Making a Living vs. Designing a Career

June 26

I remember I was incredibly excited the first day of college because I was literally getting ready to meet all of my heroes in one building, and they were all going to answer the questions I had constructed in my journal.

I scanned my Juilliard ID, and I reported to the 4th floor to go to the newly appointed “Drum Practice Room,” take my things and start setting up. I ran into Carl Allen, aka “Jazz Drumming Businessman.” He was incredibly kind to me, as Carl can be, and had a “laugh” that could fill up the whole hallway with joy. I was literally shaking when I met him because Carl was one of the first jazz drummers of color, that had procured over a dozen musical instrument endorsements, had ads in drum magazines, and had his face literally everywhere. I had a great level of admiration for him, then and now. Now, he and I were literally sharing the space in the drum practice room and conversing! Carl and I had a pleasant exchange, and then he said he would see me the following week in “Small Ensemble Class.”

Fast forward a week later to ensemble class, and Carl made a statement that would literally impact me for a lifetime. He asked, “Are you guys interested in making a living or designing a career?” I immediately raised my hand and asked, “Carl, what’s the difference?” He essentially said, “Young brother when you make a living, you are working as a musician and only focusing on what gigs/performances you will take, based on the monetary value only. When you are building a career, you are incredibly strategic about the placement each performance will create for you. You also began to build your mind and your talent; learning to foster the right relationships, so that what you possess, is a career; not a mere means of paying your bills. 

Mind completely altered, and blown. 

I am so thankful to Carl Allen for this lesson because it allowed me to create a secondary statement, and multiple career avenues. I stated when I was a few years removed from college, that “I want to be an authentic jazz musician creatively but also have higher aspirations beyond the cliche’ jazz life.

What Carl challenged me to do was look at other friends and colleagues that have careers in medicine, finance, academia, etc.., and look at the goals and career arcs they have created for themselves and their families, and apply the same principles to my career. 

I am incredibly thankful because I chose to design a career, and that career has and will continue to lead me to some incredible experiences.

“I am My Brother’s Keeper”

June 19

Anyone who knows me understands how dear my friendships are to me, and they also know about LaFredrick Coaxner who has been my brother for close to 20 years. “Fred” and I met December of 2000 at a program for potential incoming students at The Juilliard School, and we were two “country boys, “ from the South that instantly hit it off, and we have built a strong friendship and brotherhood. Our commonality stems from both being reared by strong mothers, and families that were rooted and grounded in faith.

However, when I return from the road, once I have caught my breath, one of the first people I try to see and have dinner with is Fred. One night Fred came to my house, and we had one of the most powerful conversations. 

Within three years, Fred lost his mother, and sister to cancer, and the only man he knew as a father and mentor, Mr. Dwight Woods, to an untimely death. So as we were entering our early 30s, Fred began losing all of the family members who shaped his musical and personal development. During the conversation at my house that night, Fred expressed how he had a really rough day at work, and all he wished for was to call his mom, hear her voice, and have her tell him the things that he already knows about himself, but still wanted to hear it from her. He wanted to hear her say, “Fred , you will be okay.”

We also spoke about a story involving media personality Iyanla Vanzant, and how she had an episode with men in their 40s who had unresolved issues with their mothers. During that episode, Iyanla went as far as to have these men lay in bed, fully clothed, and then she got in with them and held them as a mother would ahold a child. These men broke down in tears, cried uncontrollably, and then they fell asleep. Iyanla then got out of the bed, kissed them on the forehead, said goodnight, and pulled the comforter over them and let them sleep peacefully. Her show illustrated that at their core, they were yearning for the love, protection and comfort of their mother, and receiving those actions from someone who mirrored what they yearned, brought out all of those emotions. In many ways , acknowledging that yearning healed them. 

I also know as a man, my confidence doesn’t come from what I accomplish, if it is informed by who I believe myself to be. For some men, their confidence and belief is shaped by the initial lover and shaper of their souls which tends to be their mothers, and fathers. For those raised in single parent homes, one focal person who is committed to ensuring they know how special they are. 

A commitment that I made to Fred, during what I believe was probably the most difficult moment of his life, was that I would be his brother for a lifetime, and letting him know that when he needed me, I would drop everything to be there for him. The amazing things about this is that Fred doesn’t request that of me unless he really needs it. He also promised the same thing to me, and has proven it time and again.

I am most grateful to Fred, because he knows me, and my patterns, and gives me the gift of laughing at myself. When I step into his house, he doesn’t care about what exotic location I just came from, or what cool person I just met. He asks me, “Hey Bro, what you drinking?” He generously pours me a nice glass of something, and we sit at the corner table in his house, and just laugh, and exchange amazing stories that empower and further our brotherhood. When I leave his house, I feel so refreshed and alive, and it lets me know that he is indeed the right person to occupy that space in my life, because our time together is restorative. 

I am my brother’s keeper, and committed to whatever level of love that it will take to let me brother know he is kept and sustained by my brotherly love, and commitment.