The Power of One Person To Change Your Life

Aloha Dream fans! I do apologize for not blogging more often these past couple of months. I have just enjoyed two of the most incredibly busy and rewarding months of my life.  I continue to teach my drum students during the Summer months and have been blessed with many gigs playing music I love with people I love.  On top of that is some pretty serious icing on the cake. I have been asked to co-develop and teach an expanded version of our bullying and drug prevention program for 4th and 6th Graders in addition to the 5th Graders I am already teaching at Iolani School. It is such gratifying and fulfilling work to guide young hearts and minds toward using their gifts and pursuing their dreams. All in all, I just can’t complain about one teeny little thing. I know how fortunate I am and am grateful every day.

I have had several drum students and bullying and drug prevention program students share that I am one of their mentors and although I don’t really think of myself as a mentor, it got me thinking about just exactly what one is and how much impact they can actually have on a child’s future decision-making.  I do what I do because I simply love working with children and know that they are our future. If peace is finally to be, then it’s up to me to inspire it in today’s youth. When students say, “Von is one of my mentors,” I almost get misty-eyed and feel such a sense of gratitude that somehow I have been given the opportunity to positively impact that child’s life. When I reflect on my own life, I can remember times when adults had profoundly powerful influence over my life and in some cases changed the very course of my future. One such person is the great Jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton.

This is Jeff Hamilton in the middle with my student Sean Mitchell on the left. Taken at his June 12th performance here in Honolulu.

It was the summer of 1989 and I was to be a Senior in high school in the next school year.  My dad arranged for me to attend the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend, Washington and it was only two years after I had begun playing drums. Now I do want to say that both my Dad and Mom are my most significant mentors and I feel very fortunate to have them in my life. The kind of mentorship that I am exploring here is the type that meanders into your life unexpectedly. It’s like you get struck by lighting when there’s no thunderstorm within a 100 mile radius.  So here I was on the first day of this Jazz workshop not really knowing how to play a single Jazz standard tune much less a coherent Jazz drum beat. I was really into Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Yes and other Rock bands and only listened to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers because my drum teacher told me to.  Jazz seemed like some elusive mythical creature that lived deep in the woods only seen by a few select people lucky enough catch a glimpse.  It also didn’t seem to be that thrilling to me.  I mean c’mon, you didn’t really see young girls screaming the names of famous Jazz stars at their concerts and throwing their underthings on the stage.

Still, I went to this camp albeit a little reluctantly.  I remember going into this small old theatre to watch the faculty perform for the opening concert of the week long workshop.  I saw the piano player come out, then the bass player, the saxophonist and finally the drummer. They introduced him, “…and Jeff Hamilton on drums” and roar came up from the students many of whom had attended this workshop in the past years. Well to my surprise out came Jeff dressed in an L.A. Dodgers Jersy, L.A. Dodgers baseball cap turned around backward sporting shorts, white tube socks and tennis shoes. Now this was certainly not the image of a professional Jazz drummer I had etched in my brain.  Surely this guy was not for real, I thought to myself. In fact I think that is the only time I have ever seen Jeff in shorts. He’s always dressed in suits, wearing a tie and looking like a million bucks on all of his gigs.

They started to play and SHAZAM!!! He knocked me out! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He was so melodic, so rhythmic and so damn musical! I remember hearing this little voice in my head saying, “This is how I want to play! This is how I want to play drums! It’s going to be a lot of work I know, but now I know what is truly possible in drumming.”  That moment, that instant changed my life forever. I suddenly had direction in life, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and I knew just the person to listen to and learn all I could from at the workshop.  For the entire week I remember following Jeff around like a lost puppy dog (as were many of the other drummers), desperately trying to memorize all he taught and soak in both his experience and humor.  He is one of the funniest people I know too!  Although I have only had a handful of interactions with Jeff over the years, he has been one of the most significant mentors in my life. It was his drumming, humor, and taking the time to listen and ask questions of me that have always inspired me to be and do my best in music.

Here is the T-Shirt from the Jazz workshop I attended in Port Townsend, Washington. Can you believe I still have it?! It was that significant for me!

I wanted to share this story to remind us all that we are probably the mentor for a young someone in our lives and we may have already delivered that lighting bolt of inspiration without even knowing it. Be open to the power within you to change the lives of others while you use your gifts and do what you love.  Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your stories of mentorship too!  Jeff is on my email list and if you get a chance to read this Jeff, I just want to say THANK YOU!  Please check out his website at: