There's a rhythm to it. And, and that rhythm that we've been studying this year in jazz piano skills, and been exploring in the master classes every week, we've gotten to the point where we realize, at least I hope we've gotten to the point where we realized that everybody that's studying and kind of going on the journey with us this year, that you know, notes by themselves have no excitement. There's no excitement, there's no musical note, that's exciting to me, not one, you can play all 12 of them that none of them do anything for me. So if you place that the middle C for me, it does nothing. It does nothing for me. Play D flat, it does nothing for me. D nothing. E flat, nothing. In fact, it's just all blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right. But as soon as you start adding rhythm, you start adding rhythm to those bla bla bla bla bla notes. Now we got something. Now we have something. And of course I always use Duke Ellington C jam. C jam blues is as a validation to this point that you know, here's two notes, you know, the note G and the notes, see nothing special about those two blog notes, right. But look what Duke Ellington does with those two notes. Yeah. Pretty cool. Right.
David Shields 43:32
So I was like, you know, Coleman Hawkins one note Samba.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 43:36
Yeah, right. Right. Right. So I would imagine in the tennis world, I would imagine that the tennis world if an athlete in the tennis world, would really stop focusing on trying to make the great shot. And actually would focus more on learning the rhythm of the game, and how to control and manage the rhythm of the game. I bet they would be a lot more successful on the court that always trying to hit the great shot.
David Shields 44:07
Yeah, yeah. You look at look at great players, and they just look, they look good. They look smooth that they don't force anything. Same with pianists, right. I mean, you watch, right. I mean, we talk about Oscar all the time. But oh, yeah. You can't. You've got to have the ability to play like that. But it looks easy. And it looks like someone. One of the when I was I was coaching at the national tennis center, where the Harlem Globetrotters were playing across the road one night, and one of them came here for a hit.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 44:49
Wait a minute. Now is this the Harlem Globetrotters with Meadowlark Lemon and curly?
Unknown Speaker 44:55
No, no, no. That's when I was a little kid. No, this. This is Oh, Ah, now there were this was the heart generation this would have been
Dr. Bob Lawrence 45:03
gay. Wow. Yeah, no, that's the Harlem Globetrotters.
David Shields 45:08
Yeah. And red clots in the Washington generals. Yeah, no. No, this was. Now this was a good crew. It would have been 19. Or what 89, something like that. We passed anyway, one of them came in to the pro shop one day and said, Can I hit? So we went on on one of the stadium courts and I was hitting with him and but just to watch him move around the court was about six foot eight, so he could cover the whole court in one step. But there was nothing forced, there was nothing on unbalanced, and he wasn't a tennis player. But all he had to do was get to the ball and right, he sort of knew what to do with it. But that was, that was a perfect example of a good athlete who can who can do some because he has the skills. He's got the movement, the balance, and all of that. And it was, No, it was great fun. And then the best thing was that he said, Come over the game tonight. And we'll we'll catch up afterwards. And I went down to the locker room afterwards, we had an 18 month old son at the time. And he said, here this is for your son for when he grows up handing me a pair of his autographed basketball shoes. Everybody in the team had autographed them and we've got those hanging on the wall. Now they're no it's, it's been great. So but what I was thinking was the the fun things that go through the mind when you're playing music or playing sports or anything like that. One of my favorite books of all time is the inner game of tennis, Timothy Galway. All right, who talks about right? The self one and self to self one, the conscious mind gets in the way all the time you make a mistake, you idiot, why don't you? Why can't you play? And he says the answer to that is because you're no good. So you don't listen to that you listen to self two, which is the unconscious, just let it happen. The body knows what to do. And it it will get the job done, however, and he was he was speaking at a national tennis teachers conference that I went to New York one year. And he said the fallacy people think is that they read the book, and they all you got to do is just let it happen. It's all in there. He said, No, it's not you still have to have fundamentals, you've still got to have the skills, right. But then once you do that, you let those go. And you don't try to force anything. So very similar to Kenny Werner with his effortless mastery. And it's it is it is almost identical.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 47:47
Yes, right. Well, you know, just like what you just said, Let it happen. Right. But if you don't have it, you can't let it happen. There's no if the let happen. That's right. In the in, in the it is this are the skills that we're talking about the skills of tennis are the skills of music, right? If you don't have the it, what you can't let it happen if you don't have it, you know, now, that book that you mentioned, the inner game of tennis, you know, that was a that was a big book, right? That I mean, that was that was very popular book, not only for tennis players. But you know, that I remember in college, I had to read that that was required reading for musicians. In fact, there was another book called The Inner Game of music that came that came out after that, right. But everybody said, you know, don't read the inner game, read the inner game of tennis, even as musicians, we were told to read the inner game of tennis. Because because the funny thing was talking about. Yeah, this is what we're talking about today is because the overlap is so what it's, it's like the same.
