The Master and The Apprentice
(The story of Rick Kilburn inspired by the documentary ‘In the zone: Rick Kilburn’ by Kerilie McDowall)
The story of Rick Kilburn is one about humility. Music for Kilburn was like an eternal friend sitting at his doorsteps in Vancouver. He entered the beautiful domain of music with his father. Gyrating around various possibilities he experienced a moment of awakening when he was twelve and his father introduced him to Scott LaFaro. He told his father that he wanted to do what LaFaro was doing on the stage. The world of Jazz has not stopped enticing Kilburn since.
He confessed that the pursuit of music must resemble the desperate urge of finding oneself. It is according to him as much a spiritual process as it is a physical one. According to Kilburn, music helped him find himself, locate his desires, his dreams and his nightmares. His compositions would be a way to the realm of the intangible, where every note would be a message for the ones not bound by language.
Kilburn’s father was the torchbearer in his initial rendezvous with music. He would introduce him to a number of popular faces and take him to several concerts where he would learn from the very best and make the most of these occasions.
He would later play with a plethora of well known personalities like Mose Allison, Dave Brubeck, Darius Brubeck, Dan Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Jerry Bergonzi, Don Rebic, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Claudio Roditi, Red Rodney, Lionel Hampton, Walter Booker, Billy Hart, Keith Copeland, Tom Whaley, Claudio Maxit, Rob McConnell, Hugh Fraser, Ron Hadley, Don Thompson, Andy Laverne, Mike Nock, Joanne Brackeen, Jimmy Rowles, Jim Hall, Ed Bickert, Philippe Lavoipierre, Jimmy Rainey, John Scofield, James Moody, John Zorn, Joe Lovano, Jim Cameron, Jean Toussaint, Kenny Werner, and Diana Krall.
Kilburn was a pure learner, free from the shackles of time. He confessed that at times it took him quite a bit to compose something original. However, he would also compose a similarly enchanting original piece in half the time. One had to feel ‘it’ and be in the zone and everything else would follow suit.
Music led one to a path of spiritual intoxication. Once Kilburn was in the zone, time would lose all its tangible significance. Music is for him, the purest form of addiction. It would temporarily devour all of Kilburn’s rational sensations. That was the exact moment when he played best. He was like his own master and apprentice. He would learn everything from The Rick Kilburn who would lose himself in the lure of melodies transcending the rigid contours of time and space.
Paul Desmond once said: “Yeah, that Rick sure can play!”
One could learn a lesson or two about humility from Rick Kilburn. He frankly spoke of how ‘freaked out’ and overwhelmed he felt when Tony Bennet gifted him a sketch of Rick that Bennet had created while Kilburn was playing on the stage.
Despite winning a number of prestigious awards, he would acknowledge the fact that
he had won them as a part of a collective project. Therefore, the awards Kilburn believed belonged to each and everyone involved directly or indirectly with the projects. Kilburn belongs to the category of artists who according to Kipling would walk with the kings while never forgetting the common touch. His music, his triumphs and losses, his experiences, have taught him the value of humility.
Therefore, he would often smile. He would jokingly discuss his life, his achievements, his various encounters with legends, his fanboy meltdowns, his artistic process with an air of triviality. An indication that at the end of the day if one forgets to smile, there is nothing much around to compensate for the loss. Rick Kilburn would always smile , ensuring that no one felt overwhelmed or isolated around him. The man is a manifestation of the opulent beauty life has in store for us. We must never forget how to smile.
However, like every artist, Rick Kilburn has a number of regrets. He feels he could have been better at his art. Beethoven, Bach , Nat King Cole – all would have felt the same way. The desire to be better must never abandon the psyche of an ambitious artist. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he enjoys every bit of who he is. Rick Kilburn’s life has been full of pleasant experiences – the jazz concerts, the enlightening conversations, the accolades. He wouldn’t be anyone else, like he confesses by the end of the documentary ‘In the Zone: Rick Kilburn’ by Kerilie McDowall :
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”