LS: My Father Led the Way
In my latest WIP I’m writing about a would-be jazz musician. I come by this jazz thing honestly, in a round about way. My husband Will and daughter Ty are jazz people. I am not. Get any crazier than Vince Guaraldi and I begin to melt, slipping out of the room without even thinking about why I’m retreating. Still, if I were a proficient musician, I’d want to be a jazz artist.
I’ve been researching a tad on the lives of various jazz musicians and have come to realize how many of them showed prowess during childhood. Herbie Hancock began studying the piano at seven. By the age of eleven he was playing concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Count Basie’s mother oversaw his musical education, and in the 1920’s he left his home in New Jersey to take on the musical scene in Harlem—and now, who hasn’t heard of Count Basie?
Oscar Peterson, showing great promise as a jazz pianist, asked his father if he could quit school to be a musician. His father said yes, but only if he was going to be the best. There was no other justification for quitting school.
If I could write a book like Oscar Peterson plays the piano, man, I’d be somethin’!
As writers, people of passion who have plonked themselves, or have found themselves plonked, into a world of expression and beauty, of creativity and the desire to usher people into worlds before unknown, who was it who encouraged us? Who told us we were creative people, and told us with such earnestness and assuredness that we believed it ourselves?
For me it was primarily my father. Bill Ebauer taught himself to play the piano by sitting at the old player piano growing up. Listening and watching the keys he ended up playing the songs beautifully, sometimes leading the neighbors in sing-a-longs. He didn’t take lessons, but ended up earning pocket money for college playing boogie-woogie in a bar. Bill Ebauer taught himself to paint as well, and I grew up watching him set up his pallet each evening down in the family room while us kids watched TV. I loved to stand there by his chair and watch him dab his brushes into the pigment and sometimes slide, sometimes scratch them onto the canvas.
Unfortunately when I was about eight, he switched to stamp collecting. But he sunk himself deep into that—and my sister and I’d go with him to stamp collectors clubs after mass on Saturday nights. I’ll never forget the ancient man with the thick round glasses and the cigar.
His voice rumbled like a far away train. Thankfully my father took up painting after retirement, and while his works, with all those years in-between, lost some of the precision they’d once had, I liked them more because somewhere in the meantime, he figured out that artistically, he could express himself as only he could. By my father’s example I learned that drawing and playing the piano weren’t a waste of time and that art was, to him, the highest form of calling.
I’ll never forget standing with Pops in front of Dali’s The Last Supper at The National Gallery in Washington, DC. “That guy could really handle paint,” he said. And even though I was a college student, I stood beside him, feeling so connected, drawn like a bow, because like him, I loved to draw, I loved to play the piano and I loved to create. The writing came later—I’d written my first novel but had yet to hear a yea or nay from the publishers when my father died suddenly. He was a fiery person, a man of great expression masquerading as an eye doctor. But in those sublime moments when all was good, we connected deeply on a level of beauty and creativity.
And it is to him I owe a lifetime of such pursuits. The difference is, I’ve been blessed to do this for a living. I hope he can see me somehow and know what he did for me and realize that I am thankful.
Who was your great encourager?
Who showed you the way?And these days, who is reaping the benefits of your artistry? Not readers, but people? A son or daughter? A niece of nephew? A neighbor kid? Who will you take by the hand and show the wonders of the world? Who will you believe in so convincingly that they will believe in themselves?
lisa samson has written 18 novels. The latest, Straight Up, is available on bookstore shelves now. www.lisasamson.typepad.com, http://www.lisasamson.com/,