Pat Harris


This space is for G. Pat Harris’ personal thoughts, ideas, and concepts relating to music, the bass, the music industry, and the bigger picture. All text, ideas, concepts, one sided opinions, and slanted views ©Glenn Patrick Harris. Stealing isn’t nice.

I don’t do The Hang.
I don’t support The Scene.
I support its existence, I just don’t help it live.
I recently played a gig opening for Bruce and Kelly Robison.
I guess they’re a big deal around here, but I didn’t know them.
They didn’t know me, so we’re even.
I’ve lost count of how many Scenes there are in Austin.
I’m pretty sure I’m not in any of them.
Pat Harris is a scene unto himself.
I rarely go to local shows.
I feel like I ought to go out more, but then I think:
“No, I need to step back from music for the day.”
“No, I need a night away from the traffic jungle.”
“No, I need a night away from being in a bar.”
I don’t advertise gigs that I’m on through social media.
I only get to play the “Come to This Show” card twice a year.
Those two shows will be badass.
I used to keep a tally of how many times I’ve seen the words, “Come hang,” “Come on down,” “Really inspiring,” “Humbled,” “Blessed,” and “Free.”
To actually be humble, you can’t tell people how humbled you are.
I have a strong aversion to those who refer to themselves as blessed.
I prefer to let others know that I am Divinely Anointed.
I hate social media.
I do like it as an outlet for my random nonsensical thoughts, though.
When I do go to shows, I don’t go to be seen.
I don’t post pictures in real time about shows I’m attending.
When I do go to shows, I go with the intent of having an immersive listening experience.
I never come to hang, and I never want to sit in, mostly because I don’t like other rhythm section players sitting in on gigs I’m on.
Social media might be the single most awful thing to happen to the creative industry.
Instead of finding ways to actually create or be creative, people look for creative ways to be seen.
I want no part of a world where everyone is promoting their own brand.
You’re doing something artsy and unique?!? Me too!!!
Fuck That Noise.
I freely admit I’m content knowing it’s highly likely that nobody cares what I’m working on.
An audience does not determine good work.
Good work is good work.
I can’t do The Hang.
I used to feel tremendous anxiety about The Hang.
I should be Going Out. I should be Hanging.
Hanging is important.
It does actually work for some people, but I can’t do it.
I feel totally dishonest.
I could do The Hang for about 1 month before turning into a pasty, fatigued, more cynical version of myself.
I could do The Hang for about 2 months before I turned into an alcoholic.
I could do The Hang for about 3 months before my relationships collapse.
I have a very clear threshold of what I will and will not do to advance my career.
Right around the time I turned 30, I began to obsess over my “career.”
I used to drive myself into depressions believing I should be “further along” or more “accomplished” than I am.
Being a Musician is my job… unless I’m trying to get insurance, a loan, or need verification of income, then I’m an Educator.
I get to play music I enjoy with people I enjoy.
Music gives me the ability to purchase goods and services.
That’s success.
Managing expectations is also a key component to success.
I’d rather be a great person than a great musician.
Great people are much happier than great musicians.
They are also more balanced.
Every time I am motivated by money, it’s a been pretty miserable experience.
I’ve been motivated by money more times than I care to admit.
I have a high public threshold for bullshit.
I love a low private threshold for bullshit.
Giving out homework is fine.
Giving out homework that isn’t applicable to the stage or recording session is not fine.
Giving out homework that consists of rough demos and bad charts 24 hours before the gig tells me that you care less about your gig than I do.
I don’t play games.
I don’t play politics.
If I’m leading a gig or session, I call the people I want to play with.
I have a code of ethics and a deeply ingrained sense of morality.
I only argue when I’m right.
I’ve already played out the situation from every angle, and I win.
All I have is my word.
If I say I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
If I say I’ll do it, I’ll do it.
I can’t be bought.
Actually, I could be bought, but it would have to be a stupidly extravagant number or situation.
There are a few calls that would cause me to bail on you, but most of the people who would be making those calls have passed away.
Tom Waits and Ry Cooder are still here, though.
I’ve tried The Hang.
I like non-music conversation.
The Hang feels self-serving to me.
Part of the reason for avoiding it.
Let me buy you a drink and tell you how great that was.
I’ve never sought somebody out because I thought they could do something for me or get me somewhere.
I only like to do things on my terms.
This has been a character trait for as long as I can remember.
As long as I can continue to get by on my own terms, I’ll avoid The Hang at all costs.
I only talk about gear if somebody else asks a question first.
Houdini was one of my first big role models.
As such, I generally like to Pull A Houdini immediately after I finish playing.
I can’t even hang when I’m already at The Hang.
As a rule, I don’t spend or “reinvest” my money in establishments that are paying me to play.
Anybody can do what I do.
I don’t pretend to be irreplaceable.
I’m grateful for repeat business, but I don’t expect it.
A lot of people get weird about this sort of thing.
I bring very little professional acumen or credits to the table.
My presence on stage will not help put butts in seats.
I can’t put you in touch with anyone who will get you to the Next Level.
I can show up on time and play in time.
Part of me likes to think that I’m funnier than other bassists and that’s why I get the call.
If I tell you that we should grab a coffee or beer sometime, it’s because I think it would be time well spent to have a one-on-one conversation with you.
I like real and genuine relationships.
They have always come to me slowly and they last.
When I think of the people I enjoy the most, I couldn’t tell you how our paths crossed.
They just entered the picture.
I keep a small, select group of people close.
All of the best things that have happened to me have been totally out of my control, never something I had set out to do, and come from some distant periphery.

Paint me nostalgic. I love the fall, but in Austin, it’s more like a slight reprieve from the dog days of summer. Loved it even more last year living in New York. The swampy humidity of summer is whisked away. The air becomes crisp. The nights get cold and the days cool, but you can still get warm if you find yourself out in the sun. There’s the unmistakable smell in the air. Burning leaves. Cinnamon. Clove. Marching bands rehearsals are heard in the distance. Pumpkins, gourds, autumnal vegetables, and desserts. Halloween. And it could snow any day. Winter looms just around the corner.

I always like a small sidestep down Memory Lane in the fall. I was a Halloween junkie growing up. I wasn’t really invested in the blind collection of candy as much as the opportunity to plan out my costumes. As a child, I used to dress up pretty routinely and let the old imagination run around. Halloween was altogether different. A Halloween costume was not something to be taken lightly in our house. My favorite movies in my formative years were “Beetlejuice” and “Ghostbusters,” and one can only infer the influence they had on my psyche. I have very vivid memories of making lofty demands to my parents regarding my Halloween costumes. There was no, “let’s just go to the store and pick something out.” That was cheating. My costumes were hand-made, and as far as my memory serves, they rocked. Halloween was such a big production that I sometimes required multiple costumes for various functions. For example, I would require one costume for the school parade and another for the actual night itself. Growing up in Michigan, all costumes needed to be able to be worn under a winter coat, if necessary, and it was often necessary.

One of my favorite albums of all time by one of my favorite bands of all time came out on October 27, 1998. Phish released “The Story of the Ghost.” To me, the whole album sounds like fall. It’s the perfect soundtrack while watching colorful leaves dance against a cold grey sky. The production of the music is warm and immediate. It’s inviting. The vocals are relaxed and forward in the mix. The drums have the perfect amount of room ambience. The bass is articulate and full, but never bombastic. The cover art has a nighttime Dr. Seuss quality to it. I may have been the only freshman in high school in Bay City that was a fully invested Phish fanatic. Might also be the only 32 year old in Austin that is a fully invested Phish fanatic. Being the completist that I am, I remember getting a ride to the now defunct Media Play in Saginaw, MI so that I could purchase the CD after school on the day it was released. This was back when new music was released on Tuesdays and people still purchased new music. Side note: I just saw Phish on October 25, 2016 and they’re still one of the best live bands to get on a stage.

The whole Halloween bubble burst three days later on Friday, October 30, 1998. That was when Glenn J. Harris passed from this life into the next. To clear up any confusion, I am named after both of my grandfathers. Glenn on my father’s side, Patrick on my mother’s. I’ve always gone by Pat. The legend states that my folks liked the sound of “Glenn Patrick Harris” far more than “Patrick Glenn Harris.” Even when I was messing up, it was always “Patrick Harris.” I can’t remember ever having the trifecta used on me. I never had the chance to meet Patrick Trahan, but I knew Glenn Harris well. He was amazing. Born to be a grandpa. I had 14 years to adore him. Since his passing, I’ve heard bits and pieces about how he wasn’t always a great guy. He may have even tipped the scales into the bad guy side a few times. I didn’t know anything about that growing up. I only knew the man from 1984-1998, and the guy I knew was one of my best friends and greatest supporters. He had a bad hip, was completely deaf in one ear, wore dentures (only on top, all gums on the bottom), always wore a plaid shirt, and smoked as if the government was going to swoop in any day and outlaw cigarettes. He was a Tareyton man.

