Hi there everybody! So who exactly is Dr. Frank, the Music Man and what exactly does he do? Well, as of this writing, I am 74 years old and like most people my age, I am a multifaceted kind of guy with a lifetime of experience. I played the trumpet in elementary school, junior high, high school, and even college. I played in school bands and marching bands. I even wrote a 17 piece jazz band composition in high school called “Dis Ain’t Mickey” in honor of my band director, Al Poston. That’s a story all in itself. But the instrument that I really lay claim to is the piano and keyboards in general. Let me fill you in on the details:
I took piano lessons at around age seven for about a year. That’s it. That’s as close as I ever got to learning how to read the bass clef. The treble clef was learned by playing the trumpet later, starting with a few summer lessons in elementary school in grades five and six. I remember listening to my older brothers playing boogie woogie on the piano at home and I was instantly hooked! I was probably in elementary school at the time but we’re talking roughly sixty years ago so I could be off on the time frame. Anyway, I began banging away at the piano again, but this time with no music. My Dad had less than kind words to say about it but I kept on plugging away just the same. At some point in time, probably in high school or college, I started to read guitar chords written above the melody lines in music books. I was learning to read a fakebook which bypasses the need for learning the bass clef. My trumpet lessons helped me to read the treble clef in the fakebooks but I can assure you, my improvisation skills at that point were such that I turned the melody and the chords any which way but loose! Decades later, I remember playing background music using a fakebook in a movie theater venue in southwestern Ohio. A girl patron walked up to look at the music I was playing. She obviously played herself because she couldn’t figure out how I was generating the music from what was actually written on the score. The music and chords were mere guidelines. Believe you me, I owned the rest of that music! About eight years ago, I was content playing boogie and fakebook music either at home or in public venues whenever work was available. Venues were always few and far between, but after the recession of 2008 much of that kind of work dried up for quite some time. Paid entertainment is always one of the first casualties in a recession. What to hear me play? Check out my music videos.
Now I have a little confession to make: My major in college was not music, it was zoology. After graduating, I got a masters degree in (guess what?) zoology again! I couldn’t get off the education runaway train. Next, I got a masters in bacteriology to round out my biology background and make myself more marketable. You see, I am actually a cell biologist, not a zoologist! Even that wasn’t enough. I got a Specialist Degree in Community College Teaching to make myself marketable as a college instructor. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. So I got myself a Ph.D. at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Bet you can’t guess what it was in, can you? Yep, zoology! It was zoology in name only, however. I was actually majoring in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. By now, you must be appreciating what I meant earlier when I said I was multifaceted with a lifetime of experience. I don’t want to get you off on a tangent here, but when or if you ever have the time or inclination, you can read all about my scientific research exploits at another one of my blogs: evolution4.wordpress.com. My last research job was in Dayton, Ohio for the Gastroenterology Department at Dayton Children’s. Ok, nuff said about all of that.
So you must be asking, how in the heck did I manage to learn the piano in the midst of all this non-musical schooling and workload? Well, it was hit and miss for quite some time. In fact, I got married back in 1978 (still am), raised two daughters who went off to college themselves and eventually got married and I wound up with four beautiful grandchildren. Life happens, you know. Still, I practiced my piano and on rare occasions, my trumpet. Oh, did I fail to mention that I can also sing? Yep. Sure can. For most of my life I was very timid about doing it in public. So anyway, I played where I could, practiced my piano, and life went on until 2010 when my boss suddenly left Dayton Children’s and I was laid off after almost 13 years of working there. You see, biological research has one thing in common with the entertainment industry: Unless you are a tenured professor or work for the government, your job is simply a gig. It can dry up at a moment’s notice. That’s what happened to me… more than once, in fact. However, the last time it happened I was 62 years old, and at that age it is very difficult to get rehired in that same field of endeavor. So I didn’t. At some point, I got off unemployment and simply retired early on Social Security. My wife was still working, ironically at the same place I had been. In fact, my boss hired her after me! Such are the vicissitudes of life. So here comes the next part of my musical evolution:
Suddenly, I was spending a lot of time alone by myself at home. It was then that I decided to finally get serious about really learning how to play the piano. This was in 2010. I laid off the key of C boogie woogie, the fakebook, and begin focusing on how to learn how to play the piano in all 12 keys by making up finger exercises that forced me to flow from one key change to the next. I learned all the major scales, all the chromatic scales and I learned all of them backwards and forward using both hands at the same time. I invented complicated ways of key change progressions to rewire my brain, increase manual dexterity, and enhance my ability to play anything in any key by ear. I started playing melodies in a variety of keys, even covering all 12 of them in a number of cases. Obviously, I can’t play everything in every key yet but I consider it a work in progress. I… am a work in progress. I think any straight thinking musician would say the same thing. I don’t mean to brag, but the results have been astounding. I have evolved, transformed, and continue to do so with each passing day. However, I always knew that singers got a pass from the audience that most players don’t. It’s why Elvis quit playing the guitar and just started singing. So I bit the bullet and went even further: I begin singing and playing the music together.
I invite you to listen to what I have accomplished so far by clicking on one or more of the audio clips I have posted up here. Let me know what you think by providing comments. I know there will always be room for improvement, so constructive criticism is welcome as well. In the meantime, I will keep cranking away, maybe write a song or two in the process, and play gigs wherever they may show up.
P.S. Unfortunately, I still can’t read the bass clef well enough to play it. Sigh! I guess you can’t have everything, can you?