Bernie Williams, Dave Gluck, Bob Thompson
Rhythms of the Game
The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance
Hal Leonard Corporation 2011
“Around 380 BC, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in the Republic about the idealized society as having a “united influence of music and sport” where its people “mingle music with sport in the fairest of proportions.” – from the Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2011)
As a youngster growing up in the Berkeley Hills in the early 60s, I loved jazz–the rhythmic jests and jolts of Louis Armstrong, the sensuous guitar of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the manic mastery of drummer Buddy Rich. I loved baseball, too, and my best friend and I imitated the kinetic rhythms of our favorite pitchers . . . the high-kicking Juan Marichal and the smoldering, snake-like delivery of Bob Gibson. And then there were the unique batting styles and varied rhythms of our favorite hitters– the whipsaw swing of Willie Mays, the languorous, looping swing of lefty Willie McCovey. And then came Muhammad Ali. Watching Ali box was pure magic – poetry. I’d always believed that Ali was a begloved body-jazz musician ever improvising new creative rhythmic repertoires in the ring.
But it wasn’t until I read Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2011) and spoke with co-author Dave Gluck in this wonderful interview that it all made sense. Gluck, a peripatetic percussionist professor of studio composition at Purchase College, State University of New York, had the extraordinary experience of having New York Yankee All-Star centerfielder Bernie Williams walk into his office one day in 2007 to inquire about music classes. Williams, in addition to being one of the finest baseball players of his era and one of the greatest post-season players in baseball history, was in the process of making a transition into a second career as a professional musician. A classically trained student at a performing arts high school in his native Puerto Rico, Williams had always been as devoted to music as he was to sports ever since he was captivated by the sounds of flamenco guitar as a young boy. Williams’ illustrious baseball career included taking his guitar with him wherever he went and going so far as to assess the acoustics in major league ballparks (the tunnel in Anaheim Stadium was his favorite). Enter the third collaborator, music colleague Bob Thompson. Thompson is a two-time Grammy nominated composer, conductor, producer and performer, co-founder (along with Gluck) of the Rhythm and Brass eclectic jazz/classical group, as well as the Baseball Music Project. Gluck, Williams, and Thompson’s conversations became the impetus for a unique book, Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance. This is a thought-provoking, fact-rich but also highly anecdotal, reader-friendly and entertaining product of three different men who love music…and sports… and the rhythms in life.
Although the book isn’t specifically about jazz, it nonetheless is somehow all about jazz, and if you appreciated how Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett explored and pushed musical and performance boundaries, or how the transcendent talent of a Coltrane was as much the product of hours and hours of practice and study and not just a “gift,” and if you ever sought to understand the mysteries that musicians and athletes experience of “being in the zone,” you’ll love this book. With so many fascinating strands, Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance will appeal to everyone – not just musicians, not just athletes, but to anyone, young or old. But perhaps the greatest value in this book is what it says to young people about creativity in music, sports, in life. Rhythm, timbre, dynamics, tone, tempo and timing is in your DNA, it’s there in everything you do . . . so practice, practice, practice . . . focus . . . and then improvise . . . risk…trust that your own unique rhythms are there inside you, inside all of us – everywhere.