I called him Papa. In the course of a five minute conversation he could be extremely grandfatherly and then talk to me as if I was one of his coworkers out in the rail yard in the dead of winter. He would pick me up from school occasionally. When we got to his house, it wasn’t uncommon for him to set about getting me a large bowl of ice cream while I raided the candy drawer. We would then retreat to the Den to watch TV together. There was always a dual VHS of “Dr. Zhivago” next to the VCR as well as a Mills Brothers box set that we never got to. A typical conversation with Papa:

G – How was school today?
p – It was fine. Nothing too exciting.
G – Still practicing your saxophone?
p – Yeah. I love playing in band. We have a concert coming up.
G – That’s great. I’ll be there. I love all of the Old Glenn Miller recordings. Do you know “In the Mood?”
p – No.
G – I bet you could play it. Your cousin’s fucking up again. I don’t know what to do about him. Have I ever told you I love you?
p – All the time.

No sugar coating. No punches pulled. He told me like it was. The last two years of his life were tough. He had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was sick and tired, and quickly tired of being sick and tired. He was in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy. He lost weight. He had a character defining belly since I first knew him, and that was gone. He was weak and frail. In mid October, he was feeling uncharacteristically well one day. One of those elusive good days. He had just gotten his renewed driver’s license in the mail and wanted to go “try it out.” It was a simple trip to get gas for the car. He went a little out of his way to a gas station on M15. After filling up, he pulled out directly in front of a truck. The car was a mess. I had to wear a seatbelt, but he never wore his. As such, the impact sent him from the driver’s seat onto the floor in the back of the car. The ambulance was there in minutes but there wasn’t a scratch on him. They wanted to take him to the hospital, but after more than a year of cancer treatments, the hospital was the last place he was going to go. So he went home.

The lymphoma diagnosis didn’t stop him from smoking. Ever since my grandmother had a heart attack years before, he had to go smoke in the garage. I remember going out with him while he smoked at all times of year. The big door was up in the Spring and Summer. The big door was down in the Fall and Winter. There was a small wooden shelf in the front left corner of the garage where he kept his cigarettes. I would either sit on the seat of the riding lawnmower or stand next to him. We would talk about whatever grandfathers and grandsons talk about for the duration of his cigarette and then go back inside. After the car accident, I was over visiting, and it was time for a smoke break. The smoking rations went up dramatically after the accident. We walked the well worn path to the smoking corner. He lit up, and took a deep breath. We were looking out through the dirty, yellow tinted garage windows at the wind blowing leaves from the neighboring yards into his. It was a grey day.

G – I’ll give you $20 if you take the rider and mow over all of those leaves that are blowing in my the yard. What else is new?

Deep breath. Slowly brings the cigarette down to chest level and looks at it. Exhales onto the glass of the garage window. The smoke billows against it and diffuses into the air.

G – You know… Smoking is one of the only things that brings me any joy anymore.

He always told it as it was, and this was no exception. He knew he was on the way out. It was just a matter of time.

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital on Friday, October 30. From what I understand, the doctor reached in and ripped out his false teeth so that they could get oxygen to him. He never liked to be without his teeth. Felt naked without them. He knew it was different that day and said as much.

After the initial shock of losing my grandfather, all of the formalities followed. I didn’t feel like going out for Halloween. We went over to his house, my grandmother was there, and I kept waiting for him to come down the hallway from the den to say hello. I kept waiting to see him in a plaid shirt and khaki pants. I’d bust his chops about always wearing the same thing day in and day out.

At his viewing, I tucked the last remaining stash of his cigarettes in a crumpled packaging and a goodbye note under his arm. When he was laid into the ground, lowering slowly into the vault, the family gathered around. We each had a rose. Every rose was gently tossed in and landed softly onto the top of the casket. The lone exception was that of an in-law, with whom my grandfather had zero tolerance for. He had his reasons. A gust of wind seemingly slapped that rose down out of the air and onto the ground. It was the only one. Glenn Harris tells it like it is one final time.

Bringing this story full circle, fall, Halloween, grandfather, and Phish— a band not known for their lyrical prowess. However, the first piece of the album released three days prior to the passing of one of my biggest influences seems fitting if not prophetic:

I feel I’ve never told you
the story of the ghost
that I once knew and talked to
of whom I’d never boast

But this was my big secret
how I get ahead
and never have to worry
I’d call him instead

His answer came in actions
He never spoke a word
Or maybe I lay down the phone
before he could be heard

I somehow feel forsaken
Like he had closed the door
I guess I just stopped needing him
as much as once before

But maybe he’s still with me
the latch was left unhooked
He’s waiting in the wind and rain
I simply haven’t looked


Back. Back in Austin. Back to writing. I have had many other partial writings throughout the last months, but haven’t been able to finish them out. Many of them start off one way and end completely off course. It is my hope that I can come back to them, finish them with some degree of coherence, and then post them. They are interesting (to me) and represent my headspace at a specific time and place— directionless and struggling, but striving to remain optimistic.

I spent the past two weeks on the road with the Austin Piazzolla Quintet. James (leader) always drops the “the” in the band’s name, but I have a hard time saying, “I play with Austin Piazzolla Quintet.” It sounds caveman-ish to me, so that’s where I defect.

We spent our first week as a band in Stowe, Vermont at the Stowe Tango Festival which is spearheaded by bandoneon virtuoso Hector del Curto. The bandoneon is one of the hardest instruments to learn, one of the hardest instruments to play, and Hector makes it look and sound effortless. He’s a true master. His band assisted with teaching, and they brought in three master tango musicians from Buenos Aires to teach as well. On paper, specifically the application I had to fill out, all of this seems amazing. In reality, como se dice “shit show” en espanol?

All of the musicians were beautiful people and immensely talented, but there was the all too common case of too many cooks in the kitchen, which meant rehearsals with the tango orchestra were painfully inefficient. Every single phrase devolved into three or four Argentine maestros circling the score, and arguing in Spanish about how every phrase should be played while talking over one another. They would then go from the score to their instruments to demonstrate what they wanted, and played over each other while saying, “No no no no no,” and playing some more. When you add in a bunch of international musicians/students that didn’t grow up with tango, don’t speak the musical tango language fluently, and rhythm section charts that are crappy at best, I was ready to throw up the white flag by the morning of Day Two. The redeeming traits of the festival were that I was able to meet and learn with some really excellent international musicians, be a music nerd for a week, eat amazing food, and quite honestly, the masterclasses I was able to have with Pedro, Gustavo, Horacio and Pablo were worth the price of admission, but those masterclasses were only about 4 hours total out of 6 days. My mind was completely rearranged in those four short hours, though, and the instructors were so giving and patient with me as I struggled to implement what they were trying to get out of me. I approached the music with a technique that classical player would use. Wrong. Different technique is required to achieve the right tone and feel for the music. Essentially, in order to play Tango, I need to throw out all technique and finesse. The more gritty and greasy I played, the more the tango guys complimented me. My Spanish speaking is dismal, but they did appreciate it when I referred to myself as “Gringo Blanco.”

The APQ had an opportunity to play a piece for Hector and the maestros. We spent a lot of time going around as a band as to what we should play. The more I learned through the week, the more un-tango I thought we were. There were/are so many intricacies that we just don’t do (yet), and I was doing a lot of second guessing: “Do we play a tune this way because that is our musical intention, or do we play it this way because that’s all we can bring to the table?” We settled on performing Piazzolla’s “Verano Porteno” from his “Four Seasons” suite. We walked on stage, did our thing, big final chord and… silence. Lots and lots of silence. An eternity of silence from where I was standing. Did we just rock the piece amazingly well, or did we butcher it? Did we miss it so completely that the Authorities were trying to suppress rage and thinking of a tactful way, Spanish to English, to tell us to never play tango again? The more silence, the more I was positive we slaughtered their beloved music, their culture, their heritage. I felt like we did the equivalent of getting up on stage, calling ourselves the “Austin John Coltrane Experience,” even though we don’t have a sax player, and performed “A Love Supreme” in a way that doesn’t even have anything to do with Coltrane’s style or intent. It was heavy.

“Okay…” Hector broke the silence. “I think you need… more dynamics.” More dynamics was a common theme for the week, and also, for me, can be a cop-out when an educator doesn’t really have a good direction to go with. What’s the easiest thing we can address and get results quickly? Dynamics. No offense intended for Hector, but I was hoping for some more depth, but it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe we played it better than I thought. I have no idea.

