Updates – End of May 2013

Well it’s been a weird couple of weeks for me. May was not a very busy month at least for playing gigs. I only had the one gig and that was a pick-up last minute wedding gig. I was supposed to have another one but the club (who shall remain nameless – although they may well be out of business before you get to see this) seems to be falling on hard times and the gig was cancelled at the last minute. I just have a couple of things to post about and an update or two.

Feast or Famine

Why is it that gigs always pile up when you have to choose only one rather than spreading out so you can take them all? This is a phenomenon I have noticed for years and it’s maddening at times. For instance, I thought I had a gig on the 18th but one of the bands I used to play with years ago called me up to sub on the same night. I had to turn them down but then the gig got cancelled so I got right back in touch to see if I could still take it…only to find out the regular guy had gotten his conflict worked out after not being able to find a sub. If I had known that the one gig was going to be cancelled I would have been working that night. Instead I found myself sitting at home with nothing to do. The same is true for this weekend. I’m playing the Crack the Sky show on Saturday night but the leader of one of my absolute favorite bands to sub with, The Junkyard Saints, called me for the same night. Again, if they were spread out instead of all falling on the same night I would be a happier camper…and have more money in my pocket to boot. I’m sure it’s all just a cognitive bias on my part but sometimes it just doesn’t feel fair. 🙂

Coming Reviews

I have more reviews I want to post in the coming weeks and months but I’m just not quite ready to do it yet. I really like to have time to put a thing through its paces before committing a review to the web. I still need to post a full review of my new Cannonball tenor as well as my take on the Jazzlab Sax Holder. I may be ready on both after this weekend so look for some updates soon. I also want to dig into a couple of reviews on two instructional DVD’s I’ve been checking out. Both are by George Garzone but one is more straight ahead and is very advanced and the other is about playing funky and feels approachable by almost anyone who has a basic knowledge of theory. Finally, I want to post more horn, mouthpiece, and EWI patch reviews and commentary as well.

FINALLY, Some Gigs!

After being idle for the last couple weeks, it looks like June is starting to pick up and that’s a good thing. As I mentioned above I have the Crack the Sky show on Saturday at a place called Blob’s Park in Jessup, MD. This is an all-day festival connected to Dick Gelfman’s Ride Across Maryland which is a charity fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. Crack the Sky is one of the headliners along with Baltimore hard rock mainstay, Kix. On Sunday Technicolor Motor Home will take the stage at the Charles Village Festival near the Baltimore Museum of Art at Wyman Dells. We’ve been playing this festival for several years and before that we used to play it with many of the same people in a band called Expensive Hobby. It’s a great event that is very family friendly. The only issue is whether mother nature will cooperate because they are expecting thunder storms on Sunday in our area.

Writing Music is Hard Work

I’ve been trying to get back into writing again because I wanted to start a recording project with some good friends of mine who also happen to be wonderful musicians. I haven’t really written on my own in quite a few years and I’m finding it to be a challenge to get really rolling but it’s also a lot of fun…when things go well. I thought it might be worthwhile to provide a few tips that have proven useful to help me be productive and to stave off the biggest enemy of songwriting…procrastination.

Sometimes the best writing comes from just playing

Rather than trying to write a particular thing I’ll often just start playing things either on one of my saxes or my EWI. I’ll just pick a key and start noodling around and see if anything strikes me. Once I get a fragment of a line I like I start to play permutations until I have something that really flows. That’s when I hit record (if I haven’t been recording the whole time which I often do – I mean digital recording is practically free) and start trying to fill it out, playing around with it in different tonal areas, figuring out where it might go for a bridge, etc. Later, I can cut and paste parts together to spell out whatever melody I have in mind. At this stage I don’t worry about chords or bass lines or drums because all that stuff can come later…I just want the melody to be something I can believe in and I don’t want to step on parts that other people will most likely play. That brings me to my second point.

