This is me playing with Jo Gore and Theous Jones at the Cameo Theater in Fayetteville a few weeks ago. ‘Pure Imagination’ by Anthony Newley.
[Photo & Design Credit: bluebootsgo.com]. I have a constant nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m not doing enough practicing, earning enough money, etc.
Friends my age, or even 20 years younger than me, make much more money than me in their non-music careers. Musicians much younger that me are far better than me technically, and have dedicated years of practicing to their craft when they were young, where I wasted much of my time watching TV or playing video games.
But what we do about this feeling that we are not doing enough and we are not enough?
1. Work on letting go of the nagging feeling, because it can cause you to feel depressed and neglect the very thing that you care about getting better at. Instead of thinking “Wow, I should have practiced XXX for another 20 hours!”, think “I did what I could, and I’m going give 100% on stage.”
2. Identify ways you can utilize 20 or 30 minutes of free time, such as to get a few measures of a passage under your fingers.
3. Wake up early to practice.
3a. Get enough sleep to be able to think rationally.
4. Think about letting go of projects that take a lot of your time, and don’t offer much in return.
5. If you have family and job responsibilities, realize and accept that you are not going to have as much time to work on music as someone who is single and has tons of time. On the other hand, realize that the single person with tons of time might envy you because you have a great family and stable job.
6. I always thought this was enormously corny – but approach everything from a position of gratitude.
7. At the end of each day, realize that what you have accomplished is enough.
We are in the month of Libra. As a Libra myself, I like for my life to be balanced.
What about balance within a musical career? Balance is multi-faceted for me.
I try to find a decent balance between playing bass and keyboards. Within the bass category, I need to find a balance between gigs on double bass and gigs on electric bass, all while limiting myself to doing gigs which pay in accordance to my experience and skill level. In keyboards, I try to keep the balance tilted towards organ vs. piano.
I also need to find a balance between gigs that pay well with ones that don’t.
Musicians sometimes get called to do gigs that pay well, but which might skew their career in an odd direction. For example, a bebop jazz bass player may get called to be the touring bass player in a top country band. It’s difficult to refuse the money, and all of a sudden they are on the road with a country band for years, losing everything they worked so long to accomplish.
Keep balance in mind when deciding what gigs to commit to.
There are many people out there who play the same instrument as you. How do you distinguish yourself?
Maybe you can’t play bass as fancy as Victor Wooten, but you can lay down a solid, supportive groove, and your smile lights up the bandstand.
Maybe you have a tone on the trumpet that flows like a river, and you can tell a story with just a few notes.
Maybe you show up early to gigs and give other musicians a little help carrying their equipment into the venue.
Or perhaps you use your instrument to immediately fix whatever might be going awry on stage at any particular moment, by subtly but firmly helping the band find structure.
I thought my super power was that I could hear the chord changes to a song as I played it in real-time by ear. (Easier on bass than organ, because you can get away with playing just the roots).
A friend of mine once pointed out to me that my super power is that I’m a Wonder Twin. Whatever musical situation I’m tossed into, I’ll very quickly figure out my musical role and rise up to the level of the other musicians. It’s as if I’m saying “Wonder Twin Powers Activate — Form of 1940’s Bebop” or ” — 1980’s Hair Metal” or whatever. I’ve always loved jumping into different types of bands, so I think this is a cool super power.
I do have a few great things to share for October:
A great acoustic blugrass/jazz set from the Hollow Rock Ramblers. Dig the minimalist website!
A Carrboro show with Tim Smith.
Two shows with the amazing Jo Gore! Check out her awesome music video on the home page of her website.
See you at the gig.
I’ve found that I learned a lot from doing gigs that don’t go well. Bad gigs are an incredibly great source of information.
10 valuable lessons I learned from what went wrong at a recent gig:
1. I’m thrilled when I get 25 people to come out and see my band play. But if you only draw in the low- to mid-single-digits, don’t book yourself at a venue that holds 500+ people. You’ll feel like a loser.
2. Ask for a mic to make announcements whenever possible.
3. Always be aware of how many minutes are left in your set.
4. Plan ahead so that you can end your set on a great song.
5. On the set list, put the key of the song next to the title.
6. It wouldn’t hurt to also list the style of each song (Swing, Funk, etc.) in case a band member draws a blank.
7. Update your set list to feature songs you have practiced a lot recently.
8. Program music to your own strengths, not to the perceived strengths of the other members of your band. That way, at least 1 person will be ‘nailing it’.