After a week at the Tango Festival, we were pretty well spent as a band. There were long days, late nights, and a synchronized swimming routine that ended in disaster when Jonny dove into the shallow end of the pool, gashed his face, and made his white towel look like a knockoff Shroud of Turin.

We hit the road, not in the Jolly Rogers, my preferred method of transit, but in two rental cars. It was a different experience to not travel as a band, and one that I don’t enjoy nearly as much. The band vibe is physically split, and there’s something special (in a harmlessly dysfunctional way) when we’re all together. Personal highlights for me were our show in Brooklyn. It was our first time in New York, and we sold that space out. Standing room only. We were able to play completely acoustic and everyone was sweating up a storm. It was magical. Tied with that show, but in a very different way, was our performance in Fairfield, VT. We spent the day looking at art sculptures in the gorgeous Vermont mountains, and the performance in the evening was stellar. It was the best audience we’ve had on the road— certainly the most enthusiastic, and the end of the evening was a total Love Fest. I’m usually the one who wants to get on the road as soon as possible, but I loved talking with the audience at the show. It’s a beautiful community up there, and it is rarely seen when a whole room is on the same page, musicians and listeners reacting and feeding each other. It will be a feeling I will not forget.

When we got to our lodging after the final show, I was completely exhausted, and it was the first time I’ve been on the road with the APQ where I was ready to go home. It was the first time I’ve been out on a tour where I felt like I had to keep my bitchiness in check. Typically, I can roll with most anything and have an upbeat attitude, but I caught myself a few times feeling frustrated and needing some space. It’s likely a sign of my increasingly greying hair. It’s good to be home now, and it’s good to reflect on the last two weeks. Give me another day, and I’ll be ready to hit it again. I’m most looking forward to working up and including the new techniques in future performances.

More stories from the road with the Austin Piazzolla Quintet: THE CAPTAIN’S LOG TOUR BLOG – MARCH 2016

It has been far too long since any new Thoughts. It’s not that I haven’t had them, it’s just that I haven’t had anything I’ve wanted to publicly share. Until now. I recently wrapped a tour of the southeast with the Austin Piazzolla Quintet and documented it in THE CAPTAIN’S LOG TOUR BLOG – FEBRUARY 2016.

As I type, I am sitting on a Boeing 737. My electric bass guitar is nestled in the overhead compartment. It was an extra $40 to board early to make sure it was able to occupy that sacred space above my head. I look down on the brown burned-out Texas landscape on my flight back to upstate New York. I had the pleasure of sitting on this plane for over an hour before it moved an inch, and we were informed that the delay was a result of the Southwest Airline terminal in Baltimore getting blasted with lightning. As if Baltimore ever needed anything else to go wrong. We now are pushing through some gentle turbulence, and I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to use my Free Beverage coupon. If you spend an obscene amount of money flying in a calendar year, they reward you with a gin and tonic every so often. Unlike my flight down to Austin, there is no huge person in the middle seat allowing their porous arm meat to cascade over the dividing elbow rest into my personal space, which I purchased with Southwest Rapid Reward Points, which were in turn acquired through spending an obscene amount of money in a calendar year.

Sitting in this pressurized, recycled air, germ filled tube with wings, which against all gravitational odds has muscled its way into the atmosphere, I am happily reliving the moments of the past week. What a week. Such a week. If every week was like this week, it wouldn’t have been as special. I needed this past week, perhaps selfishly, but it was still a great week.

I came down to Austin to record an album of original material, but it was so much more than that. For the non-musicians in the room who may be reading this, let me make my opinion very clear: There are no good reasons to make an expensive creative recording with the way the music industry is today. Zero. That’s my opinion, but that’s the way I see it. If you’re not in the top 1% of artists who have already “made it,” or if you don’t have concert tickets that say “Live Nation Presents” before your name, the odds are firmly stacked against you… like some huge person’s fleshy arm pinning you against the window on an airplane.

I am not complaining. I am spelling out a reality that many listeners, followers, and appreciators of music don’t really grasp: Not only is it highly unlikely that I will profit from this recording, but the chances of recouping even the costs of the production of it through sales are extremely low.
Nobody is going to call and offer a large sum of money so that I can Go Forth and Create. For somebody in my shoes, a nobody in an ocean of nobodies, recording an album is a labor of love. I do it because it is how I justify my existence as an artist. It only happens because I make it happen. It’s wonderful to be financially compensated for your work, but I can’t think of too many artists (music, visual, or otherwise) who operate under the “If I can’t make money off it it, I’m not going to do it.” The artists I respect (music, visual, or otherwise) do their thing because it’s what they do. Granted, if you want me to play “YMCA” at your wedding on a Saturday night in the Texas summer while standing in the setting sunlight, I am absolutely getting paid.

At the risk of sounding egotistical, this recording was not made for you, dear reader. It was made for me. Clarification: If you hear it upon its release, and you like it, enjoy it, or appreciate it, that’s wonderful, and I will get a warm feeling inside. Music has done what it is supposed to do— bring people together to share in emotions, but it wasn’t made with any intent of, “I hope this is my ticket to the next level,” or “This is my last chance at hitting the big time,” or “If this doesn’t go anywhere, I’m done.” Nope. This was most definitely the Pat Harris Vanity Project in full effect. Do I hope the people who listen to it enjoy it? Of course. Do I want to connect with people through music? Always. Am I going to pay many dollars for somebody to promote it who doesn’t truly care about it and just views it as a revenue stream? Probably not.

My gin and tonic has arrived.

My gin and tonic is gone. The attendant did not take my free drink coupon, which I will hang onto until next month, and with the exception of one small crying munchkin, I’m pretty sure everyone on this flight is amazing.

I sold my condo in Austin, had a bit of income from that, thought I was going to pay down some student loan debt, and then made an album. To be completely fair, I shouldn’t be using “I” at all. The recording didn’t happen because I made it happen. The recording happened as a result of an amazing group of talented and creative individuals coming together. The last project I spearheaded was released in 2013, and it was released under “Pat Harris.” Let me publicly admit once and for all that Pat Harris the person hates promoting “Pat Harris” the artist. Pat Harris needs a distinction between person and artist for Pat Harris’ own sanity. “Hour Before the Mourning” was very much a team effort as well, and that probably should have been put out under a different banner.

As a way to give credit where it is due, this new recording will be released under the moniker of “The Forgotten Prophets.” I like it. It shouldn’t be a “Pat Harris” album. I may be responsible for the material, but from our very first rehearsal it was a band; a cooperative, a team. It is only through the contributions of others, by doing what they do best, that this project came to life. This is a pretty unique configuration of players from very diverse backgrounds that I’ve been lucky to connect with. Here’s the abbreviated breakdown:

I’m connected to James Anderson (violin) and Jonathan Geer (piano) through the Austin Piazzolla Quintet. James has one of the single most eclectic backgrounds of any violin player I know because he does many things at an extremely high level – orchestral, chamber music, tango, jazz (and yes, he can nail chord changes and asymmetrical meters), bluegrass, the whole thing. None of it is faked. It’s all legit. James will probably be the only violin player to ever ask me if I like Dave Holland. He has a terrible taste in movies, but a great taste in beer, and he should be making a lot more money for his talents. Jonathan is an amazing composer and has contributed some of the most well-loved songs in the APQ canon. He is also a beast of a piano player. Some piano players play classical, some play jazz, some play rock, etc. Jonny plays piano. Meaning, his musical vocabulary is so large that he can do whatever is the most tasteful for whatever environment he’s in. Bruce Hornsby American Heartland chords? Yes. Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” era grinding Fender Rhodes? Sure does. Jonny should be making a lot more money for his talents, and because he has good taste in both movies and beer.

I met Steve Schwelling (drums) through the jazz scene in Austin and we played in a steady trio for years. We have played many jazz gigs, some western swing gigs, and a whole lot of weird gigs together. He’s the guy I typically carpool with on out of town gigs. Apparently, he doesn’t mind when I get jacked out of my mind on coffee and talk non-stop for hours on end. He also plays Indian Classical music on tabla, Appalachian music on banjo, and saw the Grateful Dead when they only had one drummer. He has been a constant source of deep music history, its lineages through American history, and he’s a musician first and drummer second. I feel that we “hear” a lot of the same influences when on a stage together and that’s what makes it work so well. He has chops to spare, but thankfully, he cares too much about making music and not showing off. He’s the guy that will make a brush stroke on a cymbal more effective than four measures that overflow with notes, and should be making a lot more money for his talents.

