March-24th-2003, 02:37 PM
Why I Don't Go Back
Such a great song, and an even better name. I'd like to talk a bit about a problem I'm having if I may. I met Joe Lovano a few weeks ago and we talked a little bit, I told him how I've been feeling lately about the music I play. He told me the most important thing is to just not tell any lies. He said be honest in what you play and everything will fall into place. Well, that was excellent advice - I've gotten so much more out of music since I decided to let all the bullshit go and just play exactly what I feel in the moment. Which as it turns out, is some raucaus free craziness. Much more free than I ever really intended to play, but that works out just fine as its the truth - its how I feel and it makes me feel really great to be able to express greater depth than ever before....
BUT, now when I'm doing a gig thats NOT free (on the drums that is), it actually hurts. I feel stifled, restrained, oppressed, and i actually feel it hurt my soul - the way it might feel to tell a lie to a loved one. When restrained like this, I have to tell lies. And I dont want to tell anymore lies. Problem is mainly with a college jazz thing I'm doing, the fellow in charge (an excellent musician by the way) is one of these "there are no wrong notes......... just dont play any wrong notes" kind of fellows if you know what I mean. I wouldnt call him shallow, but I'd at least say anti-depth of feeling in music. Case in point, the guy often says "post-Miles Coltrane played technique for the sake of technique". So anyway, its basically a negative, anti-creative environment. But I gotta at least finish another month, then I'll be done. But goddamn, I dont know if I can take a month of this shit. Its like being liberated from a physical prison only to be put in a mental one.
A lot of musicians who are "gigging" types (playing shitty pop music to pay the bills) have no problem with this sort of thing. But it leaves me feeling awful inside to play some crap I dont believe in, or cant put anything of substance into. I imagine its something like the way Einstein would feel talking about titties and car parts.
So now I feel like I can't go back.
Anyone else experience this?
March-24th-2003, 04:42 PM
I hear ya'.
It's easier for me, being a horn player. On commercial gigs, I just play parts and do the occasional solos. When the solos come, I'm helped immeasurably by the fact that I actually ENJOY R&B, and cats like Maceo Parker & Fathead Newman lend me their vocabulary with a wink and a nudge. But I can't, no, WON'T do the "fashionable" Brecker and/or "smooth" bag, because #1)I don't LIKE it, and #2)there's plenty of guys who do that shit a LOT better than I do.
Same thing with "straight" jazz gigs - there's a vocabulary that I enjoy drawing on, but I can't/won't/don't copy it, I USE it. If a leader wants something else, they can (and often enough, do) hire somebody else.
It's crucial to dig what you play, and that can come in many different ways, I think. I play with a GREAT jazz drummer who digs playing R&B, but only if the groove is TOTALLY right. He digs how it feels when that push-pull, in the pocket thing is happening and you just can't help but move to the beat. But if anything, ANYTHING is even slightly off, this guy gets bummed and dark, because THEN he feels like it's a day job, not music. He's a real joy to be around then, let me tell you...
Myself, I went through the "nothing but free" phase for quite a while, but I finally let it go simply because it wasn't honest for me. I was digging EW&F and James Brown at the same time I was discovering Albert Ayler, and I realized that music is music - many different dialects, but really just one language, and that if I really, REALLY liked a song or a style, then what the hell, why NOT play it, or at least play WITH it? But it's GOT to be for real in some form or fashion. There's a whole level of constant and lucrative gigs that I am just not going to pursue because they're all about in-and-out, take-the-money-and-run, IMITATION music, style without substance, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing, ESPECIALLY a monkey... I have a hard time lasting a night on one of those gigs without doing or saying SOMETHING "inappropriate". On the few occasions when I do make it through the night without a bit of a wig, I feel like a total whore afterwards. Really.
So, for me, it's not about the "style" of music as much as it is the "soul" of the music. Soul is where you find it, I believe, and it's not in any one particular mode of playing, at least not for me. But that's JUST me, and I'm pretty much a musical mongrel as far as my tastes, backgrounds, and experiences go. One thing I CAN say with absolute certainty, though - if it doesn't feel right, see if it can be fixed, and if it can't, GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE! ASAP! I've seen too many, WAY too many, bright souls turned into zombified shells of people simply because after years of playing ANYTHING just to have a gig, they've become numbed to what it was that turned them on in the first place. Sure, you gotta make a living, and that means compromise sometimes, but whenever you give, you should find a way to get back somehow.
