I Wanted To Be A Jazz Piano Player

A few people have noticed that I have a rather low opinion of non-flying or inexperienced individual aviation personnel who run or are part of aviation operations or management.

To be fair about it, my evolution into aviation was not in a straight line, but it was an important line.

I did not start out as a kid hanging on the fence at the local airport dreaming about flying. Actually I started out wanting to be a jazz piano player and spent thousands of hours studying, practicing, and jamming on the piano. I went to school to be a jazz piano player. My dream was to be a jazz piano player.

But for better or worse, the school I attended was only a few blocks from a jazz club called the “Bird House” on the north end of Rush Street in Chicago.

They had a rope right down the middle of the club from the stage to the back of the room. At that time it was possible, if you were under twenty one, to sit on the right side of the rope and simply listen to the music and drink cokes. That is where the reality of my dreams met the reality of my talent.

The musicians who played there every night were magical…Miles Davis, John Coltrane, T Monk, Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers, etc.…all the greatest musicians of the time. While I wanted to be a cool cat like them, I realized very quickly, I was not that. I was cool, of course, but I simply did not have the talent to replace Horace Silver or Bob Evans. To verify what I was afraid of, I went to another well-known club in Chicago, the London House on Wacker. There the house piano player was Ramsey Lewis. That is when I knew it was time to find something else to do.

At first, as a pastime, I took up flying while I still worked around the city as a musician. I was playing at high end Outfit clubs and the only way to get out of that cycle was to move on. So I went out West and took a job fueling airplanes at the north end of Van Nuys as my interest in aviation developed.

But even at that, with all the great pilots around, I was still not that into flying, except for one small thing. All the natural talent I lacked as a musician I had as a pilot. I was a totally natural pilot, something I was not as a piano player, and most importantly, I recognized when it came to flying. But for reference sake, I should point out that music was a tremendous help in flying. It taught me coordination at very high levels, the ability to improvise on the fly so to speak, and most importantly it taught me to be totally situational aware, something that has saved my butt on numerous occasions. Music was not wasted time.

So I took up flying and made it my career. I moved back east to Cleveland because that is where all the worst weather seemed to be, and if I was going to fly, I was going to be as good at flying as possible. The only way to get good at it was to learn to fly in that weather.

Remember, I was totally critical of my talents with music, so I was not going to be anything less when it came to flying. I was good at it. However, while I prospered at flying, I did not love flying. It was business to me and that is why half of my aviation career was flying…and the other half is in business aviation.

So I paid my dues flying freight and as a corporate pilot for over 17,000 hours with some of the top companies in the world. Then I walked away from flying in 1988. It had nothing to do with lack of skill, or fear of flying. But because I was so good at it, I got bored with it, and wanted new challenges. If the truth be known, by then I loved the business of aviation way more than flying. I had the chops for flying, but not the desire…so it was a difficult decision, but I made it.

Then I moved back to Chicago where I conceived and co-founded Jet Support Services Inc. aka JSSI with Rick Haskins and quit flying altogether.

That history and my talent is the reasons I get so “snarky” and sarcastic about the interlopers in the aviation business. By interlopers I mean low time pilots or an MBA who want to run an aviation company without any skill, talent, or experience in aviation. These people know zero to very little about flying, or operating aircraft. These “wonks” set themselves up in name only as professionals. Something they absolutely are not.

I call out faux and pretend aviation experts and executives because my entire life has been about honesty and integrity in my craft. I am extremely judgmental about my own skill crafts, so if I judge myself harshly, you can bet when I see rank amateurs and unskilled people in the aviation business I cannot help but be critical of “wannabes” and “know-nothings”.

Because I know how to recognize talent, I value talent. That makes me the worst kind of contrarian to interlopers. I am a habitual opponent of accepted polices, opinions, and practices, especially when they are wrong…and there is a lot wrong with business aviation.

Therefore, when I see the results of bad business models like charter, fractional, and oversized industrialized flight schools, I feel the need to say something.

I am far from perfect, but at least I know flying and I know the business of business aviation. When I see greed, avarice, and incompetence completely destroying an entire industry, I feel the need shout it from the rooftops. So I do and will continue to. For those I offend by calling you “wannabe wonks”, check your stats and recognize what you are, and are not. And for those of you who are serious about business aviation, and understand exactly what I am saying, please feel free to join in the conversation. It is the only way we are going to save our business from these “ne’er-do-wells”.

FYI, all that piano playing did not go to waste. Over all the years of flying there were a lot of RON’s, a lot of bands to sit in with on the road, and a lot of ladies to get to know. I am still not Herbie Hancock, but from flying I know what it feels like to truly enjoy my real talent.

Erudite Solutions for Business Aviation

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