music, personal

Jim Sherman, rock and roll teacher: 1947-2016

We just stayed and jammed.

shermanI’m not even sure why Mr. Carter, a social studies teacher, was in the music trailer behind the gym. But he and I and Mr. Sherman, the merry ringleader of the eclectic “music” offerings in this trailer, were hanging around after school and playing — Mr. Carter on keyboards, me probably on guitar, Mr. Sherman on whatever. We’d always heard he played every instrument except harp and bagpipes, and he was learning bagpipes.

Ted Pecchio, now a professional musician, poked his head in the trailer and said he had his bass with him. Could he join in?

And that’s how the Athens Academy Jazz Band was formed.

Not that we really played “jazz” in any conventional sense. “Jam Band” would’ve made more sense. We took any old tune or just a 12-bar blues progression and played.

At our first performance, we had about five minutes left in a school assembly. We played considerably longer than that. Everyone was late to the next class. Everyone loved us.

We wound up adding a couple of people after that. I can’t remember who else joined besides Matt Sligh, who was our emcee of sorts.

All of our music had that ad hoc improvisational quality to it. We were a small school. Our “band” would be whatever permutation of people we could find. Some of us did lunchtime music in the cafeteria — one day, I played saxophone, though I could only play in one key because the fingerings in that key were identical to those on my clarinet. Picking up a new instrument wasn’t new for me — I wound up on stand-up bass because it was just the top four strings on a guitar, turned sideways. Right?

It would’ve sounded like a train wreck if not for Mr. Sherman, who could pick up any instrument at hand and save the day.

At times, he was the clown prince of music. He would play a saxophone with a rubber chicken hanging out. At graduation rehearsals, he would gradually morph Pomp and Circumstance into something else — maybe Take Me Out to the Ball Game or the Budweiser jingle.

His jolly demeanor masked a prodigious mind. He spoke several languages, having grown up in a diverse part of Chicago. He had trained to be a priest — on one road trip, he suggested he could do a quick Mass in the parking lot if anyone worried about missing church.

And he had impeccable musicianship, showing me how much more the human brain could process. I sat next to him when he played Christmas tunes for a holiday singalong. For some reason, we did Joy to the World twice. I noticed that he changed keys the second time around, transposing it in his head. He told me never to play the same song in the same key twice.

So I felt anything was possible in music. Play multiple instruments, including one you just picked up. Make people laugh. Get a “fake book” that gives a couple of chords and figure out a song on the fly from there.

That’s the life he lived. In addition to his position at the Academy, he gave lessons and performed. I remember going out to dinner at a nice-ish Athens restaurant and seeing him at the piano, cheerfully setting the ambiance. (I think he skipped Take Me Out to the Ball Game.)

My music teachers all meant the world to me, and they’ve continued their work for decades. Jane Douglas, who taught me piano and encouraged my interest in music theory, was still playing music in Athens in her 80s. Earl Ayers, whose band classes were the highlight of my Clarke Middle years, switched schools but is also still teaching in Athens. Rodney Wynkoop, the Duke Chorale and Chapel Choir director, was such a good teacher that I wound up majoring in music.

On Saturday, Mr. Sherman was at the piano at Piccolo’s Italian Steakhouse in Watkinsville. On Sunday, he passed away.

Far too young, of course. He had only been retired from the Academy for a few years. But I take some comfort in knowing he was making people smile in his last evening on this earth.

Now there’s probably a great jam session going on in Heaven. A departed Scotsman on the bagpipes. A harpist. And Mr. Sherman on everything else.

And I see his spirit in my son, sitting down at the piano or the drums and figuring out how to make something work. If I can pass along any of Mr. Sherman’s attitude, I’ll be as successful a parent as he was a teacher.

Thanks for the education. And the jam sessions.


10 thoughts on “Jim Sherman, rock and roll teacher: 1947-2016

  1. Jim played at our son Jack Campbell’s wedding. He was the inspiration that made Jack the musician and music enthusiast that he is today. Our daughter Kathleen learned flute from him, and Wednesday nights at our house included my husband Jay on banjo, Jack on piano, Kathleen on flute, Jim on whatever and me in the kitchen cooking dinner for them all. Athens is a less creative place without you, Jim. May you rest in peace and be in the hearts, minds
    and ears of Athens Academy graduates for years to come.

  2. Jim was one of the all time greats!!! Kind, thoughtful… always the positive word or thought. I always enjoyed seeing him in later years after our time at Athens Academy… he was the same then as he was those many years ago. Incredibly gifted, wise, and full of good will. One of the few people I can think of who call to mind nothing but fond memories. Thanks for writing about him.

  3. Jim taught my son Paul to play trombone in 1980. I introduced him to Mr Chambers and he became an Athens Academy legend. Jim wrote the fight song & knighted Sir Richard Patterson for never missing a concert (except the one where he was knighted). A lot of Spartans will remember Jim Sherman forever.

  4. Jim was a great musician and colleague. He entertained our family on one of our last nights in Athens when we went to Piccolo’s for dinner. His impact on Athens Academy will be felt for generations to come! One of my favorite memories was when he moved from Pomp and Circumstance into the Star Wars theme song and back again at graduation rehearsal. Thank you for the wonderful memories of and testimony to a great man!

  5. Best Jazz teacher a high school kid could have asked for. When I was at the academy, I spent all week looking forward to jamming with Mr. Sherman and the rest of the band. He was a wonderful, interesting, and inspiring teacher and musician whose love of playing music was totally contagious. Rest in peace.

  6. Mr. Sherman brought so much joy to so many people with his kindness, jokes, and music. I remember him telling me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. By the way, it’s all small stuff.” He will be missed.

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