It’s just after 8 p.m. when music teacher Ed Wise moves to the front of a small practice room inside Settlement Music School’s Germantown branch.
Seated before him, are six guitar players, a bass player and a drummer. They’ve all signed up for the school’s new adult rock band — a departure from the school’s better-known classical and jazz-rooted offerings – and eagerly await the start of the first practice.
Gerald Parker, who lives in Germantown, sits with a black Fender Telecaster guitar in his hands. He says he “jumped” at the opportunity to play in the band.
“I figured, well, by now I think I should have some chops down, so let me see what I can do,” Parker, 66, says with a chuckle during the Thursday night practice.
The multigenerational group has never made music together.
Wise, who teaches upright and electric bass at the school, will guide the group over the course of 10 weeks. He’s equally excited about the program. Though he’s more of a jazz man now, Wise grew up with the Beatles, but also enjoys bands such as Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad.
“There’s something good for the soul about strapping on the old Fender and banging out a few Jack Bruce lines,” says Wise.
What brand of rock the group ultimately plays will be up to the program’s participants, says Wise. His only expectation is that the band will be good.
“I don’t have real specific expectations for how that’s all going to happen,” says Wise. “I’m going to be dealt a hand of cards that I have to play and I’ll play them the best I can.”
To get an idea of what he’s working with, Wise scribbles a chord progression for a 12-bar blues on a white board. Then he maps out the plan: Each guitar player will play the rhythm, but also get a chance to solo for 12 bars as well.
The bassist and drummer will simply set the pace.
“This is just getting to know you,” sings Wise before counting the group into the jam.
The group falters a bit at first, but soon finds its groove. Parker, who takes the third solo, says he let’s all of the songs he knows inspire and inform his playing.
“I told my daughter I’m like a human jukebox. All I have to do is dial it up and I’ll start playing,” he says.
‘We have to have music in our lives’
He says he’s happy no matter what he’s playing.
“We have to have music in our lives,” says Parker. “Music allows us to put everything aside and just get into it. And it plays to our senses. It plays to our emotions and you get joy out of it.”
Toward the end of the hourlong practice, the group plays “Numb,” a new tune by Gary Clark Jr. The song was pitched by Darren Davis of Mount Airy. No one else was familiar the song’s deep, distorted guitar lines.
At 17, Davis is the group’s youngest member. He says he was nervous to be in a room with mostly older, more experienced players, but adds that those types of situations are usually beneficial.
“There’s a certain type of openness that you feel from just being with a bunch of random people. There’s also a certain type of closeness. But when you’re able to get into the open type of feel, I see that people generally tend to open up,” says Davis.
“Everybody there loves some type of rock and roll or some type of blues or some type of genre of music there, so it’s easy to open up to people who like the type of stuff that you’re doing,” he adds.
At the end of the 10-week program, the group will play its first-ever concert in Settlement’s auditorium.
“I would hope that everyone, at the end of the day, will not only be playing a concert, but will have expanded their musical horizons, just by interacting with each other and kind of getting out of their own little musical shells,” says Wise.