Internationally renowned singer-pianist Jeremy Sassoon tells the amusing story of alternating careers that have now landed him onstage at the Edinburgh Fringe with his show MOJO (Musicians of Jewish Origin).
I'm in music for the communication, a mutual listening, the deep connection, and the profound satisfaction
The other day, I was trying to identify all the personal influences that led to the creation of my MOJO show and remembered Steve Jobs' inspirational lecture at Stanford University in 1995, where he explained his philosophy called 'connecting the dots'. His premise was that you can never connect the individual events of your life and predict your story looking forward. You can only understand it by joining the dots retrospectively. His example was that when he was a penniless college dropout, he decided to attend only one class, calligraphy, simply because he liked it. He could have never known that his love of handwriting and fonts would one day shape the entire image of his future company, Apple.
My own dots are complex. As a child, I was considered one of those 'child prodigies'. An awful concept to start with, but as was conventional wisdom in the 1970s, I was pushed to an elite educational establishment. In my case, the Royal Northern College of Music, where I studied classical piano and trumpet for 10 years every Saturday. To be honest, most of the time I'd rather have been going to Manchester United matches and watching telly. I became pretty good at music though and was at my technical peak aged 17, when I performed Rhapsody in Blue alongside a full orchestra. Around the same time, my Dad got me a job playing piano in a wine bar on Thursday nights; booze, women and Billy Joel songs sealed the deal. My future wasn't going to be in classical music after all. I rebelled, left music altogether, went to medical school in London and qualified as a doctor, where I would later go on to train as a hospital psychiatrist. At which point, yes, you guessed it, I left medicine and became a professional musician. I told you it was complex. Add in my life's other dot, the Jewish one, and you have a whole whirlwind of classic guilt, confusion and hang-ups.
It turned out fine though. People often ask me about the seismic change between careers in psychiatry and music. I love them both equally, because for me they're almost identical. I'm in music for the communication, a mutual listening, the deep connection, and the profound satisfaction I feel when I've been able to boost people’s mood. Read it again and it describes both careers perfectly, but I don't have to get up at 7am for music.
So here I am at the Fringe several years later with my MOJO show (Musicians Of Jewish Origin). It starts with Rhapsody in Blue, featuring many of the songs I played in that wine bar on Thursdays and contains anecdotes about Jewish songwriters and English football. As for psychiatry, how about “Still crazy after all these years” by Paul Simon? You could say all the dots from my convoluted life’s journey have come together in one show. I may not be able to ask Steve Jobs his opinion, but I suspect he would say this is a good sign, and I can't wait to find out!