I also crossed paths with Chris Bell (guitar) and Aaron Lack (drums/percussion/vibraphone/steel pan) through the jazz scene in Austin. I think I met both through a sort of referral from a referral situation. The three of us triangulated as a result of Chris’ Belltower Blues Band, a group that plays originals by Chris and a whole lot of shuffles that are made to feel good. Chris downplays the fact that he’s an excellent guitarist. He also downplays the fact that he built the guitar that he plays on this record. He does not downplay the fact that you can have a conversation with him about pretty much anything, and at 6’4”, I was hoping he could be the enforcer to get the band’s money if and when there’ s a gig, but he basically makes friends with everyone. Chris turned me onto Ry Cooder, and I am forever grateful for that. He comes from this sort of Phish/Dead meets Grant Green/George Benson meets T-Bone Walker and B.B. King, while trying to be Keith Richards, and should be making a lot more money for his talents. Aaron is probably the secret weapon in any group he plays with. He plays drum set, percussion, vibes, steel pan, sings— everything except dance on a pole, even though he owns an industrial sized rain stick. He owns it on every instrument which blows my mind. While I busy myself just trying to play upright bass in tune, he’s working on the Purdy Shuffle, Gary Burton transcriptions, traditional music from Trinidad, all while keeping the tambourine solidly locked in on beats two and four. Aaron is typically pretty soft spoken, but when he does speak up, especially in a musical context, he’s always been right. He came up with some amazing ideas for each song in the studio. He’s probably one of the most colorful drummers I’ve heard, in that he can pull so many sounds out of the same set of drums and cymbals. When I listen to the playback, it sounds like a different kit on every tune, but it’s the same one, and it’s a fact that he should also be making a lot more money for his talents.

Our unofficial seventh member of the band is our engineer, Charlie Kramsky. You can look him up to see the award winning projects he’s worked on. You would never know by talking to him. He’s a gentleman. He’s just great at what he does. Two drummers setup, sound checked, and record ready in less that two hours? Charlie. Plate reverb at just the right settings for listening back in the control room? Charlie. Following us down a rabbit hole, editing, cutting, and pasting a twenty minute jam. Yeah Charlie. He deserves a comfortable lifestyle for that effort alone.

It’s a pretty eclectic group of musicians, but the biggest commonality: Zero ego. Nobody had a single thing to prove, and when you have nothing to prove, the music comes through. It doesn’t hurt that everyone is super nice and laughs at my jokes. In addition to everyone contributing great ideas and great playing, they all got on board with my crazy ideas which I supply in abundance. In most instances, nothing had to be said. The level of musical intuition of these players is so deep that once they heard the tune for the first time, everything fell into place. If we were in a place where we needed something to happen, it was as easy as, “We need a guitar thing here.” Boom – killing guitar riff. “We need to rage here” Bam – everyone goes into blowtorch mode. Even the super esoteric, “When we hit the last note, you guys play something that sounds like fracturing and splintering light.” One take. Done. Another thing many listeners may not know, is that these guys work fast. Real fast. We tracked/recorded all of the instrumental parts in two days, without click tracks, every tune was counted off and then performed live off the floor. It’s rock and roll. What you will hear is actually what we played together in a moment. We took another two days to track vocals, simply because none of us sing for 10 hours a day, so there was a finite amount of time before the voices started getting fatigued.

To come full circle, fully understanding the finances involved, some of you may still be scratching your head as to why anyone would throw thousands of dollars “away.” I can’t speak for anyone but myself. The music business is a wreck. Folks toward the bottom rarely, if ever, are compensated for their work. The best reason to make a CD is so you can sell it on a merchandise table at a show, but if you’re not actively playing shows, that’s a tough justification as well. For me, I purchased the creative experience, and I will hold onto this experience for years and years to come because it was that good. I was able to go into a beautiful studio, with wonderful people who are equally talented in their areas of expertise and create something I am extremely proud of that will last wether or not it is commercially successful. It’s a damn fine record made by damn fine people, and I look forward to sharing it upon its completion.

I’ve been quite quiet in my writing since moving to New York. I feel like it was a good move, a necessary move, but I’m still working and waiting for the picture to come into full focus. The high highs are matched with some low lows. Nothing unmanageable, but certainly something worth taking in stride as with any big life change.

It was good to have some great one on one coffee time with friends when I went to Austin in June. Thank you to those of you who listened to my caffeinated circular ramblings. I’m still trying to figure out many things on the professional side. Weighing options, calculating costs, determining net worth. Those things one does in a new environment when one has too much time on their hands and in their heads. The short answer that I keep circling back to is that I have a really hard time picturing myself *not* being involved with music, but at the same time, I need to cultivate a way, a path, that can in turn make music enjoyable, and thus, sustainable for 30+ more years.

As I’ve had the last month to quite literally take a step back and reflect, I have discovered something. I was too comfortable doing what I was doing. In my limited experience, a large part of what makes a long range career in music sustainable is continual learning, continual growing, and continual seeking. It goes without saying that there will inevitably be bouts of (prolonged) stagnation or (even worse) comfort. I was in a place of being very comfortable both musically and professionally. I was working/playing a lot, and I had a solid grasp of what needed to be done on my end to make every night a success. With a few exceptions, there were not many situations or reasons outside of myself to push into new territory. One could argue, “Well, if you’re playing jazz, you should always be pushing forward,” or something along those lines. Possible news: If you are being employed to play jazz and expensive food is being served, it’s a very narrow definition of what kind of “jazz” your employer is looking for. It is not the time to play “Giant Steps” in 7/4 or to work on your augmented hexatonic vocabulary over a C pedal and call it “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.” That’s my opinion, of course. When you are being paid to perform or fulfill a specific function, that is not the time to *try* things out. In these situations, and they typically pay well, the musician’s job is to enhance the evening of the patrons of the restaurant. Period. It’s a rare exception that people will go to these kinds of places specifically for the music. Never have I gone to a place to get food or drinks thinking, “You know, I really hope the band that’s playing really takes some risks and stretches out tonight.” Nope. I want the music to serve the evening, and if it doesn’t, I leave. An over-simplification: I was comfortable playing in a lot of service industry settings because it really doesn’t demand that much from the musicians other than taste and restraint.

Now, here I sit. Zero service industry gigs. Zero gigs of any kind. I love playing, and I’m not doing too much of it. The absence of “the grind” or “the hustle” has stirred part of my soul that has been asleep for too long. I find myself with a great desire to practice— something that in the past was done for the sake of keeping up my chops or to learn something for a particular show. Practice was done more out of a sense of obligation or duty rather than for the genuine enjoyment of pushing forward and uncovering something new. Along with this desire to practice has come a freedom that I can practice whatever inspires me. In the absence of any kind of musical obligation, I suddenly have the time to cultivate my own musical voice. Since the start of my college career up to this point, I’ve always been moving forward, but not necessarily toward a musical or performance goal of my own. Learn this, shed that, play this, clean that up. While it all helped me and pushed me to get my schtuff together (still does), there has been very little cultivation of my “own thing.” I’m sure that there is a “Pat Harris Sound” or some Pat-isms that are consistent in my playing. You may enjoy them. You may find them repulsive.

A newfound musical-self-cultivation has sent me digging through some old recordings I’ve done, and one in particular was a friend’s recital from back in 2005. I had not studied jazz beyond some understanding of basic chord/scale theory. This particular recording that got me thinking is a version of “Stella by Starlight,” a commonly called jazz standard, and a favorite tune of mine. What strikes me most on listening back to this is how individual each musician sounded. The group on this particular recording had been playing together for quite a while, and the “band language” that resulted was that each person more or less “did their thing” within the context of the music. It was a very pleasant listening and reminiscing experience. We weren’t trying to play the jazz. We weren’t trying to use the jazz language. We weren’t trying to emulate a famous recorded version of the song. We were just playing the song, for the sake of the song, with people we enjoyed making music with. Imagine that. Listening back to this recording of us in our earlier years was very refreshing because each musician was contributing in a way that was authentic to themselves and then to the group as a whole. There’s a sense of everyone participating and being very comfortable. I had to do a double take after listening to the bass solo. It was the most Pat Harris sounding thing I’d heard in a long, long time. There were elements and ideas present in that solo (and in my accompaniment) which for one reason or another have been filtered out of my playing. I heard things that Present Pat Harris would not do. Why? Because it’s not jazz? Because it’s not part of the language or tradition? Because it’s not technically correct? I’m not sure I have an answer other than we were all very good friends and nobody had told us the “rules” of the music, so we played in a manner that was pleasing to us. One of the drawbacks of the arts in Academia is that there has to be an objective and quantifiable end game. “You sound like you!” Will not get you a degree.

