Blaze Fingers Episode 11: Outliers

Saturday January 21, 1961: The home of Fats Bixby: 10 AM

Fats Bixby: There’s no getting around it Blaze: you’re going to be a great saxophonist, and some people are going to love you for it, while others are going to hate you for it. My job as your mentor is to prepare you for the headwinds that you are going to face in the future. Do you understand?

Blaze Fingers: Yes Uncle Fats, I understand.

Fats Bixby: Lesson number 1: Don’t expect people to celebrate you for your hard work: THE HARD WORK ITSELF IS THE REWARD. You have to learn to celebrate yourself because, most of the time, other people won’t recognize you for your achievements. If you always remember that rule, you’ll do fine. You can NEVER rest on your laurels: you have to continue to work hard, and you have to continue to learn from other people for the rest of your life. You want to be a perpetual student of music, life, and of your horn. Don’t EVER become satisfied; once you become satisfied, YOU’RE DONE.

Fats Bixby reached behind his desk and he pulled out a leather satchel full of LP records. He set the satchel on top of his desk, and he started to pull out some of the records. He neatly stacked some of the albums onto his desk.

Fats Bixby: Blaze, I want you to listen to all of these records CAREFULLY first before you start to play along with them. I want you to listen to each album carefully several times first, and then you can pull out your horn and start to play along with them.

Blaze was engrossed with how beautiful some of the album covers were. He scanned through the albums, and he looked at the titles.

  • The first album was Lady in Satin, a 1958 album by Billie Holiday.

  • The next album was a 1959 album by Miles Davis called Kind of Blue.

  • The third album was a 1959 album by Ornette Coleman called The Shape of Jazz to Come.

  • The fourth album was a 1956 album by Sonny Rollins called Saxophone Colossus.

  • The fifth album was a 1957 release by Miles Davis called Birth of the Cool.

  • The sixth album was a 1957 album by Thelonious Monk called Brilliant Corners.

  • The seventh album was a 1959 album by Charles Mingus called Mingus Ah Um.

  • The eighth album was a 1958 release by Cannonball Adderley titled Somethin’ Else.

  • The ninth album was a 1959 release by Art Blakey and the Jazz messengers titled Moanin’.

  • The tenth and final album was a 1956 album by Duke Ellington titled Ellington at Newport.

Fats Bixby: For the next year, I want you to live, eat, and breathe these ten albums: focus on nothing else. I want you to listen to them thousands of times, and I want you to practice playing your alto saxophone along to these albums thousands of times. On January 21, 1962, you and I are going to sit down together, and we are going to play all of the songs on these albums, just me at the piano, and you on your alto sax.

Blaze Fingers: Yes Sir!!!

Fats Bixby was a man in the truest sense of the word: he carried himself with dignity, as if he were royalty. He commanded respect from others, and he ALWAYS treated others with reverence and respect. He always told the truth, even when it hurt. Most importantly to Blaze, he performed EVERY act in his life with military precision. He would set aside two hours in the middle of the day to practice his piano, and during that two hours, his focus was 100% on his instrument. He never left his home without his clothes being ironed with crisp and precise creases in both his pants and his shirts. Everyone respected Fats Bixby because he didn’t talk without action, he took precise and decisive action that everyone could emulate at all times. He represented a laser-like beacon of light that always showed the correct direction in a world full of misinformation and misdirection.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011: The Home of Blaze Fingers: 4:30 PM

Kwame Fingers: Grandpa, I need to show you something.

Kwame Fingers was looking more and more like his mother every day. Blaze Fingers couldn’t have been more proud of his grandson. He took after his mother’s love of reading. Whenever he came to stay with Blaze, he had a new book with him that he was reading.

Kwame Fingers: Grandpa, I found your old saxophone practice journals. Do you realize that between 1962 and 1970 you put in about 25,000 hours of saxophone practice?

Blaze Fingers: I had no idea. During that time in my life, the horn was the only thing that I ever focused on: the saxophone was my entire life.

Kwame Fingers; Grandpa, I’m reading this new book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by an author named Malcolm Gladwell. My mind is completely blown by it. As I read the book, the only person that I keep thinking about is you: the way that you are so focused on continuously on improving your skills, even after you have attained such a high level. Gladwell even talks about the fact that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. When I looked at your practice journals, you had put in that 10,000 hours of practice by 1965.

Blaze Fingers: Well, my dear grandson, all that I can tell you is this: when I was putting in those hours, it didn’t seem so remarkable to me at all. I loved what I was doing. I enjoyed what I was doing. I was on a mission to become the greatest saxophonist that I could become. When you are driven, time seems to have no meaning: the only thing that matters is completing your mission.

Kwame Fingers: I see. Thank you Grandpa for all of the wisdom.

Blaze Fingers: It is my pleasure. You can ALWAYS come talk to me about any topic that you wish.

Kwame loved his Grandpa’s spare bedroom. The bed was so comfortable and spacious. He decided to go take a short nap. Blazes Fingers sat in his comfortable reclining chair ready to watch his favorite television show. It was due to start in about ten minutes. He looked over at the dining room table: he could see the Outliers book sitting there where his grandson had left it. His innate curiosity would not let him ignore the book. He walked over to the dining room table and sat down. He flipped to the “Contents” page and read “Introduction: The Roseto Mystery”. Six hours later, Blaze Fingers was still sitting at the table reading: he simply could not put the book down.


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