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Jazz is Better

Jazz is freedom—freedom of expression

In my last post I discussed how jazz is worse when you’re a perfectionist. The other side of that coin is how jazz is better.

I’m a control freak (why is it called that? Reading it, I don’t like the word “freak” there) and I don’t like being told what to do. This is why certain musical situations do not work for me. “That’s not how the song goes.” A lot of times, bands hire keyboard players to cover all the parts the rest of them cannot. I know very talented keyboard players who put a lot of work into recreating the sounds of the original records. It’s quite an achievement and I give them credit for that.

However, that’s not my thing. I like to be able to play what I’m feeling or hearing at the moment. If today I feel like the song calls for an organ, I’d rather play that. Or for a jazz piano gig, maybe I want to take a tune at a different tempo, with a different left hand or bass part, or comp it a different way. Maybe I want to play (“sing”) the melody a bit differently today.

Today, I heard Dick Hyman say that jazz is a gift black Americans gave the rest of us. I think that’s true. Jazz is about freedom, freedom of expression. In so being, it’s truly an American art form.

Thinking about this in the context of my last post, I’m looking to focus on this aspect of playing music. I’m trying to let go of the perfectionism and getting it done with a bow on it, and relish in the freedom of expression the music provides.

Tue, 2017 05 16 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

Math, Music, and Perfectionism

When I was a kid, I was pretty much brought up to do math and science (the reasons are another story). That can be very appealing because, for the most part, your answers can be right or wrong. Sure, for longer problems you can get partial credit, but overall, you’re right or wrong. If you’re wrong, you can find out exactly why and and get it right the next time.

In music, it’s almost the opposite. While there are some schools of thought that will say a person is playing a piece correctly or incorrectly, the fact is two people can play a piece “correctly” yet one can be judged to have played it better than the other. I think this is very common in classical music, but I have seen it in pop music styles as well (think of the beginning of the movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg for instance).

In jazz, it is even “worse.” * One can always play a tune differently, better, or with a new technique. I have a friend who says, “the great thing about music is that there’s always something new to learn. The drag about music is that there’s always something new to learn.”

Don’t get me wrong. It is great to have many different ways to play a song and decide depending upon how you want to interpret it that time. But the never ending quest, the fact that you can always play it differently, that it is completely subjective whether you are doing it right or wrong can be very difficult for someone used to the perfection of math and science, who likes to get something done, get it right, and move on. And who is somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale.

* Jazz isn’t really worse, I’m just referring to the problem this post is discussing.

Mon, 2017 05 15 at 10:19 AM | Permalink for this entry

Gotta Get Back

The fire and fever of why I started down this musical path in the first place

As a keyboard player, I get offered a lot of different gigs. “Keyboard player” can mean a lot of things. While I like a lot of different music, the reason I got into this is because of the music I love. The music I love features keyboards that sound like keyboards. That means pianos, electric pianos, and organs for the most part. It doesn’t feature keyboards sounding like strings or horns nor any other real instruments. For people that want to do that, that’s fine. It’s just not my bag, and I also feel like that doesn’t sound good in the kind of music that I love.

Right now, the top style of music I really want to get good at is swingin’ jazz. This stuff is a lot to learn, but when I hear the kind of jazz I love, I wish I could play that. After that, my love is blues and blues-rock. Again, there’s stuff in here that makes me want to jump up and play.

It’s this kind of stuff that made me jump into this crazy business. That is what it’s all about for me. So when I get an offer for a band that’s making music that doesn’t float my boat like this, I have to turn them down. That’s hard. I appreciate the offer and it’s good to learn new stuff as well as get some more work. But it can be hard to know if the band will be as interesting as the music I normally enjoy. I have had fun with bands like that, but in the end it didn’t kick my ass like I want a band to, musically.

Fri, 2016 08 26 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Well, some of it is you, but it’s mostly me

I have long believed that you get what you expect. Jobs, waiters, bands, relationships, auto mechanics, you name it. Sometimes, you don’t realize what you expect, and that’s when it gets tricky. If there’s part of you that thinks all auto mechanics are con men, then you will find they are all con men. That doesn’t mean that some of them aren’t con men. It doesn’t even mean that all the ones you’ve encountered aren’t con men. They might be. But why do you always find the bad ones? Because you expect it.

