HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | SEPTEMBER 2016 | Back-to-School edition | “Is That All There Is?”

Posted by on Sep 15, 2016 | No Comments

20160915_133845In between his sets at the Mason Street Grill this Monday–where he plays every Monday from 5:30-9pm–Chicago jazz pianist Joel Burt and I talked a little about his musical journey and, using a bit of interpretive poetic license, about the most important question any learner can ask: “Is that all there is?”

Getting here has been a life-long journey.

When I was younger, like ten years old, my mom said that I should take piano lessons.  And when mom says you’re going to take piano lessons, you take piano lessons.  But of course I wanted to play baseball, football.  I only dibble-dabbled with the piano for years after that.

I became an underwriter, but at one point I decided I’d like to try piano again.  I didn’t want to be in the front seat of the hearse; I didn’t want to be a vegetable.  So I enrolled at Berklee in Boston. Each day is a new day, right?  I always want to do something today that I didn’t do yesterday.  It’s always new–otherwise, what’s the point of doing the same thing all the time.  Like my mother used to tell me: “Make sure you go clean underwear on.”

I started off as a sideman for different bands, but now I’m pretty much in the lead.  I’ve been playing for six years at The Pfister and they finally gave me a drummer.  I mean, I’m not famous, but it’s nice getting called back.  I’m always learning, always getting better. I recently heard an arrangement played by an eighteen-piece orchestra and contacted the arranger: “You got to teach me how to do this.”  And he finally told me, “When’re we gonna start?”  Not “Here’s how much it’s going to cost” but “When’re we gonna start?”

I don’t ever want to live in a box.  Because life is like . . . a cabbage. A huuuge cabbage, with so many levels of life.  You can keep peeling it back and there’s still more!

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Mr. Burt and I ended our pleasant talk between sets by suggesting I listen to Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?”  If I’m understanding the lyrics correctly, the title line in the chorus suggests that the speaker has come to understand that powerful forces aren’t always as powerful as she perceived them to be.  Taken out of context, though, the title line could certainly echo Mr. Burt’s passionate optimism and desire for new experiences:

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself,
“Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my daddy took me to a circus.
“The Greatest Show On Earth.”
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And as I sat there watching, I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself,
“Is that all there is to a circus?”

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
Then one day, he went away and I thought I’d die.
But I didn’t.
And when I didn’t I said to myself,
“Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep-

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
“If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?”
Oh, no, not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
‘Cause I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
That when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself-

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

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