Saturday, August 16, 2008

Get Thee Out to Play

No Couch For Thee

As soon as I got in the house, I heard:

"Li-Li called you. I think it's about a gig."

After tasting the sweet freedom of leaving work on Friday, having to commit to anything, even dinner out with friends, is very difficult for me. I have other things I want to do. Like, take a nap. I want a snack and then the couch immediately. Once I settle upon the vessel of comfort, the quintessential American Valium of furniture, my night is planned. Movies ahead to watch and that's it.

I muttered and sputtered, but called her back. I owe her that much.

She explained that there was a gig tonight and I was invited by the leader to play.

"The money isn't great."

I ain't feeling it, babe.

"But drinks and food are free."

Getting better. Especially the drink part. Me like beer.

"But I don't know the songs." He casteth doubt againe.

"You'll be fine. You won't have any problem at all."

Keep going.

But the all important question was not yet asked: What time is the gig? (Translation: was there time for a sandwich and a nap?)

"We start at 9 o'clock."

"OK. I'll do it."

That's all I needed to hear. There was plenty of sack time. Time to recharge the batteries aboard the SS Snoozeville.

Out of the Tower
It would be totally flippant and disingenuous to say that a mere chance to couch surf was the deal breaker. I had turned down gigs with this group before and everyone knows that if you turn down too many gigs, the phone stops ringing. Besides, I knew that my usual evening practice would be accompanied by spousal comments pointing out my gross hypocrisy. And, damn it, as hard as it would be to acknowledge it - she would be right. It would feel a bit Ivory tower to stay home and twiddle fingers to frets.

The Same Old Feeling

Though I have been a professional for 22 years, I am always a bit nervous before I play. It used to be terrible, now it's very manageable, but nonetheless, my nerves are there. As a whole, I think that a gig always presents the terrifying thought of sounding awful, playing like crap and forever tarnishing your reputation as a player. The other thought that shadows musicians is that their peers and the general public will recognize that we are frauds and have no business playing music at all. That somehow only the true geniuses have the right to play music in public. That all we are is inadequate substitutes. This isn't logical, but a musician's ego can be a very voluminous and cumbersome burden, especially to tolerate, but also very small and fragile as glass. All this must be pushed aside. There's a gig, Goddammit!

There's one thing about this gig that makes it infinitely easier on me: it ain't mine. I am a sideman. What me worry? There's no pressure on me.

When I arrive, the place is packed. Some sort of 40th high school reunion or something. Surely they didn't hire us. Nah. That would be for the purveyors of R&B and such. A jazz band for this type of nostalgia wouldn't work. Boomers must periodically relive the now smoothed over bits of their long passed youth and jazz would be a snoozer.

Get On with the Tale

In short, I had a ball. It had to be the most fun I've had in years.

I have discovered my role within a group: to stir up trouble in the rhythm section. I actually listen and pay attention to the drummer -something which often surprises them. Guitarists, being the egotistical a-holes that they are, always seem to think a great deal more about their upcoming solos and consequently, contributing to the rhythm session is more of an obligation than a joy. This kind of conventional approach of lead vs. rhythm is lacks imagination. The interaction in the rhythm section is essential and one that should be dictated by good taste, discipline, accuracy, but ultimately spontaneity and even unbridled joy.

The Reverend Tim was behind the kit that night. His muscular build belies his subtle touch and his rare ability to keep the volume at a level compatible with the group. He is a monster musician with a level head and gentle personality. What a joy to play with. He's also an excellent candidate to stir up trouble with.

At times, I was completely turned towards him; watching everything and trying to lock in with the groove. You see, the beauty of being in a jazz group is the spontaneous and sudden changes in the rhythmic currents. It almost becomes ESP when suddenly, without practice or warning, everybody decides to lay down a more samba feel to the tune. It's as if only one member need to suggest it and then all follow. That happened a number of times. These are jazz musicians, after all.

The Rev probably wondered why I was facing him, but I think he soon realized how much I was feeding off his fundamental groove and the myriad of other rhythmic possibilities that he kept throwing out. There were some grooves we got into that were funkalicous.

At one point, Tim had sweat streaming down his face; looking like he was totally lost in the music. This is the feeling that musicians search for. Oh yeah. That's the core and everything else is a distraction. And there are plenty of those, yes?

You have to get lost and forget everything around you. You have to reveal who you are, without posing to an audience. You must relax and let go. It has taken me many years to learn to relax and fall into the music and quit worrying about all the voices of doubt - real or imagined. Besides, no matter what you do, some jackass is going to put it down. That's just human nature.

When Ryan arrived, a young guitarist who runs circles around me, he smiled in a knowing way. He knew. We need not say a word. It was time for two guitarists to do what they are born to do: stir up a sh**storm. From that point on, the two maniac guitarists took the band to new places. We stretched, distorted, destroyed, and warped the harmony, form, rhythm and melodies on several tunes. At one point, I had my eyes shut, firing off my best riffs at Ryan, hoping for a retort. Oh yeah. That kid can play. A flurry of notes would rip by and I'd just laugh. I can't hang with that - I can only do my thing and hope for the best.

All the while, Brian Bassist and Li-Li sometimes seemed to watching and waiting for what would happen next. Brian joined in the fun with some complicated finger stunts that made me look up and laugh. Not laughter at, but laughter that we were tearing the music apart. Not that the majority of the patrons could give a shit. All the boomers had moved into the other room. A few patrons remained on the band side.

Li-Li is not prone to wild experimentation, but she is solid as granite and very necessary to keep things straight when children wish to misbehave. Many times, the band sparked up behind her, reacting to her solos. The band was actually listening to one another. What a concept.

At one point, Reverend Tim decided, without warning, that it was indeed his time for a solo. He began this intense rhythmic fury that could be described as volcanic. With hands blurring and tension building, the power could be felt throughout the room with some intoxicated boomers wandering in to see what all the fuss was about. I stood up and backed off, letting Master Tim get off like a big dog. It was amazing. He smoked it. I thought the kit would explode.

We played for two hours and 15 minutes without a break. Coated in sweat and happy as a clam, that's about all I want to play. I reach a saturation point with playing; feeling like I have said enough for one evening. But Ryan, the non-stop guitarist showed me one of his tunes and while the band broke down, we played our duet.

A Rich Reward

A tall pint of cold pale ale is perhaps one of the most underrated pleasures on earth, especially after playing. The owner kept them coming and this thirsty lad kept slugging them down. Oh yeah. The pay was small, but with great beer as part of the deal, I have no complaints.

Ryan, who never stops playing the guitar, started into some King Crimson. Soon the Crim fans were howling along at the top of their lungs:

"She waits in the air

matte kudesaiiiiiiiiiiiii...."

"Frame by frame........."

A gig well played, tasty-ass ultra cold pale ale, good musician friends, singing like we didn't care and even a tranny hooker outside to mock, it was a good night. I was truly in my element. It was helluva night.

And to think I might have missed it.

Sackin' on the couch.

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