I discussed in a previous post bands that call themselves “pro.” Well, I did it again. This time, I knew the guy starting the band and, liking the way he played, somehow completely missed that he said he was starting a “professional” band. That’s on me. But once again, I was with a band that missed the boat on what’s truly professional. It’s a shame too, because like the old adage, I think everyone in the band is better than me, so that should have helped me up my game. However, several of the band members ways of interacting are unacceptable to me and less than professional. There are other issues I won’t get into here. Maybe in another post.

I am left asking myself why have I gotten into another one of these situations? While there are issues on their side, I need to look at myself and see why I did this again. Why is part of me expecting this sort of train wreck, instead of finding a good situation?

The best answer I have so far is my expectations or lack of from myself. Maybe I think I’m not good enough to find a good situation that just works, that I think I don’t or can’t play well enough to hang with players like that. If that is the case, I need to recalibrate somehow. One way would be to be lucky enough to find a band that was willing to “put up” with me (my words, not theirs and just an expression. I’m not into beating myself up and avoid it as much as I can) as I got up to speed. Another would be to start my own band with some quality players. A third would be to stop pursuing this for now and let go. If I can let go of preconceptions about myself and the bands, I think the right situation can come to me.

Tue, 2016 08 16 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

Why I Don’t Go to Jams to Play

I’ve been to a few, and I’m not complaining.

I was talking with a guitar player today and I mentioned that I saw that he has written a few originals. He said, “do you know why I wrote those? Because the guys who sing at jams were getting called up before the ones that didn’t. Before I wrote those songs for me to sing, I wasn’t getting called up until the end of the jam.”

As a piano/organ player, it’s a bit more to set up than it is for most other players (singer or horns - nothing, drums - adjust the kit a bit, bass - plug in the house amp, guitar player - plug in a provided amp or bring your own and plug into that), but it is admittedly much easier to set up keys now than it was years ago. It still takes time though, as there are a few pieces to set up, and I don’t like to make people wait on me while I set up. But that’s not the biggest problem, as I’ve now realized.

I don’t sing. When I go to a jam, I’m looking to sit in with people. I’m not going to “lead” a tune if someone else has to sing it. There is one jam I have gone to where it’s pretty easy for me to set up at the beginning and play for nearly the whole jam if I wanted to. (Sometimes if there’s another keyboard player who is there to sit in for a few songs, I let them and take a break.) On the other hand, I’ve been to jams where I got to sit in for a few songs and that was it. It seems to be a lot of work just to play three or four tunes. Outside of that, I don’t know if anyone will want me to join them or not. It’s fine if they don’t. Sometimes it’s a band that’s coming up so they are all together. Sometimes people just don’t think about having keys with them on stage. This uncertainty leads me to leave my gear set up in case someone wants me to play. But then it’s hard to get my gear when the band is playing, depending on the setup of the place.

Most jams don’t have keyboards set up. Otherwise it might be easier for me if they did. Still, sitting in on someone else’s rig can be tricky. It just depends on what they have and how it’s set up.

This isn’t a reflection on the people at the jams nor of the people who run them. You never know what you’ll get, and that’s fine. In fact, it can be really cool. You get different people matched up and that can make new things happen. It’s always different depending on who shows up (though I’ve seen some cats play the same dang songs every time they play…). I just wish it was easier for me as keyboard player.

Tue, 2016 07 26 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

It Never Entered My Mind

Actually, it did, but then I thought the better of it.

I started off the year playing with a new band for an established blues singer in town. It really looked to be fun, but it ended up being more trouble than it was worth. I’ve actually put a lot of it out of my mind by now so I’m not getting into the details here. I’d probably rather not dig them up anyway!

One issue was that the band had 15 rehearsals for one 45 minute gig of blues. You read that right. From January to March, there were 15 rehearsals. I actually missed two due to illness, and four because of conflicts. I’ve never missed that many rehearsals with a band in my life! That shows you there were too many. Several went quite badly for various reasons.

However, the gig went fine. I feel I was even paid well for it. But there are too many issues with the band. There has been some discussion about having me back. However, after giving it some thought, I don’t think it will work for me. It’s too bad as I like the music and some of the people in the band, but the past shows me how it will go. As Lori and I like to say, “it goes to pattern, your honor.”