9. Bring an emergency kit with various types of cables, picks, drum sticks, etc. that band members might break or lose.
10. Plan ahead to make sure you have had enough sleep before the gig.
After a while, you will get tired of doing ‘reps’ on your instrument. You will get sick of it. You’ll feel like you would rather take a nap. People will tell you that you are wasting your time practicing the fundamentals of your instrument. You might skip a day, then one day turns into two, and that turns into a week.
You might get impatient and wonder why your progress is so slow.
Don’t fall off the wagon, keep practicing the fundamentals:
1. Turn on your metronome and practice all scales and arpeggios, slowly at first and then increasing the tempo.
2. Practice finger strength and independence exercises.
3. Practice classical repertoire written for your instrument. Carefully practice the left hand, then the right hand, then practice the hands together.
4. Practice sight reading.
5. Practice the fundamentals of bebop soloing.
6. Practice along with recordings.
7. Practice the songs you had a hard time with at your last gig.
8. Get up super early and practice 2 hours in the morning before the sun comes up.
9. Be as specific as possible about your long-term goals.
Here are a few rules for constructing strong logical walking bass lines that you will play with your left hand.
First, a few Hammond organ basics:
1. Your left hand will play bass on the lower manual (keyboard) of the organ. Use a bassy drawbar setting such as 808000000 or 848000000. Sometimes if I need to cut through a little more I’ll go with something a little fuller sounding such as 8484000000.
2. Leave a little space between each note. This will make the bass line sound more crisp and articulate, and help drive the rhythm section like a double bass would.
3. If you have pedals, set their drawbars to 80 and tap a staccato B (middle of the pedal board) on each quarter note. The tap should be short enough that you hear a woody ‘thud’ but you won’t hear the actual tone of the note. This will give you a nice attack at the beginning of each bass note you play with your left hand.
Very basic rules for constructing a bass line:
1. Be very familiar with your scales and arpeggios. Piano method books are a good place to start.
2. Play the root of the chord at the beginning of each chord change.
3. Use a combination of notes from the scale, arpeggio, and chromatic leading tones to get to the next root note.
4. Make sure that this line is simple and clear.
5. Find a bass line that is easy for you to play, and play it many times until it becomes second nature. Only then will you be ready to add chords or melody.
6. Nobody is going to give you a trophy for bass line creativity. If the bass line is good, it’s fine to use it over and over.
7. Listen to jazz bass players such as Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, or Ray Brown for good bass line ideas.
Your bass line lets everyone know where they are in the form of a song. A good bass line will also fix or prevent many problems on the bandstand, so pay attention to your bass line and play strong.a
If you come to the jazz organ from a non-keyboard background (I came from playing bass), you will likely need to work on finger independence. I’ll recommend four great books for you. As you work through these books, realize that there are no shortcuts to finger independence – hard work IS the shortcut. Also, work your wall all the way through each book, even if it seems like there are easy or redundant parts.
Ernst von Donanyi – Essential Finger Exercises – This is the granddaddy of all of the books I have studied from. The first 10 exercises from the book are brutal, and indespensible for playing the jazz organ.
Hanon – The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises – Every piano student (and teacher) probably has nightmares about this ubiquitous, boring technical book. Legend has it that Herbie Hancock practiced this entire book, transposing it to every possible key. I recommend you do the same.
Willard A. Palmer – The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences – You will probably look at this book and think that you probably don’t need it. Yes, you do need it, and you need to practice it until you have mastered every page.
Schmitt, Op. 16 – Preperatory Exercises For the Piano – Again, not a very sexy book. PRACTICE IT.
I really want you to succeed. Music is not a competition. The more excellent jazz organists are out there, the better it is for all of us as a community. So get serious and practice your technical skills- your helping yourself and the musical world.
Dot Combo rides again at Hot Tin Roof in Hillsborough! This is the very same group that played every Monday night for four years at the old Blue Note Grill in Durham.
My trio plays this month at Irregardless Cafe, and at the 2017 Carrboro Music Festival.
I’m going to be dusting off the old stand-up bass to play with some of my favorite musicians this month: Noah Powell, Peter Lamb, Jay Wright. I’m also sitting in on bass with a touring band called the Blue Crescent Syncopations. Looking forward to meeting those guys.
I’m looking forward to accompanying the awesome Jo Gore at Arcana Lounge, a new venue for me.
My trio has just finished recording a new record! The manufacturing process will probably take several months because of the Christmas rush, but I’ll be proud to let everyone hear it in a few short months.
See you soon.