Q – This year is the 250th Anniversary of Mozart’s birth. You’ve said “Mozart got you into jazz”, tell us how.
A - To answer that, let's first go back to 1991, the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death - not an event on any normal teenager’s calendar, certainly not mine! But that changed one Saturday morning driving my parent's little 1980's K-car to work. I was listening to a radio program called “Morning Mozart” broadcasting the composer's complete works throughout that anniversary year. Only half listening, I missed the name of the piece that came on, a pity since that music by Mozart effectively altered the course of my future. I guess some people like myself are just hardwired to be ignited when certain factors collide, what else could explain a profound shift in a 16-year-old’s interests listening to centuries old music through crappy Chrysler K-Car speakers. Compelled to immerse myself again in that sublime experience the next day, I went directly to the Hamilton Public Library and maxed out my card with as many musical scores and cassette tapes that my stretchy A&P plastic bags could hold before bursting. I still remember my elevated pulse waiting for the 33-Sanitorium bus, I just had to get home to the piano!
I hadn't much touched that frail Wurlitzer upright my parents bought for my lessons from ages 3 to 12. My older sibling and I both took Tuesday evening classes from the same sociopathic teacher, and simultaneously got the OK to quit once our mother eventually understood how violent she actually was. Several years later, it was to recreate the sublime feeling I experienced listening to the harmonies of Mozart in the car that brought my rusty piano hands back to the piano - this time with urgency instead of fear.
My new urgent need to deconstruct Mozart's music at the piano quickly became problematic for the household. I can still hear my other older sibling screaming for me to stop, plus another sibling on repeat: “David… and his stupid...” My mother’s new favourite punishment became grounding me from the piano so the household got instant relief from me plucking through overdue scores, as well as me playing and singing random bits from Don Giovanni, as well as playing certain modulating harmonic patterns, over and over and over.
But while grounded from the piano, I made Mozart Mix-Tapes instead, as well as filled my bedroom wall with photocopies of Mozart stuff, as well as watched the film “Amadeus” at least 3-4 times per week on the VCR machine in the basement. I was so enthusiastic about Mozart I even tried persuading some good-looking, intellectual high school friends to get into him. For example, another pinnacle moment was December 5, 1991 – through snowy weather I travelled to Toronto to hear the Mozart Requiem. It was the first time I sat in front of a live orchestra and choir. I clearly remember the contrast between the exterior stillness of the audience against my own interior ecstasy exploding in my seat – that very special intensity, superimposed by the company of two gorgeous girls I convinced to come with me was a great moment in my teenage years.
I left that concert hall joyfully kicking through the snow with my two friends, but fully aware internally that I was now in pursuit of a future as a music maker.
My first steps towards that future didn't involve formal training, probably because of PTSD from my first psycho-piano teacher, plus, I generally prefer the dirtier, hand-on, trial-and-error, didactic approach. So instead of lessons I got myself to a music shop to buy the largest wad of manuscript paper that would still fit into my high school gym bag. Most high school lunch hours I retreated to this cool loft space I discovered above the music room at the old St. Thomas More building on East 5th Street in Hamilton. I started filling in those manuscript papers with pseudo, Mozart-like material. Deep down I knew the music probably didn’t work but still, the mere act of mimicking and failing seemed both necessary and pleasing. I felt I was doing something there that had personal significance so before leaving that building forever, I hid a 10-cent coin in one of the rafters above the entrance to the loft. I expect it’s still there.
My high school music teacher, Ron Palangio, a jazz guitarist, noticed my unusual interests and eventually said: "Braid... if you like composing, you should play jazz because you can just improvise... that’s like... composing on the spot..." Until that moment, I hadn't thought about improvisation since my psycho-piano teacher attacked my wrists with her ruler when I apparently improvised in my lessons. How exciting - Palangio's suggestion was a short-cut into music making, even with my limited skills, so for better or worse, I leapt towards jazz.
To circle back to the original question, how did Mozart get me into jazz? His work provided a crystal clear view into perfectly designed music where I could easily extract materials to build with... and the jazz world provided the quickest platform to just start building music. For this reason, I feel it was really Mozart that got me into jazz and that makes today, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, sort of an anniversary for me too.