There is a value in learning music (or anything) for the simple sake of pushing yourself to do something that doesn’t come naturally to you. It is good to get out of your comfort zone. On the other side of the equation, I haven’t put in nearly enough time cultivating my own musical voice. What can I really contribute to the art form as a whole? With a few exceptions, I always feel like I’m performing within a version of myself: Pat Harris plays classical. Pat Harris plays jazz. Pat Harris plays -insert genre here-. Pat Harris knows enough to get by but you couldn’t really describe what makes Pat Harris, “Pat Harris.” Maybe you can, but since I’m on the inside looking out, it’s hard to be objective.

It’s easy, or it’s easy for me, to get in a kind of utilitarian rut, where everything becomes a real life algorithm. “This is what I need to do in this musical situation. That is what I need to do in that musical situation.” One has to get the gig, keep the gig, and part of the making and keeping is making and keeping whoever makes the phone calls happy. Now that there isn’t any Situation to speak of, I’m finding a lot of pleasure and productivity in putting time into “unlearning” the rules (which are always superimposed after the creative fact) of the game. Classical, jazz – they’re great, but they aren’t the genres that got me into music to begin with. I appreciate and value it all. I’ll be the first to admit that classical music in particular was amazingly good at forcing me to get my act together. There’s nowhere to hide in it. You are playing a passage correctly or you’re wrong. It’s very objective, and the downside is that it’s very objective (not a typo).

This brings me to what I’ve currently been working on: Phil Lesh. Part of my interest studying Lesh is that I’m not so subtle fan of the Grateful Dead and they just had their 50th anniversary concerts. Add in that we’re in the middle of summer, and I’m listening to a disproportionate amount of Dead. Their greatness and contribution to American music is not up for debate. There will not be another musical group that can do what they did in so many different areas of music, art, technology, business, and most likely psychedelics. The other reason I’m so enamored with Lesh’s playing and musicianship is that he is such an UN-bass player. Nobody plays like him. He has an authoritative and defined playing style that snakes through every song, and his sound is really a defining part of the Grateful Dead’s sound— as much as having two drummers or the unmistakable clean tone of Jerry Garcia’s guitar.

Whenever I try to get inside the head of a musician I begin transcribing their work, but Phil Lesh is far and away the most difficult bassist I’ve ever transcribed. Part of the difficultly comes from him not playing like a bass player. All of the typical conventions associated with rock and roll are out the window. He doesn’t play repeated patterns (he purposefully avoids repetition). He doesn’t lock into a groove as part of a rhythm section (he often plays independently of the kick drum(s), and will steamroll through many rhythmic figures that the band has). He doesn’t always play the root squarely on the downbeat (his playing can be very linear, and he will play lines that go through the harmony instead of defining it). Everything he plays seems to be in strict opposition or counterpoint to what everyone else is doing. Among other things, he essentially does what I would tell any beginning bassist not to do, and I love his playing because of it.

This is the sort of thing I’m chasing after these days. A musical identity. I realize that Phil Lesh is the extreme exception, but it seems like it’s something that few people strive for: Strong individuality. I find it fascinating because the artists we talk about and discuss are not the ones who could flawless emulate others. We discuss the artists who had incredibly strong individual musical identities. Rather than just being a person who gets a call because, “We just need a bass player,” I would also like to be the guy who gets the call because only I do what I do, and somebody can hear that in the context of their own artistic agenda.

In the immortal words of Thomas Earl Petty:

It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead I have no way of knowing

Some folks are in the know, some may suspect, and some may be blissfully unaware, but word travels fast, and it seems like an appropriate time to make public my plans to depart Austin. The SoCo condo has been sold.  Many material goods have been donated.  I’m shipping clothes, CDs, sheet music, and then driving my instruments to upstate New York with the corgi as my faithful copilot.  I arrived in Austin on May 18, 2007 and as all things that come full circle, I’ll be departing on May 18, 2015.  There was no planning on the date, it’s all cosmos, and possibly a bit of my own personal Saturn Return.

I have been given a rare gift and opportunity to relocate, to get a different perspective, and to try something new.  It’s taken me the better part of two years to wrap my head around this and to appreciate it for what it is.  If I may once again share a quote from my friend, Paul Glasse, “It’s better to live a whole life than a musician’s life.”  That sentence has resonated with me ever since I heard it casually pass from the passenger seat of my car into my ears while driving back from a gig.  I know the musicians who have gone to great lengths to get ahead, get the gig, keep the gig, get a better gig, and any kind of success in the entertainment industry comes at a cost.  That cost is often at the expense of self worth which is  often measured by dates on a calendar in direct proportion to income, sustainable happiness, and strained if not frayed relationships.  I’ve been on the musician’s trajectory since 2009, and I’m finally coming to realize that it’s time to live a whole (or more whole) life to see what it has to offer.  I’ll always love music, practicing, performing, recording— but I’ve been given the rare opportunity as a working musician to get a change of scenery, to focus on life as a whole, to focus on my own art, and to examine how I can balance a healthy fulfilling life with a meaningful creative outlet.

Austin has been *so* good to me over the last eight years.  As a city, it offers everything someone such as myself could want, in particular, a utopian number of sunny days per year, and pet friendly places to eat, drink and be merry.  Its shortcomings include the complete lack of mass transit, affordable housing is all but gone, and most of the diversity is quickly being replaced with white affluence. The thing(s) I will miss the most:  The people.  My people.  I can take or leave pretty much anything in town (and I routinely leave more than I take because I don’t want to sit in traffic, pay to park, or wait in lines if I don’t have to), but the people are what I I’m having the hardest time parting with.  I am incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon some of the most generous, selfless, kind, and giving people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  To get to work with them, to perform, and be creative with them has been incredibly rewarding in spite of any frustrations my Type A personality brings to me.

I am not, never was, and in all likelihood, never will be the person to go out and be on the scene every night checking out bands, buying drinks, sitting in, and yet, I’ve been able to work with some of the most talented people in the music business.  I’m not gloating.  I’m illustrating that despite my best efforts at being a hermit, I’ve been very fortunate, and I am thankful.  I have a network of colleagues that will remain with me through my lifetime.  I am grateful that I have healthy, functional, genuine friendships with many of them both on and off the stage.  I had zero expectations when I arrived.  I didn’t set out for anything other than to try to make my way by playing bass with good people.  Mission accomplished.

Austin was an amazing place to spend my 20’s.  Sitting here at a newly minted 31, I realize it was the best place to grow into full on adulthood.  I’ve been shaped by so many people who gave selflessly without asking for anything in return.  Some of my best teachers are the individuals who have employed me time and time again.  I moved to town and paid to get a degree, but I learned more on stages, rehearsals, and informal jam sessions than I ever could in a university setting. The best thing a degree in music does is that it gives you a tool set and reference points so that you can go out in the real world and start learning.  That’s the way music works.  That’s the way life works.

Random musings:

*I played in a weekly jam session with Alex Coke, Rich Harney and Masumi Jones.  For three years, we played every Wednesday afternoon.  I learned how to swing… swing hard.  Masumi plays with the dynamic range of a wallpaper cocktail jazz drummer to a slamming big band drummer all within a phrase.  It was a test of endurance to keep up with Alex’s energy and musical fearlessness, and Rich is one of the most prolific composers I’ve known.  Rich would come in with at least four brand new, never played, tunes every week.  This evolved into Masumi’s webcast, “Lunch with Masumi” as well as some residencies around town.

*I was in a trio with Peter Stoltzman and Steve Schwelling.  I still scratch my head at how or why I got that call given the pool of talented bassists available, but that trio was (and still is) very special to me:  Musical sympathy and empathy of the highest order.  Peter will loose more chops than I will ever possess, but it was never a chops gig.  The music was always first, and we were able to record two albums in our short time together that I am extremely proud of.

I’ve never had a telepathy with any other drummer in the way I have with Steve.  We’ve played many gigs and many different kinds of gigs.  They are all easy when he’s on the kit.  It’s a special bond, and I suspect every drummer and bassist know their first choice of people that they prefer to play with.  When the groove is there without needing to say a word, you’re onto something good. We’ve had many great and enlightening conversations over coffee and in the car, and I really appreciate his perspective on music and life.