Find whatever it is that is your joy, and don't let anybody kill it. Beat it all to hell if need be, for financial or educational purposes, but don't let it die, because it might not come back to life. Nobody has an endless supply of resilliency, NOBODY.
Hang in there bro', it gets worse before it gets better. Trust me. But if it don't kill you....
"I liked the way it came out of the radio." - Rüdiger Carl on what first attracted him to jazz
March-24th-2003, 08:54 PM
I had a similar problem in a counterpoint class in college. I had to write seven melodies, eight bars each, each melody in a different mode. Then put correct counterpoint underneath. It was the following the rules of the counterpoint that I had a problem with. Not that I didn't understand the rules of counterpoint at that time. I was hearing something else that was working for me musically, but not following the rules. So I talked with my professor about this problem. He told me something along the lines of "This is just an assignment. So even if it's not what you are hearing, follow the correct rules of counterpoint. Then go back and write what you hear. In other words, do one for class and one for your soul."
I was able to breathe a bit easier after that conversation. I found that I could jump through any academic hoop as long as I had some sort of activity/gig/project that I found rewarding for me. It was mostly in composition that I found that reward. Just doing the work. I had to wait two or three years to play some of them, just because I didn't have a band situation for certain periods of time.
So if you're able to find at least one thing, one situation that is "good for your soul," you'll probably find that you can deal with BS situations a lot easier.
I don't know if this was helpful at all, but it's my two cents.
March-25th-2003, 06:28 PM
Thanks for the words guys.
Stylistically speaking, I love straight jazz - I play it every chance I get. Also I dig psych rock and play that a bit, and I've started playing classical piano in the last year -- so its not a matter of style, but I guess one of the creatve environment. If that makes any sense. But in any of those other forms, that environment or creative climate has to be there or its miserable. the free thing is pretty much just my own group.
I agree totally with what you said about the soul of the music Jim, you hit the nail right on the head. Part of me just says "Get over it" but most of me can't bear the thought. I can survive another month though, but after this I think I'm going to resolve to break out at the first hint of trouble.
I wonder just how many potentially innovative musicians are permanently handicapped by schools anyway? I doubt theres a huge coinscidence in the rise of music education in the jazz arena and the drop off of creativity in the music.
Yeah Geoff, I think you're right about doing one for the soul. I just gotta figure out what and where it will be -- Its definately something I need to put some thought into if I'm going to get anywhere in a music program - I have another good three years to go, at least. I'll be thinking about that, thanks. I think it would help a lot.
You've both been a big help, mucho gracias.
March-25th-2003, 07:25 PM
Peace and Light!
The problem - if you can call it that - with playing yourself is that nobody recognizes "you", since a lot of learning to play jazz means for many musicians emulating well-known people. You will have to stand out on your own and go with what your heart says. You will certainly have to face down some risks and be strong. You will also have to make some important decisions about what you want to do with your music, and what it wants to do with you. Will you be able to survive on music? I know you can, and at times it will be scary. Be brave. I will say when I'm old and you are famous..."I knew him when..."
March-26th-2003, 04:35 PM
nnnaaaah, if I'm ever famous it will be by association -- people will say, oh yeah that guy chit chats with Dennis Gonzolez, cool! Seriously though, in your experience it's possible to live off the music you LIKE to play? I had a gander at what Brotz and the die like a dog fellas are getting for this spring tour not long ago, and those guys are doing pretty well for themselves. But I aint Brotz and the fellas, and I really dont have much of a penchant for business. I really dont think I'm going to try to live off of music anyway, but I dont know what the hell I will do. I'm trying to get a split degree in Anthroplogy and Music. All I DO know is one of them MacArthur genius grants would sure hit the spot right about now.
March-26th-2003, 09:25 PM
Peace and Light!
I never play what I don't want to play...that was rule 1 when I started thinking about being a musician. That way I can develop in the direction I want, and if I'm not satisfied with what I'm playing, it's my own fault. There have been lean times, small audiences, and little recognition. But there has also been incredibly lucrative times, huge audiences - see my last post on the Ask Dennis Gonzalez thread, and people pointing at me and saying, "Isn't that Dennis Gonzalez?"
I wanted to be known. I wanted people to listen to my music. I wanted to travel. And so I started early with the mindset that I would do that, and it worked out very well. And I do nothing but play the music I want.
