One of the biggest struggles I dealt with while still in music school was the balance between classical and jazz studies. In my studio, it was expected that the jazz-focused players not only study classical music but be just as good at if not better than the classically-focused players. Sure, you could argue that the performance side of my studies would imply that you can be super-flexible and play any style of music at the drop of a hat because that’s-what-you-signed-up-for-so-stop-whining, but classical music and jazz music are both very deep, very involved forms of music that take a lifetime to truly master. Squeezing two lives’ worth of mastery into one college period is quite an undertaking.
The skills and strategies I learned in music school when it comes to improvising in music have given me a decent enough ear to figure out a part if I’m not handed one on a piece of paper. They’ve given me the flexibility to listen to types of music I’ve never played before and to figure out how I can fit into it. They’ve given me the knowledge that fitting within a musical genre can be much more important than blasting everyone away with your fancy jazz licks. Speaking of jazz…
#4 – No One Knows What Jazz Actually Is (Including Me)
Although it did make me think…what IS jazz? I had a jazz history course in college where the instructor challenged us to define it comprehensively, but it’s much harder to do than you would think. There are so many genres that fall under the “jazz” umbrella, it can sometimes be difficult to really know what you’re talking about if you (even correctly) label someone as a “jazz musician.” Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, and Michael Brecker are all jazz saxophonists I enjoy, but they play very different kinds of jazz in very different ways. A band I play with might do a song and refer to it as “jazzy,” but when is something just swinging and when is it swinging in that certain way that makes it jazz?
These are the questions. Other questions may include…
#3 – Free Gigs…to Play or Not to Play?
Not that these pop stars generally need financial support, but it’s the principal of the matter. They certainly don’t need the exposure, otherwise they wouldn’t have been asked to play in the first place.
Sadly, “pay-to-play” is far too common on the local music scene. I am extremely thankful for the gigs I get that pay fairly, because most of what I’ve done so far has been either for free or involved me paying out of my pocket (travel cost, time, gear, etc). Even musicians who have made a living on performing their whole lives are feeling the pain now, guys who are quite literally masters of what they do often getting nothing in return for their life’s work. A lot of places will say that the exposure the musicians get is compensation enough, but unless you’re giving me the level of exposure the Super Bowl would give me, you should at least pay for my parking and maybe one drink.
Bruno Mars really put on an awesome performance. You can check it out here if you missed it.
NOTE: The rough draft for this blog article was written before Superbowl 2015. Though I don't sports often, I did watch part of it to take in all of the musical aspects. I found Katy Perry's performance to be very well-representative of her music. Colorful, but lacking actual substance.
#2 – People Expect Magic to Happen
Imagine that you’re the head of a construction company. You have a client who wants your crew to put up a new shopping mall off the nearby highway. What are some things you’d like to know in that situation? I’d imagine you’d like to know where the building should go, how big it should be, what kind of budget you’re working with, when are you allowed to start building, when do you absolutely need to be finished by…you know, things that let you do the basics of your job.
When it’s five minutes before you’re supposed to be playing, and you’re beginning to question whether or not the gig even exists, you bail. We bailed and had a delightful brunch at a diner on the way home. I did get a voicemail later apologizing for the confusion and asking me to call them back to figure out what happened, but I never called them back. I don’t know what magic was supposed to happen, but apparently I didn’t have a spellcaster in my party that day.
#1 – Networking is Your Number One Priority
I can’t stress this one enough. It literally is who you know. You can be the most technically-advanced musician to have ever lived, but if you don’t have anyone to play with or anyone who will hire you to play solo, you’re being technically-advanced in your room (and not in the fun way). You can be the most promising young educator to walk all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed into the world, but that job is going to the nephew of the previous teacher in the position that you want. You could be a great musician and have your stuff together in a week or less, but you’re not getting the gig if there’s a six-hour bus ride involved and you’re a jerk.
The point is, it’s not hard to be a decent person, and sometimes just attempting to be a decent person is what will get you a gig over a guy who is just as good (or even better) than you but is someone that no one wants to be around. Go out. Play your shows. Talk to people. Gigs don’t book bands. People book bands.
Old People: http://www.eachmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/old-people-laughing-300x225.jpg
Country Band: http://www.thesilverados.com/images/bigpic/silverados1.jpg
Bruno Mars: http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/52ec101f6bb3f79973fd68f9-480/bruno-mars.png
Monkeying Around: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2009/07/20/article-1200917-05C68C63000005DC-863_634x414.jpg
Castlevania II: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-QAoEOCbGwvU/UyWMpaZFQ2I/AAAAAAAARhU/24a-MKjg68s/s1600/simons+quest+tornado.jpg
Mystery Man: http://www.beyondblackwhite.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/mystery-man.jpg