Some might see an odd destiny — if not exactly Jerry Garcia’s “long strange trip” — in the formation of the 3-year-old Jazz Docs band.
Its five members form a sort of Venn diagram — with Ellicott City dentist Hank Fasteau somewhere in the middle — with a complexity approaching the jazz compositions they practice every Wednesday at the Damon Foreman Music Academy in Glenwood.
Fasteau on drums and fellow dentist Gary Anderberg on trumpet are joined by Glenwood internal medicine specialist Scott Maurer on bass, retired piano teacher Kathy McGinn of Columbia back on her instrument, and guitarist Damon Foreman of the eponymous music academy on guitar.
That’s now. But getting a group together was a bit more complicated. Fasteau, who played clarinet as a kid but dreamed of drums, which (along with the sax) he added to his skill set in recent years, had been stymied in finding the right people with the right instruments and right availability.
He learned of Anderberg’s trumpet expertise when helping cover the latter’s practice when the Lisbon dentist suffered complications from appendicitis.
Through martial arts class he met Larry McGinn and wife, Kathy, residents of the same Oakland Mills neighborhood as Foreman. Fasteau also plays tennis with and is a patient of internist Maurer, who grew up near District Heights in Prince George’s County, where he delivered newspapers to families, which may well have included Kathy McGinn’s.
And Maurer’s Glenwood office is in the same commercial center as Foreman’s Music Academy, where Fasteau had been taking lessons from Bruce Coates.
That’s kind of the way Maurer reacted after a number called “Moanin’” was played one recent Wednesday.
“A few more times through it and I can be cool,” he quipped. The piece had followed Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” performed Ray Charles-style, with pianist McGinn getting into the groove inquiring, “Where are my shades?” and with the others debating whether Charles and Stevie Wonder were totally blind or not.
(Maurer recalled Charles’ reaching into his mouth to push back his dentures … a nod to the larger dental contingent, perhaps?)
The jazz format is a learning experience even for music professional McGinn. Foreman suggested, “Let’s swing it!” for the solos, when each player had the chance to improvise, until slowing down again for Anderberg’s trumpet riff. But somehow, when they got to the end, the pianist discovered that “You finished and I was only halfway through!”
But after all, this is not the classical music in which she trained, with every note, sign and instruction carefully explicated. Jazz scores provide only chord symbols representing the scales to be used — “a different language,” Fasteau calls it. He and McGinn had played classical piano and clarinet together before deciding to try jazz and finding the rest of the current crew. Now, she says, this is the most fun she has all week.
Foreman selects the works the group will play, about half of which they’ve never seen before. Other pieces are familiar, or at least their composers are — Irving Berlin’s “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” for instance. They get a little Charlie Parker, too, and some “Autumn Leaves” as well as “The Girl From Ipanema.”
A motley set for a group dressed in motley, from Foreman’s funky eclecticism to Maurer’s shirt and tie. Both will return to work afterward, but vive la difference.
As a matter of fact, Foreman was a suit himself, once upon a time.
While he never relinquished the piano (from age 4) and guitar he played in youth — double-majoring in chemical engineering and music at Rutgers — it was the former field that paid the bills, bringing him to Columbia as a national sales manager in 1984 and, in the mid-’90s, finally giving him the financial wherewithal to leave engineering behind.
“I was put here to play music,” he explains. He went on to teach privately, as choral director at Hammond High School and in the school system’s advanced guitar program, which he established. And on one occasion he even performed at the White House.
Five years ago, Foreman opened his academy, which offers instruction in a variety of instruments.
Maurer, who took up bass guitar as a teen, admits some hesitation to joining the group. “Learning anything new is so painful — my mind is full of things related to my practice — that I was reluctant,” he says.
“But now it’s kept getting more and more fun,” he says. “It’s opened a whole world I didn’t realize I’d enjoy — jazz and the logic of music.”
“My goal is to be an amused and entertained musician,” he adds. “Music is a blast if I can play along and don’t get lost!”
On the other hand, Anderberg had played his trumpet almost every weekend from junior high on, until his appendix burst in 2007 and resulting complications left him with severed stomach muscles and no pressure to blow out. Luckily at about the same time, Aussie James Morrison invented the Morrison Digital Trumpet (MDT), a shiny black trumpet-silhouetted mechanism rimmed in blue neon, which, among other virtues, can produce 256 sounds (“only 10 that are good,” the dentist jokes) in seven octaves.
With it he can add different colors to the group whose sense of timing and smooth texture he hears getting better all the time.
“It’s wonderful that the regular weekly get-togethers have worked out,” Anderberg says. “That’s how you improve.”
The Lisbon dentist, who lives in Damascus, closes each session, just like each office visit, with a magic trick, but here he does “the crazy ones like swallowing a quarter, slicing my arm open and pulling the quarter out.”
“It’s one of the highlights of my week,” says Fasteau, speaking of the whole session, not just the concluding high jinks. “I look forward to it — we all do.”
“I like playing with other people, reacting to each other,” adds Fasteau, of Glenwood, who has a similar weekly gig with a rock group at Howard Community College.
“What’s nice here is that there are a lot of people over 50 who used to play some instrument,” McGinn says. “It’s an artsy area.”
Maurer describes Foreman as “a natural teacher.” “He doesn’t appear to mind playing with rank amateurs,” Maurer adds.
The Jazz Docs have had a few gigs at Smokin’ Hot Bar & Grille in Glenwood, as well as one at Fairhaven Assisted Living Center in Sykesville. A private performance around the holidays is a possibility as well. But no one’s aspiring to late-blooming fame.
Meanwhile, back at the Academy, a Blues Brothers student sax combo is beginning to be organized under instructor Bruce Coates. Word is it’ll include some of the Jazz Docs. Stay tuned.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times