I am not bragging. Just telling you that you can make it playing only what you want. It may take a while, but you can do it if you believe you can. And though a MacArthur would help, I've done well without any grants and without wedding gigs and society gigs and cocktail gigs.
March-27th-2003, 05:27 AM
If you want to do music, definately get better at the "business" thing. You dont have to be a Glengarry-Glenross-Always-Be-Closing kind of business guy. You need to have negotiating skills in dealing with some club owners. A friend of mine put it this way once: the best way to get something you want from someone else, is to make the situation look like you are doing the guy a favor. I have no idea how to do that on such an overt level as he does. I am not good at business either, which is why I would encourage anyone to get better at it.
A question for DG: how did you start doing festivals? Did you contact them, or did they contact you? Not just for me, but I think Sal might want to know if he already doesn't.
March-27th-2003, 10:46 AM
Now thats amazing Dennis. The local jazz guys (albeit square jazz) I've talked to have all told me I'd better get used to playing weddings. Eff that. You've obviously done really well for yourself to be able to avoid all that, is there some grand secret to success or something? Or is it just a matter of buckling down and putting in work?
I met Ken Vandermark last night after his show and we talked a bit. Now theres an inspirational guy -- he does whatever the hell he wants to, has like 10 active bands, tours and writes constantly, and makes a living doing it. and the guy is only 38. Thats not bad at all.
March-27th-2003, 11:22 AM
2007 Stanley Cup Champs
This goes for any enterprise where you're self-employed.
Originally posted by Geoff Pfeifer
If you want to do music, definately get better at the "business" thing.
And I'm totally with Dennis, even though I made the opposite decision way back when.
You'd be surprised what can happen if you stick to your guns and refuse to settle.
March-27th-2003, 12:36 PM
Peace and Light!
Hey Geoff...funny you should ask the question about festivals. If you go to the Ask DG thread, my last post will fill you in on the first festivals I did in Europe. Suffice it to say that you must get your music and image out there, and speak well of yourself if nobody else knows who you are. Get a well-put-together package out there with good photo and well-recorded music on CD or CD-R. And keep the CD-R selection short and to the point, nobody wants to wade through hours of material, and nobody will. Don't send a cassette, as very few people will have a cassette player, or if they do, won't even take time to open the door and insert the cassette. Mostly a matter of time and a matter of too many submissions.
In my case, I had recorded an LP and tried to get it distributed. It worked, and I got a letter asking me to participate...anyway, go read it on my thread.
Sal, I was a bit "snobbish" about my capabilities as a composer, bandleader, and improviser. I was talked about very negatively in Dallas by the older crew that I was supposed to "pay my dues to". They didn't like the fact that I was traveling to Europe regularly, playing my own music, leading my own bands, and not going through them to be blessed. And I didn't feel I had time to waste on stuff I didn't want to play. Perhaps that made me one-sided in my approach, but as I went along and met more musicians and recorded more, my vocabulary changed - evolved from totally "out" screaming music, to what I play today, a mixture of me and the various genres and traditions.
As Moné points out, we make our decisions and go for it. Hopefully it's what we truly want.
March-27th-2003, 03:37 PM
I've had some good times playing wedding gigs, society gigs, and cocktail gigs, to say nothing of innumerable blues and R&B gigs. Some great times, even, occasionally. It all depends on who you're playing with and what you yourself bring to the gig in terms of ability and attitude. Expect shit, and shit most assuredly will be yours.
If it ain't fun (and that can mean many, MANY, things), leave it alone. But if there is satisfaction to be had (and that too can mean many, MANY things), then why not? Playing Jimmy Reed songs (to pick one of many examples) for a club full of people who are dancing, romancing, and, in general, just being happy to be alive while they're doing it is as beautiful a life experience as anything else one can do. This I truly believe. If you can contibute to the creation of joy in ANY manner in this life, you're only depriving yourself if you fail to do so. At least this is how it seems to me.
