Saturday, October 18, 2008

This Band Plans Ahead : )

Friday comes after a long-ass week. One spent working for four days solid on a two-hour symphonic program. Yes, that's four days to a two hour result. You do the math. That's also right on the heels of a ten day fund drive. Blah.

I was in the mood for grub and the couch. The call came forth: "Lisa called."

"Is it about a gig?"

"She left a message."

I listened to her message. She was being her usual sweet self, but said "I have a question......I've got a gig." A bit enigmatic.

Hmmmm. She knows my grumbles, so she says, "You think about it. I'll call you back in a half an hour." Good plan. Give the old goat time to think, he may agree. I do.

Gee, wouldn't it be nice to somehow plan these things? Evidently not and that's what makes it so crazy and charming at the same time. Lisa was combing the paper that very afternoon and saw our name listed as entertainment at the club.

After grub and a quick nap, I headed out to the gig. What the hell? This would be the third time I have stepped in as a sideman for this group. No surprises, right?

When I arrived, my usual parking at the bank across the street was now Parking Lot L for the Clay Center. What? Part of the charm living in Podunk Town is that parking is never a hassle. Don't take away every insider's parking areas. Despite the big sign, no one approached me for money.

Looking over at the club, I see people seated at tables where the band sets up. Rule #32 of the musician's gig guide: never lug equipment until you know where or if you are setting up. Something could have gone wrong and most likely has.

We were indeed playing as there was a handwritten sign outside advertising the band. The correct personnel was not listed nor did it have my name on it. I laughed. This is the way things go for me.

On or off? Could I just slip into the heavenly reward of a pint of pale ale or would I have to earn my keep? Yes and no. It's just the normal chaos of the place. We would have to wait until those folks finished before we could set up. Brian had a good laugh and I'm glad. He's the leader and the pressure is more on him to make owner and band happy. We are used to the disorganization.

Tonight, the dramatis personae would involve Chris, not Tim, who would be our drummer. I hadn't seen him in over a decade. After the Velvets called it quits, a quartet called The Wine Consultants was formed and Chris was our powerhouse percussionist. Getting older does bad things to you like gaining weight, losing hair, but sometimes it can bring a person a certain mellowness and focus. This is certainly true of Chris.

Back in those days, Chris was the man of chops, but sometimes at the expense of ensemble interaction. There is always a time in a musician's life when showing off one's chops is the primary concern. This may come from the ego or from an imagined standard that everything must be complicated. He was really an intense guy back then and seemed to be on his own planet wave. The chops remain, but the guy is far more relaxed, focused and listens to the group.

We began in the usual way: one man short. Ryan is always late because he always has a gig beforehand, so your humble narrator must discharge the guitar duties alone. This means you better call tunes I know and that's a mighty short list.

This is the roll of the dice, kids, and the potentially embarrassing element for me. Although this is a laid back gig at a small restaurant-club, you never know who's going to show up and listen or when you will be placed squarely on the hot seat. Both happened.

Indeed, sure as rain, one of the local jazz players and friends show up and take the table right in front of us. Although we have been in bands together and are old friends, still he is truly a jazz musician and a great one. I still feel like an interloper- a guy who once played classical only, but drifted into jazz by circumstance. I am adrift musically-neither this nor that. This may be an unfair assessment, but still this is how I view myself.

Do I feel pressure to be something I somehow cannot live up to? Nah. It's not like I'm on stage at the Clay Center about to play a show unprepared. This is jazz baby. Besides, I have a fake book if things get hairy.

Ryan shows up and finally I can relax. He is an amazing player and I have a lot of balls to sit next to him. It shows either blind arrogance on my part, stupidity or as I would like to think, a chance to learn. Some of his solos were simply astonishing last night. At once, I am lost in supportive admiration and at the same time I am jealous of how easy it appears for him. He glides along the frets laying down some serious jazzopothy. Still, this old man doesn't have thirty six years under his belt for nothin'. I wasn't firing as well as I could, but a few times I laid it out. If all else fails, lay down a tight rhythm.

When the two of us play, it soon becomes guitar madness. There is a symbiosis between us that reflects our mutual love of classical, jazz, the avant garde and a dash of King Crimson. In fact, it dawned on me that if I couldn't bring the fast lines to Ryan, he would bring the Fripp interlocking guitar lines to me. We took off into this improvised section that was amazing.

Afterwards, Lisa said, "Do you guys need a cigarette?"

I thought the band sounded pretty good and thought the night was over when someone wanted to hear Autumn Leaves. Without warning, Brian announces, "We're gonna let this be an acoustic guitar number." Wha? Thanks for the spotlight. This is the hot seat I was referring to earlier. Does anyone care that I am seated next to a Berkley graduate and quite possibly is the best jazz guitarist in town? Time to fly or fry, baby.

I did my best with some hazy changes on the end of the B section. Ryan had
"no complaints." Small mercies-thanks.

Soon I was with my friends and delightful pale ale. All other beer tastes like sh*t to me without a lot of hops typical to this style of brew. Gots to have my hops.

My friend Kai and I go back quite a ways. Kai is a monster player and teacher. His style of teaching is a bit like a samurai sword master-swift and to the point. He said, "You got the radio thing going great, but you really need to play, man."

Something tells me he is right. Goddam right.

1 comment:

The Only Mister Ed said...

You are fortunate indeed to have friends who are so talented and inspiring. I find myself time and again surrounded by almost-was's and, honestly, less talented people. Let's just say they have a "great personality" music-wise. ;)