*I reference Paul Glasse and Mitch Watkins together out of respect for the 30+ years they have been perfecting their craft as a duo.  They are heavyweight composers and players apart, but they have their own language that has developed somewhere deep in the woods at a little known crossroads where American styles come together and then splinter apart.  These men own the groove and have some of the deepest time-feel I’ve experienced.  It’s been an honor to stand between the two of them and to support what they have been building.  They have been incredibly generous and gracious to me.  Paul has been my safety net on too many gigs to recall, and he has a huge catalog of jazz and western swing tunes in his head.  He is also an excellent conversationalist.  I very much appreciate his pearls of wisdom that occasionally come out as he has lived far more life than I.  When you talk to Paul, always well spoken, and you then hear his music, you’re not at all surprised by what you hear.

I first met Mitch while I was studying at UT and took a semester of lessons with him.  Had it not been for him, I think I would have scrapped my master’s degree entirely.  We played tunes for one hour every week for 16 weeks.  Mitch is the only teacher I’ve had who was patient enough to allow me to cut him off in the middle of a solo to ask him what he just played because my ears were so underdeveloped.  He would immediately break it down for me.  He has been an incredible inspiration, and his original music speaks directly to the heart.  I owe him a great bit of gratitude for tossing my name into the hat for some very special opportunities over the years.

*Sometimes you make music with somebody because you’re friends, sometimes it’s strictly business, but the best is when a working relationship can evolve into a true friendship and that’s how I feel about Reed Turner.  What began as a “Here’s the tunes, learn them,” situation has evolved into a very positive collaborative environment.  He is a songwriter’s songwriter, a perfectionist of his craft, and still a very real person.  We’ve criss-crossed and zig-zagged the country multiple times, and we have had a great many conversations during the graveyard hours when the moon is falling but the first glimpse of sun hasn’t yet emerged.  He’s one of the very few band leaders I will still consider sleeping on a floor for (as long as my back holds out).  I wish the industry and business (and listeners for that matter) were in a different place for songwriters like Reed, because he’s one of today’s generation who I believe really has something to offer.

*The Austin Piazzolla Quintet has become an adopted family for me, and I refer to them as my Austin Family.  Sometimes, Austin Family comes with baggage/insanity much like Actual Family.  That’s the deal.  APQ has evolved into something I don’t think any of us really expected.  While the five-headed beast may be slow to get going in any one direction, the minute we start making music, the game is on.  I have had some of the most rewarding live and recording experiences with this band, and that’s really the key element:  We are a band.  The same musicians perform on every gig which has allowed us to dig deeper and deeper not only into Piazzolla’s compositions but to provide an outlet for Jonathan and James’ original compositions which keep getting better and better.  We just released a new album, and have toured through Colorado and New Mexico in support of it.  It was far and away the best touring experience I’ve ever been apart of from the top (sold out shows in performing arts centers) to the bottom (leaking urine from the RV while driving through the mountains).  I never would have thought that that the most niche art-music band I play in could be so lucky in finding the right performance opportunities.

*I had one recording experience that will take something extraordinary to be topped.  I might be a bit selfish, because we were recording my own music, but it’s still the top for me.  “Hour Before the Mourning” was tracked in a single day with the operating words: “We need to make the most beautiful music that we can.”  Musically, all we needed to do was to “do what we do,” and I knew the end results would be great before we even sat in the same room together.  I gave the players charts, we had one rehearsal, and we went for it.  On the day of the session, none of the songs had endings so we improvised until we felt we were done.  I didn’t have lyrics to “River Song” until the day of the session; not even a partial draft and it’s one of my favorites; no doubt inspired by the creativity of the day.  Thank you John Arndt, Carter Arrington and Dave Sierra.  Thank you.  That day and that album are a gift, and it couldn’t have been made without your contributions.  Dave is one of my absolute favorite drummers— the kind that just knows what is supposed to happen, who thinks like a musician first, and who willingly let’s go in order to let the music happen without an agenda.  John is a beast of a pianist, but you would never know it by talking with him.  He’s more content to drink coffee and diet coke with a cup full of limes at Denny’s while watching the World Cup rather than pontificate on his musical accomplishments.  Carter is one of the best friends I’ve made in my time down here; an amazing person who just happens to be one of the best guitarists I’ve ever made music with.  We have had some great times together both on and off the stage, and he’s one of the few people I can call after a rehearsal to ask, “Was that weird, or just  was it me?”  He gets it.  I will miss our random, “It’s been too long, we should grab a beer,” texts.  I don’t believe we’ve ever stopped at just *a* beer, though.  Everyone has that one friend wherever they setup shop who knows all of your shit, and will listen to all of your shit, even when it’s batshit crazy, and they will add something productive or offer an alternative point of view.  He’s that guy.

(I don’t mean to leave anybody out of my trip down memory lane.  There are many, many good times and people to recall.  This is in no way comprehensive.  I just wanted to put into words what was at the top of the heap.)

I’ve been writing this in the past tense as if I’ll never see any of these people again. There’s a notion that in order to start a new chapter you have to close an entire book.  Maybe there’s some truth in that.  I don’t mean for this to read like an obituary:  “Pat Harris, proud corgi parent, coffee snob/addict… He always tried to make people laugh, and was certainly the first person in a room to take a conversation down a dark, downward spiral.”  It seems like once you leave a local scene, you’re essentially dead to it (I’ve experienced this being on the road for two weeks and people think you’re on the road all year making money hand over fist), but I feel that I will remain close and connected to the people who matter.  We may not be playing music as often, but my favorite musicians are my best friends, and I stay in touch with my best friends.

What’s next?  What’s the plan?  The short answer is that I don’t really have a solid plan.  It’s at once exciting and terrifying.  I’m looking forward to getting settled in a new space.  Since there will be a bit of room to stretch out, I may start doing some home brewing or roasting my own coffee.  I want to do more composing, more writing, and I want to work on a book I’ve been outlining. I want to learn new musical ideas and concepts.  I have a long list of east coast musicians I want to take lessons with.  I have plans to be back in Austin fairly often. June for work with APQ, August to record an album of my music, and I’m very excited with the way the band is sounding, September, and back again in January 2016.  I’m sure some other things will crop up as well.  I’m open to playing great music with great people, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it work.  Have bass, will travel.

It’s my sincere hope, and an open invitation for friends/musicians coming through the northeast to get in touch if I can ever be of help.  Wether you need some low end on a stage or in a studio, or just a place to sleep (a shower’s going to cost you) between points A and B, please don’t hesitate to call.  It’s easy to get lost in the day to day nonsense/business, but the whole reason I think we all get into music is for the love of it.  It’s just good luck if we’re able to make some money with it these days.  I’m looking forward to focusing on making art with great people for years to come, not just making a living with it.

To those who have helped me and supported me through this part of the journey, my most sincere thanks, and let’s not be strangers.

Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. — Robert Hunter

The first post of 2015, three months in, on the second consecutive Friday the 13th.

I like to write daily and post monthly, but I’ve taken a purposeful step back from writing at the start of the year. Sometimes you stand to gain the most perspective by looking the other way for a while. Mostly, I didn’t have much of anything positive to write about, and I don’t want to turn this into a forum solely for my rants, raves, bitching and bemoaning.

Since the start of the year, I’ve had to great pleasure to be part of some very rewarding performances and recordings. Three of the recordings which I am most excited about: 1 – Reed Turner’s upcoming EP which has shifted gears from his last album into more of a fully defined rock sound. 2 – Danielle Reich’s full length jazz album which was tracked in a single day with Steve Schwelling (drums) and Mitch Watkins (guitar). It was such a sympathetic, egoless and musical experience. 3 – The one which I’ve had the most “say” in, the self-titled third album from the Austin Piazzolla Quintet which will be released in April. We went “all in” on this, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. I feel like we finally have a recording that captures and translates the energy and soul of the live experience into an at home listening experience. It’s by far the most exposed I’ve felt on a recording in recent years, particularly once I knew that the bass feature, “Kicho” was going to be recorded. Most of the baselines in the other pieces are doubled with the lefthand of the piano, so there is nowhere to hide when it comes to groove or intonation. The practice fire was lit under me in a very good way to prepare for the session.

I’ve gone down the Instagram rabbit hole as of late. If you can disregard all of the selfies and pictures of food, it’s a solid distraction of one’s time. I love looking at all of the beautiful landscape pictures. I just hope that the photographers have a chance to appreciate being in the space they’re in while capturing the image. For better or worse, it seems that our culture has an addiction to documenting things rather than just living in the moment and taking the experience in for what it is. It’s like we’re trying to convince ourselves that by taking a photo or video of whatever is happening at this very moment, we will be able to relive the experience over and over again. Not true.

