Mark Stryker’s column in today’s Detroit Free Press is about the alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. Here’s some of what McPherson told Stryker about his school days, when he studied with the pianist Barry Harris, another Detroiter:
One day I came home from school and I had my report card, and he asked to see it. I was a C student; I didn’t try for anything more than that. He saw the C’s and he said, ‘You’re quite average, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m passing.’
He said, ‘You can’t be average and play the kind of music you’re trying to learn. There’s too much going on. Charlie Parker is not average. Your heroes are above average.’
It was like a little epiphany. It totally changed my life. I put in more effort and instead of being a C student I got A’s. I started getting interested in literature. I read Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Capricorn,’ and I started reading philosophers, for instance, Francis Bacon, Kant, Schopenhauer.
McPherson is interesting on Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Lonnie Hillyer and himself. You can read all of Stryker’s piece here.