There ain't enough joy in the world, and I'm nowhere NEAR wise enough to judge others in regards to where they should go musically to find it or how they should go about getting it by how or what they play or listen to. If I'm playing with GOOD players who are there to make some good MUSIC (and good music comes in many, MANY forms) and not just to collect a paycheck at the end of the night or feed their vainglorious fantasies, AND if it's a musical "style" that I myself enjoy in some form or fashion, I'm happy enough. Of course, what Geoff said rings totally true - you HAVE to do things for yourself. But there's no harm in doing things for others as well. Finding the proper balance between the two is indeed a difficult, and entirely personal, process, but the rewards more than repay the effort, just as years spent practicing and studying eventually yield dividends (of course, in both instances it helps to have a clearly focused goal). At least this was the case for me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Bottom line, at least (and only) from my perspective - joy is where you find it, and finding it is very often simply a matter of seeing it when it's there and accepting it on its own trerms, and not automatically rejecting it because it doesn't fit YOUR notion of what it should be. To paraphrase the cliche, it's a fool who has himself for a teacher. At least as their ONLY teacher.
Humility about, and dilligence towards pursuing one's craft/art (two sides of the same coin, make no mistake) go a long way towards eliminating negative feelings brought about by percieved bruisings of one's ego. The notion of regaining Eden through a self-imposed perpetual innocence is indeed an intoxicating one, but unfortunately, real life works in such a way that we have to work at it in SOME form or fashion in order for the results to have any meaning outside of our own fantasies (of which we all no doubt have an endless supply of. I know I do).
Life is simple. Living it, on the other hand...
Last edited by Jim Sangrey; March-27th-2003 at 04:08 PM.
"I liked the way it came out of the radio." - Rüdiger Carl on what first attracted him to jazz
March-27th-2003, 04:15 PM
Peace and Light!
I must say, in reading Jim Sangrey's post, that if there is any musician I know personally that puts his words into practice, it's Sangrey. If anyone can find joy in all the different musics he plays, and knows the vocabulary for each of those musics ...and I hear it constantly from the musicians he plays with...it's Jim.
It's a great thing he says (and I'm condensing Jimbo): Finding the proper balance between doing for yourself and doing for others is difficult, but it repays you handsomely.
And to me, that sounds like a Beatitude.
March-28th-2003, 05:01 PM
I appreciate the honesty and insight on this thread. I think Lovano's advice to you was spot on, if you do something you don't believe in it will sound half assed. Of course their are many other aspects to reality, but that is a good ideal to aspire to.
I've been out of school for a few years and barely making a lively on music. I also agree with what Jim Sangrey was saying that there's nothing wrong with playing pop music and gigs for money, granted that you keep it in perspective if you are also trying to be a creative musician. I don't get called for those gigs too much(which is probably for the best), but usually take them when they come because the money is good, and I enjoy playing parts on a grooving pop tune actually, especially if the band is good. Of course on many of those gigs the band isn't good and you encounter many musicians who have long since fallen out of love with music. So it can be depressing too. My advice would be the same as Lovano's- focus your energy on what you are passionate about, but also keep an open mind.
Last edited by hearsay; March-28th-2003 at 05:02 PM.
March-31st-2003, 08:37 AM
skirting the issue
You played in a big band playing Britney, Christina, Eminem, Madonna etc. songs this month, how did that go?
April-1st-2003, 04:59 PM
YIKES! Where did you hear about that in Brussels?
I actually didn't play with them on those last gigs because i had a conflict, but I've played with that group in the past. It's ok, the idea of it is sort of an avant-garde ironic approach to that music, not unlike what Lester Bowie did in the brass fantasy sometimes. It's nothing I would really listen to on my own since it's pretty silly (to me), but there are good musicians involved and it's pretty loose, so it can be fun.
April-2nd-2003, 01:57 PM
Two comments (which are going to sound like cop out rationalizations, but I think they're true anyways)
1) You can find musical challenge playing anything. If the gig calls for playing 10 choruses of "Hava Nagila" make them the best 10 you've ever done while being true to the spirit of the music and the occasion. It's not always all about you ("Jazz is just wanking, muscially" - The Committments - but we all love to wank, that's why we do it, right?)
2) My (anonymous) teacher who is a monster bopper up here in cold New England supports his projects with his wedding band and his teaching. It's a really good wedding band. ("What's the difference between a pizza and a musician?" "A pizza can feed a family of four")
Yeah - be true to yourself - but also be true to the spirit of the gig and include the audience in your performance.
My $0.02 for what it's worth.
Last edited by larry; April-2nd-2003 at 02:04 PM.
April-3rd-2003, 06:53 AM
skirting the issue
I'd rather have sex.