Put down the phone. We can only experience a moment if we are actively present for that moment. Being in the proper place at the proper time is not enough. We must attend to the moment for the full experience. By documenting the moment, at best, you will be reminded of the experience you thought you had, but you will never be able to relive said experience. By documenting the moment, you are actively taking yourself out of the experience. Why is it so important for us to photograph or take video of everything? I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of the Grand Canyon, but not a single one of them makes me feel like I’m there, awestruck, taking it in. I’ve seen professionally recorded concerts on DVD, but I never view these as if to replace the experience of seeing the show in person. At best, photos and videos can only suggest what it might be like to experience what is being presented, but they are never a substitute for the real thing.

It’s alright if we let something happen once and leave it hanging in the air. I recently performed a show of my own material as I got to play “rock star” while fronting a band of my own design. This does not occur often. We had a very nice audience present, and some of them were taking video. That’s up to them. However, I was caught off guard by the number of people who did not make it to the show who asked, “Did you record it?” I did not. It was the first time out for this band playing new material that I’ve worked on over the past two years. I was singing lead vocals and playing bass guitar. I wanted to play the best show I could for the people who were there. The last thing on my mind was to try and document it. As the performing artist, I often times only hear all of my own mistakes during the replay, and I know that my performance on this particular night was far from flawless. There are also certain elements of a live performance or experience that will not translate to a recording like the energy of the room among other things. I’ve yet to see an iPhone video of a show that puts my jaw on the floor and leaves me kicking myself for not attending. It’s a nice attempt by Person A to show Person B what the show was like even thought Person A was too busy taking video and not fully experiencing the show to begin with: “Here’s this video of a great show I saw… I know the audio and video are of poor quality… I guess you just had to be there.”

It’s great to document if only for the sake of posterity, but if you really want to know what something is or was like: You just had to be there. Really there.

December always feels like a period at the end of the year. In the process of winding down, everything begins speeding up. Suddenly, there are all of these things that have to get done before the holidays, because once I leave for Michigan, ain’t nothing getting done. Part of my Decembers always involves a heavy amount of reflection on the past year. I would like to view life as a mountain, where I climb progressively higher in a straight line, and then look back to see what progress or accomplishments have been made. I know this metaphor for life is completely false, and can be the root of personal strife, but it’s difficult to acknowledge that personal growth and achievement do not work in this way. My learning process is everything but straight, and I think anyone that has had a conversation with me knows that my mind tends to dodge, dip, dive, duck, and dodge. Even with the high-highs and the low-lows of the past year, it was a good year.

I’m not sure that we can see our own progress in the same way we can measure a child’s increasing height on a kitchen wall. Progress, real progress, is not always terribly evident. A lot of it comes in through the back door. For instance, I could not tell you the moment when I could start hearing specific alterations on dominant chords— at some point, I could just do it. If I were to look at just the events of the past year, on the surface, I would see some rises, some pitfalls, a lot of lateral motion, and the uncanny ability to hold the unchallenged world record for most insertions and removals of one’s head from their own ass.

Turning 30 somehow put everything in a tailspin. I instantly went blind, but the elements are starting to come back into focus. I am working toward and I look forward to achieving a balance in life again. Being a musician, identifying as a musician, and getting self worth through being a musician does not yield a balanced life. It’s the very antithesis of balance. I lost sight of who I am, and many issues arose out of this sense of, “The window is closing. If I’m going to ‘make it,’ it has to happen soon.” For the majority of the year, I was not “Pat Harris: Compassionate Human,” I was “Pat Harris: Desperate to Succeed Bassist.” Writing that last sentence puts it into sharp if not harsh perspective.

I tend to get consumed searching for what would get me to the next level in my career that I didn’t realize I was stepping further and further backward personally. In my pursuit of Heaven I was walking into the deeper circles of Hell. Everything action or decision was a calculated move even though I knew in the back of my mind that 2+2 rarely equals 4 in this business. You could do everything right and make it. You could do everything wrong and still make it. The fact that “making it” was the priority above all else shows how far off the path I was. Being preoccupied with “making it” made it very difficult to enjoy anything. Looking back on the past year, I put a music career ahead of all else, and missed out on quite a few moments I now wish I could have seen. I’m not sure what I have to show for living a life in that way.

I’ve been actively seeking the acquired wisdom and counsel of other musicians and friends who have been-there-done-that in life, and one piece that was imparted upon me was from my friend, Paul Glasse. We were driving back to Austin from a gig in McAllen. That is about a five hour drive, and in the course of our conversation, he imparted this pearl to me: “I’ve found, that for me, it’s much better to live a whole life than to live a musician’s life.” It can’t be put any better than that.

There’s a high level of ego that goes into being a full-time musician. I earn nearly all of my income through having a bass in my hands. I’m grateful that the phone rings enough to keep the bills paid, but there are costs that come with being a full-time musician. There are different costs for each one of us, and I was turning into the person I most didn’t want to be. There’s nothing I enjoy more than playing great music with great people in a great environment. I’ll make the finances work however I have to.

My goal moving forward is to get back to the idea of playing music simply because I love playing music… no ulterior motives. Moving into 2015, I want to get back to a place of balance where music is just one part and not the defining part of it.

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees. – Robert Johnson

For the past year, I’ve been ambling about, not sure of the future. Which way do I go? Which path to take? Is there a path? Is this an easy way out? Am I setting myself up for success? Am I doing everything I can be doing to further myself? The common answer to every question is, “I don’t know.” I used to live in the land of syllogisms, where causes and effects were clear as day. If A then B. If B then C. Where do you want to go? This is what you do to get there. Done. Welcome to adulthood: Where you finally realize, despite what you thought in your youth, there are no answers; only crossroads.

Didn’t nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by.

In a big picture, I have nothing to complain about. I’ve had it easy. I pay my bills by playing music— how hard can life truly be? I had one real job for three months after I finished school, and then the phone began ringing enough to where I could quit said job and earn enough money through performing. I would say that 90% of my income is from having a bass in my hand and doing something with it. The other 10% is from teaching, which I very much enjoy. I never got into music for the money. I got into music because I love music. I just happen to make money playing it these days. The dilemma I am running into is that it’s not enough to just “play” anymore. I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, but I want more. I want to be a part of something that matters; something that affects people. There are costs associated with everything, and the career choices always come at the expense of family and friends. If family and friends are something you value, or being close and connected with loved ones, a life on the road doesn’t seem like an option. At some point, to make playing/touring a reality, it’s going to mean that you will be away more than you will be home for a sustained period of time. Those are the rules. You can’t be a chef and never cook. If I wanted to go the route of education, that is an end in and of itself, but I can’t really justify spending another $100k so that I can be considered for an entry level position in a town with a population of 1000, only to work through the ranks of schools, leveraging offers, moving around the country to finally (maybe) get to a place that is a good fit in a city that values a good cup of coffee.

I’m standing at the crossroads, I believe I’m sinkin’ down.

I’ve been considering other options within “the music business” that don’t necessarily involve performance. I enjoy doing live sound. I enjoy doing lighting design. I think could make a fine tour manager because little details make me smile. There’s always going to be a trade off, though. All three of those jobs still require a significant amount of time on the road and away from home. I’m not against being on the road, but I’m pretty burned out from the travel this past year. To get me on the road, some key factors would have to be in place which means being smart about it. I would rather play to 1000 people for free and have a good experience than to play for 10 apathetic folks in a bar and make $100. While I do enjoy the casual nature of pickup-gigs, it’s rare the experience is a good one. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not necessarily good, either. It just is. It’s more like an uneventful day at the office. Quality of experience is everything no matter what side of the stage you’re on. Money isn’t the end-all, but it can certainly make things easier. When I think of doing sound or lighting design, I mean it in terms of being affiliated with a working group. Then I think, most groups I know can’t even afford themselves, let alone having auxiliary persons in the mix. I can’t justify spending $5000 on a light rig (which is extremely economic) knowing full well that there’s zero chance of me making it back in a timely manner. I would really like to make a recording of the new music I’ve been writing and working on which is much different from the material on “Hour Before the Mourning,” but what’s the point? Aside from my mother, family and friends, it’s not like there is a huge public demand. It’s an expensive $5000 (minimum) for posterity. It’s at least $5000 to get a product, and then it’s thousands of more dollars to promote it, and support it. If I can’t treat my musicians with the respect and compensation they deserve, I don’t want to do it. It’s of the utmost importance to me that people have a good experience when they are working for and with me. Since the money is rarely there, the experience becomes even more important. Few people understand this. I have the highest value and appreciation for those that do.

The sun goin’ down boy, dark gon’ catch me here.