Leave the parts to the guys who know them best

There are several reasons I think this is important. First, I can play some keys but I don’t play bass or drums or guitar. Things I come up with for those parts might make no sense to people who actually play them and I also don’t want to adversely affect how they feel about playing their own stuff. Second, anything I come up with would probably pale in comparison to something a real player could come develop. Third, I’ve seen it a lot where someone spends a lot of time working up a part for some instrument they don’t play but when the time comes to bring the actual player in it becomes apparent that they are now so “in love” with the part they wrote they just can’t hear anything else played except what they’ve been listening to and obsessing over for so long…this seriously hamstrings the player and is a disservice to their talent and creativity. Finally, it wastes a lot of time that could be spent more productively and often gives you reasons to procrastinate…which brings me to my next point:

Don’t waste time

Writing music is fun, fascinating, and fulfilling but it can also be darn hard and as such is a ripe environment for procrastination. It comes in a lot of forms whether it’s getting lost in the minutiae of recording techniques or spending hours making the “just perfect” drum part or losing focus to mess with your reeds or mouthpiece or whatever. Finding ways to combat these all too easy to fall into traps will be the ticket to making sure you make the best use of your available time. Here are a couple of hints:

Make sure you are ready to go as quickly as possible – Nothing wastes time like trying to get yourself ready to do what you’re supposed to be doing whether it is writing, or practicing, or whatever. Try to get yourself set up so there is very little barrier to entry. I use my laptop for recording so it’s just a matter of opening up a blank song in Reason and either pulling out a sax or plugging in my EWI. I have a microphone ready to go on a stand and I only have to make two connections to be ready to record live.

Don’t waste time on arranging save it for actual writing – I mentioned this above when I talked about leaving the parts for the experts but there’s another reason. It’s incredibly easy to waste time messing with drum parts and bass parts and whatever else. I’ve gleefully spent several hours messing with trying to find the exact right patch for a keyboard part before realizing it was past time for bed and I hadn’t really done anything. Go with your gut, take a sound that’s close, and stick with the stuff that’s really important. If you really do want to take time to work on parts then just make that the point of your session rather than trying to accomplish both things.

Sometimes the magic happens and sometimes it doesn’t – When things click it’s a great feeling but even the greatest writers have bad days. Don’t beat yourself up. Be thankful you took the time and made the effort and try to learn from what you did. Also save everything because you never know when the kernel of an idea from a non-productive day wil turn into magic on a day when you are firing on all cylinders.

Another Pickup Wedding Gig

Leggz out of VA

Leggz out of Roanoke, VA

This past weekend I played yet another last-minute pickup gig with a band I never played with before. It was a great example of why you need to use every avenue of communication available to you. It started with a Facebook message from someone I had never met but who is related to one of my Facebook friends. In the message the band leader asked me whether I was available for the date which was about ten days away. He wanted a horn section and asked me to get a trumpet player for him as well. From FB we went to text messaging back and forth for a couple of days. We then moved to phone calls before finally meeting face-to-face about 90 minutes before the gig. I’m pretty sure if i didn’t have the Facebook account I probably wouldn’t have gotten this gig…it pays to network.

During this time I was busy emailing some trumpet player buddies of mine but the first couple guys I tried were unavailable. One of the guys told me to try a guy from the Airmen of Note in DC and that worked out really well. I played with a guy named Rich Sigler and we got along great and the gig went smooth as silk. It was another one of those gigs with no charts but I knew a bunch of the songs and the keyboard player usually plays the horn parts so we were easily able to pick up things we didn’t know. We did a few dinner songs like This Masquerade and Moon Glow before moving on to the meat of the dance music. There was a wedge monitor for us but we really weren’t in it so hearing was a little rough and we also had to share one microphone because they only carry a small mixer. Still, things went really well and I’m pretty sure they will call us back if they are in the area and need horns again.

Oddly, I didn’t even know the name of the band until I got the check at the end of the night. The band is called Leggz and they are out of Roanoke, VA. It’s a great group and they put on a great show. The party was a blast – it had a Kentucky Derby theme and they even had the ceremony in time for everyone to go watch the race as well as real Kentucky blue grass on the tables. Martin O’Malley, the governor of MD, was even in attendance although he didn’t stay for the whole thing.

I used the Jazzlab SaxHolder again and it felt pretty comfortable although I wish I had taken more time to adjust the parts that came into contact with my shoulder blades…it was a little painful by the end of the night and that didn’t happen when I used it with my bari. I want to play a couple more gigs with it before I write a full review. My back felt great at the end of the night but I need to figure out why it aggravated my shoulders especially since the tenor is much lighter than the bari.