Tue, 2016 07 12 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

Gig Report

I didn’t need to get there that early.

This gig with the Dooley James Band was supposed to be the first Friday of June, but it was postponed to Friday the first of July because of the storms that had affected much of the area and many of the people who would be coming. Sadly, that meant higher temps and it was an outdoor gig. There was plenty of cover as it was in the woods and in a covered pavilion-like building. However, it was so hot when I got there that just unloading my gear yet not doing anything significantly strenuous got me soaking wet.

We were supposed to set up at 2, sound check at 4, eat, and the gig would start at 8:30. The last two items happened on time. Sound check never happened. Some were still setting up as well as recovering from the heat. Did I mention it was hot out?

Despite the conditions, I changed a bit for the gig and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a perfect performance by the band, but for the most part it went well. I/we received many compliments after the show. Even though only a few people actually got up and danced, it seemed that many enjoyed it anyway.

I was doing really well until near the end of set two (of three). Then I started to feel the tired. There was nothing I could do but press on and watch for how I was sitting or playing to make sure I didn’t make things worse.

For some reason, it seemed like the third set had the most problems. There were a couple of songs that didn’t go well at all. One was partially my fault. I simply forgot about that song and didn’t really know it. I’m not sure what happened with the other song, but it did seem like maybe some band members were playing it in the original key while the rest were in the new key. I could be wrong about that. We did end with a bang as planned, though.

After the show during the drive back to our room, I stopped the car on the dark FM road, turned off the lights, and we looked at the stars for a few minutes. It’s amazing how many more stars there are visible out there.

Fri, 2016 07 08 at 1:38 PM | Permalink for this entry

And The Number One Sign You’re In a Rehearsal or Hobby Band Is….

Turns out, I came up with nine reasons in that list, and thought of one more the other day

Drum roll please… And the number one sign that you're in a rehearsal or hobby band is

  • When you say, "we're spending too much time rehearsing," someone replies, "I don't care, I just like to play music."

Tue, 2016 03 29 at 10:05 AM | Permalink for this entry

No Major Adjustments Below 500 Feet

Stay on target…

WAY back when I was in high school, I took an aeronautics course. The teacher said it was basically the same as flight school without the flying part. While I thought the whole course was interesting, the biggest thing that stuck with me all these years was that when you’re landing, as you get closer to the runway, you stop making major corrections to your flight. A friend recently described this by saying you make major changes at the beginning of the landing procedure, and you make smaller and smaller changes on the way to the final landing point, sort of like a pendulum making smaller and smaller swings as it comes to a stop.

Why did this stick with me and what does this have to do with music? In general, I realized that the same philosophy applies to many areas of life. When you’re working on something, I think if you make big changes just before you’re supposed to finish, you’re asking for trouble. It’s almost like starting over at the last minute. “I know we’re supposed to release this tomorrow, but I decided to use X instead and replaced all of Y with it!”

In music, I don’t think it’s wise to change the set list or how you play the songs the week of the show. Maybe you’ve realized you’ve been doing it differently than the record, or maybe you think doing it some other way is better, but you’ve been doing it that way for weeks. To change that now could be asking for trouble. If what you have been doing isn’t bad, don’t change it. Save it for the next show if it must be changed.

Similarly, when I was in college, I came up with a rationalization for not cramming. I decided that if I didn’t know the material by now, I won’t learn it “tonight.” Along those same lines, I think rehearsals the day before the show or worse, the day of, are a bad idea. Any problems probably won’t get fixed, and even worse, if the rehearsal goes badly, people’s confidence can get shaken and/or they’ll be drained spending a ton of time and energy trying to fix the problems at the rehearsal, making them less energetic for the show.

Happy flying!

Thu, 2016 03 17 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

How to Prep a Band for a Gig

It ain’t that hard, really.

  1. Hire good musicians and an interesting front person
  2. Pick the songs. Send them to everyone. If they’re originals, provide recordings and charts. For covers, make sure to send adequate info regarding which version. Don’t just say, “it’s on YouTube,” provide a link to the right version, dammit
  3. Give everyone a reasonable amount of time to learn the songs, then
  4. Rehearse once a week for a month to solidify
  5. Play the gig. Have fun
  6. Repeat as necessary

Mon, 2016 03 14 at 10:00 AM | Permalink for this entry

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