Five years ago I met Alan Jones. His sextet played a lunch event at Clackamas Community College where I was taking music courses. I had heard stories about him; an intense, bohemian, barefoot drummer. I knew he ran a school where some of the best jazz students in the area attended. I had heard his records, and was looking forward to meeting the man in person. What I didn't know at the time was how much this guy would change my life. I am now three thousand miles away, signed to a New York modeling agency, and studying jazz music in the big apple. This is my story..
I was captivated by Alan's energy. Even just watching the band set up was a treat. After an energetic set of music, I asked Alan if I could come to an AJAM session. He obliged and, with a firm handshake, my life changed. Those handshakes, always with a half smile and a deep stare, have meant a lot to me these last five years. Whether it meant gratitude for helping him move a piano up three flights of stairs, or congratulations for playing a solo without any clams, it always felt great.
The first year of AJAM was a bumpy one for me. Before I could begin to play correctly, I had to think correctly. What I lacked was the ability to recognize my shortcomings. Humility was not easy for me. A common theme involved me casually saying something that Alan would (like everything) take seriously and challenge me on. Say, using a favorite example, "knowing a song". The first test I would fail is knowing the composer. The second was usually a lapse in knowing/being able to play the chords and melody correctly. If I made it past that, it was required that I sing the song in tune while keeping time. This all now seems like common sense. But I have seen many students, like myself, try to fight this process; always in failure. Alan would dig deeper and deeper until I retracted my statement, annoying the band and seriously embarrassing me. His persistence is key to the success of his students.
The result of this weekly treatment taught me to talk less and listen more, possibly the most important lesson of my life. I realized that talking (and thinking about what I was going to say) got in the way of listening. And listening is key to learning. Friends and family still recall this sudden shift in me from anxious/talkative to strong/silent. A change that will always stay with me.
Censoring myself verbally soon begun to translate musically. I began to calm my mind, listen more, and play only the "words" that I was confident in. Alan masterfully guided this transition, teaching me how to access more complex abilities while relentlessly grounding the basics of melody, harmony and groove. I've noticed the cyclical nature of this process; the better I get at music, the more I am able to navigate and strengthen my relationships off of the bandstand. Through AJAM I learned the true value of studying a craft for life. Through Alan I learned the importance of the all-too-rare mentor/disciple relationship.
The result of this timely metamorphosis was a spot in a new AJAM band that would eventually come to be known as The Wishermen. Playing music with this group of guys, coached by Alan weekly, shaped the next three years of my life. We played dozens of gigs and recorded our debut album "Drawing Purple Orbits". There were many great adventures, but a highlight was having the opportunity to open for Robert Glasper when he came through Portland.
Eventually I began taking private lessons with Alan. This weekly meeting became a pillar of my personal growth. Alan helped me understand the importance of maintaining and adhering to a detailed schedule. The practice schedule was set up to reflect my goals as a musician, breaking them down into the tiniest of tasks. Eventually I adapted this process to everything I want to do in life; figure out how to do it, schedule it, and execute! It is the key to success.
One day during a lesson Alan assigned an odd piece of homework: do something outside of my comfort zone. I struggled with ideas until I came across a Craigslist ad for an open call at Muse Models. I had been told before that I had the height and bone structure of a model, but I really didn't like the idea of being rejected over something I had very little control over. I knew this was the sort of crazy thing he had in mind, and my favorite pizza place was in the same building, so I gave it a shot.
I showed up to a room full of young and beautiful people, and was immediately sure that I wasn't going to impress anyone. After being herded like cattle through measurements and a quick digital photo, I sat and waited to be excused. Darren (the owner) stood up and announced three names, one of which was mine. At this point I was really embarrassed to be one of three people cut in front of twenty future models. But, to my surprise, he announced that everyone else was free to go. I was safe.
My relationship with Muse blossomed. Darren and Tiffany explained that I would only make it in the high fashion market (as opposed to athletic or commercial), and that would mean eventually moving to New York City. Boy did I have a story for Alan..
"Adam's a maaaaaaaaale model" became a favorite way for Alan to introduce me to new AJAM students. He poked fun at this new adventure of mine. New clothes, shoes or a haircut became "fancy male model shoes, haircut, etc..". But I took no offense. I knew exactly what he was up to. He was challenging me to fully embrace myself as a "fancy male model", despite my perceived social biased against it. My worst fear was being labeled a failed male model, and having that follow me around as a musician in the small city of Portland. But those fears were quickly dashed.
I was signed to RED, a top NYC agency, in March of 2013. In September I visited for New York Fashion Week, and two weeks after returning home I was on a one way flight back to make a living here. The change happened so fast that I am still reeling. Life here has been difficult. But I think amazing things involve struggle. I miss family and friends, Portland, and the hard-won handshakes from Alan. But the excitement of what lies ahead keeps me from running home just yet.
AJAM changed my life in every conceivable way. The comfort zone assignment that got me here hasn't ended. It is, like music, an endless adventure. I implore you, reader, to find your endless adventure.