by Mark Shilansky, Assistant Professor of Ear Training
So, I decided to go back to school. My pal and frequent musical collaborator David Scott asked me to write about it for the BFU blog.
Either Albert Einstein or Mark Twain famously said (on their Facebook profiles) “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” I fell in love with playing music in Grade School. I had bands all through High School, where I met jazzy people at music summer camp and started playing jazz myself, because all the people I met there who were any good at music played jazz. I loved a variety of bands and when Sting left the Police and started a band with Branford and Kenny Kirkland I got into them and followed the history of the music back through a variety of mentors who loaned me albums and made me mixtapes. I went to undergrad for music performance, did a whole classical recital and everything, and they were particularly talent-filled years at the University of NH, and I hooked up with some great players and we played just about every day. Then I went to New England Conservatory for grad school and promptly got my ass handed to me by all the great players there, but I stuck it out and Tom Hojnacki (thankfully he was teaching there then) taught me what an Altered Scale was (before then when I saw a V chord I just played whatever I wanted) and I met a bunch MORE great players like Luciana Souza and Lisa Thorson and Andrew Rathbun and they let me play with them, and even a few Berklee professors (Del Nero and Nifong at least were there then) who were improving themselves and rewriting the same paper over and over with the brilliant but demanding Greg Smith.
Then I escaped to New York like most of the jazz musicians who pass through Boston do, and I learned a lot there, and played with some great people and ran up a MOUNTAIN of credit card debt, and just when I was about to sadly, tragically take an office temp gig, Lisa and Luciana hooked me up with some accompanying at Berklee in the Voice department, and I came back to town and was just “around,” then, so I could just bump into people and see Berklee people on my gigs, and one day on a break of a gig with Kris Adams, the late, great Steve Prosser walked up to me and said, “Hi, I teach at Berklee,” and I said, “Cool. You know what I can’t stand? When people teach music but they can’t play anymore.” And he said, “You know what I can’t stand? When people can play music and can’t teach it! I just saw [insert name of famous jazz musician] give a clinic at Berklee and it was terrible!” And nobody had bothered to tell me that Steve was a musical genius and so I had all this bravado and bluster and probably made a sublime ass of myself, but a few sentences later he said, “Do you wanna teach Ear Training for me?” and I said, “OK,” and Prosser looked over at Badolato (who was playing sax on that gig) and they kinda nodded to each other and it was a done deal, I guess, but I had to audition a couple weeks later anyway.