Originally posted by larry
but we all love to wank, that's why we do it, right?
"YIKES! Where did you hear about that in Brussels?"
Are you saying you're unaware of how famous you are here?
April-3rd-2003, 01:56 PM
2007 Stanley Cup Champs
From the movie:
Originally posted by larry
It's not always all about you ("Jazz is just wanking, muscially" - The Committments - but we all love to wank, that's why we do it, right?)
"Jazz is musical wanking. If you want to wank, use that thing in your hand not your sax."
The excerpt from the (hilarious but unremittantly non-PC) novel:
"Brother Jimmy," said Joey The Lips. "I’m worried. About Dean."
"Wha’ abou’ Dean?"
"He told me he’s been listening to jazz."
"What’s wrong with tha’?" Jimmy wanted to know.
"Everything," said Joey The Lips. "Jazz is antithesis of soul."
"I beg your fuckin’ pardon!"
"I’ll go along with Joey there," said Mickah.
"See," said Joey the Lips. "Soul is the people’s music. Ordinary people making music for ordinary people. Simple music. Any Brother can play it. The Motown sound, it’s simple. Thump–thump–thump–thump. That’s straight time. Thump–thump–thump–thump. See? Soul is democratic, Jimmy. Anyone with a bin lid can play it. It’s the people’s music."
"Yeh don’t need anny honours in your Inter to play soul, isn’t tha’ wha’ you’re getting’ at, Joey?"
"That’s right, Brother Michael."
"Brother Mickah. That’s right. You don’t need a doctorate to be a doctor of soul."
"An’ what’s wrong with jazz?" Jimmy asked.
"Intellectual music," said Joey The Lips. "It’s anti-people music. It’s abstract."
"It’s cold an’ emotionless, amn’t I roigh’?" said Mickah.
"You are. It’s got no soul. It is sound for the sake of sound. It has no meaning. It’s musical wanking, Brother."
"Musical wankin’," said Mickah. "That’s good. Here, yeh could play tha’ at the Christmas parties. Instead o’ musical chairs."
"What’s Dean been listenin’ to?" Jimmy asked.
"He’s supposed to be good but."
"Good!" Joey The Lips gasped. "The man had no right to his black skin." Joey The Lips was getting worked up. It was some sight. They stood back and enjoyed it. "They should have burnt it off with a fucking blow lamp."
"Polyrhytms! Polyrhytms! I ask you! That’s not the people’s sound. Those polyrhythms went through Brother Parker’s legs and up his ass. And who did he play to? I’ll tell you, middle-class white kids with little beards and berets. In jazz clubs. Jazz clubs! They didn’t even clap. They clicked their fingers." Joey The Lips clicked his fingers. "Like that. I’ll tell you something, Brothers. I’ve never told anyone this before."
"The biggest regret of my life is that I wasn’t born black."
"Is tha’ righ’, Joey?"
"Charlie Parker was born black. A beautiful, shine, bluey sort of black. And he could play. He could play alright. But he abused it, he spat on it. He turned his back on his people so he could entertain hip honky brats and intellectuals. Jazz! It’s decadent. The Russians were right. They banned it." Joey The Lips was calmer now. He stopped picking at his sleeve. "The Bird!" He spat. "And that’s what poor Dean is listening to."
"Sounds bad alrigh’."
"Oh, it’s bad. Very bad. Parker, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and the biggest motherfucker of them all, Miles Davis."
"Em, why does it worry you, exactly?"
"We’re going to lose him."
"Wha’ d’yeh mean?"
"Dean is going to become a Jazz Purist." The words almost made Joey The Lips retch.
"He won’t want to play for the people any more. Dean has soul but he’s going to kill it if he listens to jazz. Jazz is for the mind."
"Wha’ can we do?" Said Jimmy.
"We can give him a few digs," said Mickah.
April-5th-2003, 11:28 PM
He didn't say "don't play weddings", he said "just not tell any lies. He said be honest in what you play and everything will fall into place".
A NY drummer I played with had a friend that did a wedding gig a dozen years ago and was surprised to find Joe Lovano on the gig. Evidently, Joe was an affable guy on the gig and, of course, played great sax.
Maybe some day you will be able to pick and choose your gigs, but for now, my advice is ... when that phone rings ... say "yes".
Last edited by jjjmmm; April-7th-2003 at 06:06 PM.