On the S.S. Vallejo in Sausalito, California (1978)
INSPIRED BY MY OWN LIMITATIONS
There’s more inspiration here than appears in the initial story about me playing at the Ritz in DC that appeared in the Sonoma County Gazzette. I’d only recently come out of the closet as a musician, let alone one that could play at the Ritz. I’d used piano for ten years as a biofeedback for unwinding tension patterns I lived with that were associated with a “mild” congenital cerebral palsy. I’d backed into creating lovely music as a natural result of my somatic attunement. I began working with a piano therapeutically for the same reasons many give for not paying musical instruments, physical incapacity. That doesn’t have to happen.
I recall my childhood growing up in Sherman Oaks, constantly on guard against the approach of the bullies at my elementary school who taunted me with names while cornering me looking for an opportunity to twist my contracted left arm and shove me off balance. I was a klutz. I got around without shaking, but suffered spasticity and atrophy on my left side. When Mom bought me a piano lesson at age seven, it was my last one. I couldn’t tie my shoes, so who are we kidding, piano?
Cerebral palsy had left me with obvious contractions and structural imbalances. My right side developed to overcompensate for spasticity and limitation of movement on my left side. As I grew up, doctors and physical therapists told me that CP interrupted my motor functions that exerted muscles, but didn’t affect my sensory nerves, which they said were unrelated. Later I learned that sensory awareness was the key to feeling the accumulation of tension in spastic patterns, and that only through awareness, could I learn to release. I became more conscious about tension patterns. I could learn to settle, ground and center. How did I do that?
In the late seventies I conducted a bodywork practice in the galley of the S.S. Vallejo, which was moored at Gate Five in Sausalito (where Alan Watt’s lived.) In between clients I’d sometimes sit at the nice baby grand in the sunlit foyer, one-fingering its keys forlornly, and remembering why I couldn’t play music.
I had decided to do bio-feedback training to explore developing my manual dexterity. I’d progressed greatly in my massage work, but I felt I’d gotten away with a lot by using my body weight more than my agility, and was ready to tackle my finger dexterity. I’d been shopping for biofeedback equipment, and then it occurred to me. Wait-a-minute, if I could hear my forlornly in my one-fingering, that’s mechanical biofeedback. Maybe I don’t need beeps, buzzers and lights or expensive electronics!
I tried a not so forlornly finger, this time with some breath and a relaxed centered posture. Bingo, no forlornly sound! I compared the cost of renting a piano to my market research in biofeedback technology, and spent more time at the piano in between clients on the Vallejo.
I soon discovered that the easiest way to touch the keys with my left hand was with my little finger and my thumb, which sounded nicely harmonic. Very nicely in fact. So I just played that way with my left hand, repeating the pattern an octave up in my right where I could throw in my middle finger and play a total of five notes. I was ten years into somatic awareness at this point, and it didn’t take long for me to try different posture, attitudes, moods etc. in which to play my own little five note arpeggios.
I stayed in A (minor) for what seemed a long time before I discovered moving to down one note into G more variety than I required in order to study tone quality. A music teacher who heard me said I was playing “fifths,” the most common building block in harmony. No wonder the sound held some interest. She taught me to build a scale on any note, and transition through the “circle of fifths” which tied all keys together.
You know how when you buy a new car you start seeing more of your model on the roads? All of a sudden, I started hearing intervals in popular music that were also fifiths. It turns out that an “open fifth” (without the third) was a common feature in the new age music I was listening to. I found a couple favorite George Winston introductions with my evolving fingering one day, and all of a sudden I was playing with his sound.
Before long, I was playing some favorite themes by Ackerman, Vangellis, Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Eric Satie and Arvo Part. I co-authored a beautiful piece of music unintentionally, and I’m in the midst of another emerging composition. I’m still catching my breath from latest endorphin rush in my story; the possibility of a recording deal produced by William Ackerman on the currently inactive Windham Hill label.
And now here's what others are saying this about my music! "Splendiferous!" Hosanna Bauer “Euphoric!” Mark Feldman "Beautiful piano ... lifting my spirits ... bringing immediate joy ... thank you so much." Yael Raff Peskin “Mysterious and calming....Your piano playing is all that, and more..... Smooth, rich, velvety...like warmed dark chocolate.......” Shoshana Geller ”Your music makes me feel like a deep reflecting pool.” Chance Massaro
"Professional musicians sometimes forget why we were originally drawn to music. Jerry began playing piano as a bio-feedback tool to unwind tensions. His story and remarkable ability to listen and produce mysterious sounds through original improvisations on popular and classical themes seem to help people rediscover their desire to listen.” Seth Montfort, Concert Pianist
“Jerry goes straight to the heart and soul of the music. He's an astounding person to play music with, and completely unique. I welcome our future collaborations and his contributions to the musical world.” David Field, Recording Artist