David Shields 48:59
Yep. And the interesting thing is, it's not a technical instruction book, there's very little technical instruction about how to play the game. It's all about getting out of your own way, understanding what you can do. And, you know, he throws in a few technical tips, things like on volleys get down a bit lower or whatever, or you spend time watching the ball as it spins. So you work on your focus, and you work on appreciation of what the ball is going to do and where it is and what it's going to do in space. Sort of the same thing when when we're playing piano and you just, you just feel the fingers and the fingering gets. Right, and it just feels right. And you don't you don't have to force yourself to do it. But you get to the point where right that becomes automatic. And that's yeah, I mean, I suppose that's what I'm trying to get to right now is Yeah,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 49:56
right. Yeah. Well, you've heard me David. You've heard me say this many times I say it in podcast. And you know, we've discussed this in master classes. You know, I always say that. You know, I always say I asked students when they want to study mute, they say they want to study music. And I always ask the question, Well, that's wonderful. So what does I say that if you want to study music, please tell me what is music, the study of? If you want to study music, what is music to study? And of course, they become speechless right away, because they don't know. They don't know how to answer the question. What music is the study? Yeah, they want to study it, but they can't tell me what it's the study of which I find to be very interesting, right? So I'm quick, I'm quick to point out that music is not the study of dots and buttons. It is not that where you know, you're looking at a piece of music, that that means push that button, that that means push that button, right, I say no professional musicians, play shapes, and sounds. That's what we play, shapes and sounds. So in essence, then we have to study the shapes and sounds of music. And I would imagine that in the tennis world as a tennis coach, there are the shapes and sounds of tennis, the moves the motions, the feel of tennis, the same kind of thing, right? That you have to study as a as an athlete as a professional tennis player, if you're going to have success.
David Shields 51:35
Well, we do we talk about shaping shots. If you're if you're hitting a serve, you want to hit it to a certain spot, it has to have a certain amount of spin or it has to go to a certain place. You shape a forehand or backhand. So that one clears the net. There's only two objects in tennis and very similar to music, we go up and down in music, we've got scales and arpeggios in tennis, you only have two objectives. You've got to get the ball over the net and make it land in the court. That's all you've got to do. If you can do that, then we start to learn, we start to work on more spin. More speed, more direction. Yeah, a little bit of variety. But the game the game itself is pretty simple when you when you think about it. And I even go back to Pete Sampras all the time, he won 14 Grand Slam singles titles by hitting a ball, deep cross court, back and forth, back and forth until he got a short ball, go to the net hit a volley win the point game set match. Pretty simple. Simple. Right? And you look at the best players and they they do you know they are incredible. Now I've got to admit it. They're just great players. But the your I think Rod Laver one time said something about, you know, you don't need to hit a $50,000 shot when a 50 cent shot will win it. So you don't have to get complicated.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 53:03
Right? Yeah, you know, I would,
David Shields 53:05
and you mentioned this. Yes, you may. Go ahead. I was gonna tell you, I mentioned this the other day that jazz players abhor silence. They don't, they don't want to have nothing going on. So Oh, we got to stick more notes in here mystic more notes. And no, you don't right. Now, you know, make it simple. Make it simple. Right?
Dr. Bob Lawrence 53:28
Right. You know, it's funny, I imagine that you could say to a young tennis player, if you wanted to write this would be I guess this would be a really bad business plan in tennis as a tennis coach, to say to them on their first lesson, listen. When you can hit that ball over the net 300 times in a row without missing then come back for lesson two. Right? That would probably be a bad business plan. Just like in music, it would be a bad business plan for me to say, look, when you can play your 12 major scales up and down the piano one octave, and your arpeggios up and down one octave, then come back for lesson two. Right? Because my point is, my point being is, is there's a lot of skill that you got to there's a lot of skill that's needed to do that. Yeah. Right.
David Shields 54:22
But if you take that, take that player and say you got to hit the ball back and forth 300 times, but put him two meters away from the net and hit the ball softly that we'll do that. We'll do that we used to hit, you know, hundreds and hundreds of shots in a row. Right? But you it's like skiing. You can't go down a black run. If you're not a good scare. You just totally lose control. You can't go beyond your control. Same way. Same with a piano we can't. I cannot play you know, a Chopin Sonata almost anything Oh I play a lot of Chopin, but that's, there's some things that I just physically cannot play. It's just not possible. So that's, that's just, you know, the fact of the matter. And same thing with with tennis.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 55:13
Right? Right. You know, it's, it's always fascinating to me to listen to jazz musicians as they age, as they age as they get older. You know, physically, physically, they can't do what they did when they were younger. I mean, there's a reality to that. But they end up playing better as they get older. They don't have the physical skill that they used to have. But their musical skill is by far, much more superior. Right? So there's something to be said. There's something to be said about that. Right. So if we could play well, then we could play. If we could play old Young. That would be fantastic. Yep.
