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If second chances are a rarity then third chances seldom come about. My recent, temporary relocation to the US came off the back of one such third chance. In my mind Berklee College of Music had become the metaphorical carrot hanging on the end of a stick: the ever-present morsel dangling tantalisingly close to my face, yet still that bit too far away to reach. I’d applied twice before and both times I was deemed not to be of sufficient enough standard to be admitted. Quite why I
placed so much emphasis on getting into that school I don’t know, but for whatever reason I did and being told twice that I wasn’t good enough stung really badly. The years following my second application to Berklee saw me experience some success at university in conjunction with landing a succession of decent gigs, but far from congratulating myself, I had that voice in the back of my head reminding me that I didn’t get into Berklee. Perhaps it sounds pathetic- hell, reading that all back convinces me that it definitely is pathetic- but it became an obsession, something that I wanted to experience so badly that it occupied a huge portion of my waking thoughts. Following a trip to visit a dear friend, somebody who had been studying at Berklee, I decided in late 2013 to apply for a third time.
I auditioned down in London on 21st February 2014 (I’ve kept the train ticket in my wallet as some form of good luck charm) and was told to expect a response on 1st March. I awoke at 5am on the 1st to an email from Berklee telling me that I’d been accepted and I was beyond elated: the thing I’d been thirsting for for close to 7 years had crossed over from the realm of fantasy into actuality. It felt as though my excitement and happiness helped to propel the following few months along because before I knew what was happening I was in Boston turning up to my first class.
I couldn’t possibly comment on every aspect of my time in Boston for fear that my descriptions wouldn’t do justice to the incredible experiences I had. In spite of this, one of the most phenomenal aspects of my time at Berklee, and one thing I specifically want to talk about, were the warm, beautiful, and talented people I met over there. It’s been my experience that the most incredible musicians, the ones who are the most gifted, the ones who work hardest and get the best gigs, are often also the most humble, a description that certainly rings true with the friends I made in Boston. I met people from literally all over the world, almost all of whom were younger than me and with seemingly infinite stores of creativity and ability. I felt constantly inspired to go away and practice and to be the best I possibly could be in the vain hope that I could enthuse people in the same way that I had been inspired. No part of my time there ever felt competitive, however- we all encouraged each other, watched each other develop, shared in the very few tedious experiences (hi there, Ear Training classes) and celebrated our various successes together- it was an unbelievably happy time.
Not to single anybody, or any people, out, but I have to mention Soleil Laurent, her loving family, and all the good people in the Quantum Split camp for giving me the opportunity to rehearse and play with them in New York. In all likelihood I will never get a chance to play in that city again but being able to do so over the course of a few months last year is something I will never forget. A truly once in a lifetime opportunity that I know many far more talented musicians than I would love to experience and yet very possibly never will.
And it was that exact sentiment that kept me working hard whilst I was in Boston, the feeling that I’d been presented with this incredible chance to study at this wonderful institution and that I knew there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other musicians that would love to be where I was. I didn’t want to waste any of my time there by doing anything half-heartedly or being satisfied with anything less than my absolute best.
I had two phenomenal private instructors whilst at Berklee, namely Victor Bailey and Lincoln Goines, two bass players whose reputations precede them and two people from whom I learnt a great deal. If you don’t know these guys then just type their names into Google and have a read. A brief amusing story about getting Victor as my teacher: I was asked what kind(s) of music I was interested in studying as a means of pinpointing a suitable private teacher. After mentioning jazz and funk music specifically this chap scrolled through the database on his computer and, without shifting his eyes from the screen, he said, “Tell me, have you ever heard of Victor Bailey?” I cleared my throat. He turned to look at me, a wry smile smeared across his face, just as my jaw dropped to the floor. In my mind I imagined myself donned in tweed, articulate and witty, responding in some humorous way, but in reality I was all pale and sweaty, blinking uncontrollably, yelling out random syllables in a way that I hoped would convey that I had indeed heard of Victor Bailey and that I would very much like for him to be my teacher. Victor is the absolute man: a ridiculous, RIDICULOUS player and an absolutely lovely guy to boot.
Whilst studying at Berklee, I also spent a lot of time in a town about an hour away called Plymouth. I was so lovingly welcomed into a community there, a community I still think about every day and one which I would love to become a permanent member of- being able to move over there permanently (and legally) is my next big project.
Whilst I try to steer clear of needless self-praise, being accepted to Berklee and being part of that community of musicians, even for just a couple of semesters, is one of the proudest achievements of my life. The worry, of course, is that after wanting something for so long and getting it, the actual experience inevitably doesn’t live up to expectations, something demonstrably untrue with my experiences in Boston. The years of frustration, worry and self-doubt have been… perhaps not fully laid to rest, but certainly temporarily satisfied by finally attending the school I wanted to go to. The positivity and enthusiasm that were key features of my time there continue to inspire me to keep striving to be the best I can be in my endeavours back here in the UK.
Find out more about Jamie here.
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