David Shields 55:58
I remember I heard I heard Earl Hines in Washington one year at blues alley. And he would have been very old at that time. But, you know, this is a guy who had been around with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s 1930s. Right, right. Just amazing pianist. But still still playing really, really well. Yeah, you're right. Some some of them. Don't play all that. Well. We had McCoy Tyner out here a couple of years ago. And he wasn't well and wasn't playing all that well. So it is sad sometimes. But yeah, they still you can still feel it. They got the feeling for it. And that's Yeah. Believe me, it's much better watching old. Yeah. Yeah, I remember much better watching old pianists. Yeah.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 56:49
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I remember one time on, on the John Johnny Carson Show. They had Eubie Blake Come on. And he was celebrating like his 90th birthday or her or his 95th birthday, something like that. And I think he lived to be like, 96 years old, or, but But anyway, he was in his 90s. And he had a big birthday celebration and, and the curtain opened up and they helped him out to the piano. I mean, he was old. He was had a walker, they get them out to the piano, he sits down. And he plays a little solo version of I can't give you anything but love. And of course, this is a 90 year old man sitting at the piano, sitting at the piano playing. And he played it so beautifully. And he wasn't doing anything fancy not because he didn't want to do anything fancy it physically, he was 90 plus years old. Right. So he played he played within the confines of his ability. And I remember after he got done playing a huge standing ovation from the band. Huge standing ovation from the audience, Johnny Carson was on his feet. Heck, I was on my feet sitting in my living room watch. And it was it was fantastic. It was absolutely beautiful. And there's a great lesson. There's a great lesson there for all of us. Right. Right. And I think that I think that lesson, that lesson well, I think that lesson is that we regardless of where each of us are in our own abilities right now, it regardless of our age, with the abilities that we have, we can make really nice music. We can make really nice music.
David Shields 58:34
Yeah, it is, is one of the benefits of of musicians. As they get older. They they just limit what they can do. And that's fine. They'll still sound fine. I can't say the same about old tennis players. Some of them it really is. But they've been they've been through so much over their lives and they put their bodies through all sweats of tortures and yeah, traveling the world and playing every day. It's it does take its toll so that's a total body thing and it's it is sad sometimes to see some of them play but but some of them are still still playing. Okay, that's um, I'm shooting for the 80 and over Wimbledon Championships that's that's my
Dr. Bob Lawrence 59:19
Yeah, good. Yeah, do that in tennis. Do they? Like I know I know in golf they have like the seniors tour in golf. Do they have the same kind of thing in tennis like a seniors a seniors division? Okay. Yeah,
David Shields 59:36
they do. And for the most part, it's pretty good. McEnroe started that few years ago. He was he was one of the key players Jimmy Connors played for a little bit boring. Still plays a little bit. We're waiting for Roger Federer to show up on the senior tour and just wipe everybody away.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 59:57
Right, right. Right.
David Shields 59:58
Any we'll be right got one leg, he'll do it. Yeah, but no, they do play. They do play and it's interesting. But it's not. It's not the way they used to play. That's that's the thing. So they're more limited than than a musician I think.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 1:00:15
Right? For sure, for sure. Well, listen, my friend, we've been yakking for an hour now, man. So we're gonna wrap this thing up, I cannot begin to tell you I cannot I cannot begin to tell you what a joy it has been to sit here and learn about your musical journey classical and jazz, your your professional tennis journey as well. And how you're actually drawing strength from both of those disciplines to help each one of those disciplines. It's, it's fascinating, and I think it's a great lesson for all of us to, to take the heart as well. So, you know, on behalf of all the jazz piano skills, listeners behalf of myself, David, I want to thank you for just taking the time out of your day and sharing yourself with the community. It's been a joy.
David Shields 1:01:06
Well, thank you so much for what you do and what you do for everyone. I know all of us in the classes all of us around the world we really enjoy what you do and hopefully we will make you proud one of these days and we'll actually learn some things so well. It'll never end Yeah.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 1:01:24
You all you already do my friend. You're already making me proud. So David, thank you so much. And what we're gonna have you back I'm gonna have you back on again soon. Man. This been this has been way too, too short of time. So what we'll have to do a part two here soon.
David Shields 1:01:43
Well, I'm gonna have to dream up some more stories, then I'll have to go back through my diaries and see what I've gotten.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 1:01:50
All right, David. Listen, man. Have a have a great weekend, and I will see you I will see you online at jazz piano skills.
David Shields 1:02:01
You will I've gotta get back to the back to the books and study for this week so and accounting, wait to see what tune you're going to come up with this week. Meet me to meet all right,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
Thank you, David.
Jazz Pianist, Professional Tennis Coach
Originally from Kansas, David now residing in Australia. He has combined a love of music and sport, particularly tennis, that has taken him worldwide. He studied piano from an early age, mainly classical works, but jazz, his true love, was never far away.
David has had a passion for tennis and played competitively through college. After a stint in the Army, David became a professional tennis coach, and teaching has been his main focus for decades which began when he received an offer to teach and play in France. Off the court, the piano has always been there, and his commitment to jazz studies continues to this day.