This is what leaves me paralyzed. This is what leads me to inaction. If I can’t go into a situation and destroy it, knock it out of the park, nail it, own it, or (insert metaphor here), I don’t do it. This is what keeps me from trotting out my own music more than twice a year among other things. What’s the point in doing it if you’re not going to own it? The only reason I’m a bassist is because I genuinely believe that I can do a great job for the people that call me. I don’t mean for there to be any ego in that statement, and I’m far from *the best,* but when push comes to shove, I feel I have a lot of offer. I’ll fully admit that there are some musical situations that are outside of my wheelhouse, and I have no problem admitting that over the phone, but it’s rare I get those calls.

I’ve been treading water for a long time. Too long. I’ve been looking for an external sign, movement, or something to push me in a direction, but the only movement is going to come from within. The first step may be the hardest, but it has to be made. I’m at a point where I would rather make a lot of missteps than to never step at all.

This past weekend was a weekend of spontaneity. If you know me, then you know that I’m more of a “Make a diagram of the van and a list of possessions to most effectively pack for a cross country move and revise it tirelessly” kind of guy and less of a “fly by the seat of my pants and see what happens” person. I had a rare opportunity to see King Crimson. Their tour manager (who I met while on the road with Leonard Cohen), was kind enough to send me a message and offered me tickets to any show on the tour. Naturally, they weren’t coming anywhere close to Texas. I can’t really blame them. After consulting with my iCal and my Southwest Rapid Reward points, it was decided that I would be going to see the band in New York City. Fly into town the day of the show, crash on the floor of my uncle’s apartment downtown, and fly out the following morning. Despite my resolution to not travel for the rest of the year, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. King Crimson rarely tours. It’s no secret that I am an unashamed diehard Dead Head, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for the deities of progressive rock.

I don’t even know how to describe the music of King Crimson other than just calling it “King Crimson.” I can give you a laundry list of who they have influenced, but they (and Robert Fripp) stand unto themselves and defy genre. Essentially, they play through-comopsed pieces, often instrumental, borrow heavily on 20th century classical forms and harmonic concepts, use asymmetrical phrasing and rhythms, angular melodic ideas, and combine acoustic and synthesized sounds which range from thrashing distortion to wind chimes to Gamelan percussion… It’s art music for the sake of art music. I have never been more impressed with the clean flawlessness of a live performance (except perhaps for that time I saw Zappa Plays Zappa at Rothbury in 2009). The audience sat in silence only to erupt into a standing ovation at the end of every piece.

The current lineup has three full drum set players at the front of the stage with the other musicians on a riser behind. I’ve heard groups with two drummers, two drummers and a percussionist, but never three full kit players. Crimson is arguably the *only* band that could make something like that not only work, but enhance and serve the music in the process. I could go on and on about how it was sometimes hard to focus on the music as a whole because I was in such awe of what each musician was doing at a given time. Tony Levin owned the low end as only he can do; uncompromisingly authoritative and exceptionally melodic. He is a one of a kind bassist, and it’s easy to see why he is held in such high regard. Hearing that tone has me really wanting an Ernie Ball Music Man bass.

As I was falling asleep after the concert, still in awe, still having to consciously close my mouth, it occurred to me that nothing like that band will ever be possible again in the music industry. The full-time musicians I know that play all the time and are just scraping by financially. It’s like herding cats to rehearse even once for a show or recording session. As much as they would like to collaborate or be creative, there just isn’t enough time in a day to make it happen between gigging, possibly working a day job, and maintaining a healthy personal life. There isn’t enough money made at individual shows to say, “Let’s rehearse for two weeks solid, then hit the road for 14 dates.” There isn’t a paying demand for anything new or creative to happen. Many of my friends are sidemen who make the bulk of their income by playing with already established artists a generation above them or they play in a cover band of some sort and provide “functional music.” I’m not at all knocking them, their employers, or their choices. We all have to eat, and if the music is happening and they are happy you can’t ask for much more.

I love my iPhone, iPad, iMac, and MacBook, but Apple has put the final nail in the coffin of the music industry. When one of the biggest companies in the world teams with one of the biggest bands in the world (U2) and strikes a deal so that everyone with an iTunes account gets a copy of their album for free, there is a big, big problem. In less words, both giants have acknowledged that there is no possible way to sell 100,000,000 albums. Rather than release it through the familiar avenues, they decided to give it away. What does this mean for up and coming acts? There is no money in recorded music. Recorded music is a means to get people to your live show. Touring is getting cost-prohibitively expensive on the every level and rising for established acts. Those costs have to be recouped and it’s in the form of rising ticket prices. Without album sales there is no record company to provide financial tour support, without tour support, the musician is on the hook financially to provide the live show. Musicians aren’t known to have excess money to invest. If ticket prices are too high, audiences won’t go, and if nobody attends, the musician goes further and further into debt until they have to hang it up.

I’ve gone down a black hold of darkness when I really wanted to relay how profound my concert experience was. It will easily be in my “Top 5” shows I’ve ever seen. King Crimson is the last of its kind. There will be nothing like it ever again, and I’m so fortunate I had the chance to hear and see them.

It’s Back-to-School season. I missed the tax-free weekend of clothes shopping, but it’s not really a huge loss because my wardrobe only gets updated (willingly) every 5 (or so) years or if clothes are purchased for me. It may come as a surprise (and it may not) but I’m very content wearing what I have. Phil Lesh and Friends tie-dye shirt from the 2001 Summer Tour? Still have it. Still wear it. Phish’s New Years Eve 2002 at Madison Square garden T-shirt? That’s still in the rotation. Bonnaroo 2002 “lot style” shirt? It’s been relegated to “only for sleeping,” but it’s still there. Those jeans I brought with me from Michigan when I moved to Austin back in 2007? Most definitely. Wash them on cold, hang them up to dry, and they’ll last a lifetime.

Back to the idea of school starting, I am once again teaching this year. The History of American Popular Music. The class that by all accounts should be enjoyable, and yet by the second class period I have students willfully trying to not succeed. Perhaps they are scared of success? In my smaller class of 12 students, only 5 handed in the first assignment. All that was required of this assignment was about 15 minutes of thought. No listening. No reading. No comprehension. No wrong answers as it was one of those “What do you think of when…” type of assignments. And the academic year rolls on.

How about those social networks? With all of the socializing and networking they allow. At some point in the not too distant past, everyone has become and island unto themselves. Everything has become a brand. Daily success is measured by how many “likes” a post can get, and if you want to try to amass more “likes” you can pay money to boost the visibility of your post. I drank some coffee, like a Swiss watch I had my 10am bowel movement, and I’m going to spend $40 so that the news can potentially reach more people.

Am I complaining? I am observing. As a society and as artists we put weight in all of this. We buy into it, and in the back our minds we know that anything can be purchased thus negating any real value in the numbers. A music page doesn’t have enough “likes” and this is how talent buyers can see what I’m worth– if the money train is at the station, you can pay some company in The Orient to get you 20,000 fans in a day. That’s so cool that 20,000 people like your band. You must really be doing something right, and surely that number translates to tickets sold and albums purchased. There is zero authenticity in the social networks. I purposefully stay off unless I have a particularly snarky comment to post. I don’t advertise my work unless it’s something truly rare and special. If we are friends on a social network, I know you, I know what you do, and I know what your gear looks like when it’s setup on a stage under pink lights. What if a gynecologist posted about every client that was seen and included a photo? “I’m SO lucky to do this for a living! We had a great time today, and can’t wait for the next time!” There has to be a better way than just shouting out into the interwebs about what you’re doing. I think most people have stopped listening, and by most people, I definitely include myself.

There was a day when information took a while to spread. While I poke fun at/with musicians, the biggest issue/concern I have with the social media is that it really destroys conversation. Nothing is a surprise anymore. It’s easy to keeps tabs on everyone to know what they’re doing, but that rarely translates into a phone call or a meeting for coffee. In 20 seconds I can know that this person is pregnant, this person just had a kid, the kids grow up so fast, and that person passed away. It makes person to person conversation hard:

“Hey, Pat, how are you?”
“I’m fine… I saw that you’re getting married on the Book of Face.”

End scene. Gone are the days of “Dude, get this, I popped the question and she said yes!” For something to be real these days, it has to be “FB Official.” If you don’t broadcast your personal life to the world and sign away the rights to your own photos, it doesn’t count.

Despite being called “social networks” I rarely see any real discourse occur. Part of this is my own fault. I only accept “friend requests” from people I actually know. I’m sorry, Krang, I know the Technodrome is a cool place, and your vacation to Dimension X looked like a wild time, but I don’t know you. Also, if I know you, but I wouldn’t say hello to you if I saw you in a grocery store… well, then you don’t get the friend acceptance. It’s not you, it’s me. Any racist, sexist, negative, or exclusive “we’re right and you’re going to Hell” comment that I see is an instant do-no-pass-go and I un-friend you.

The irony of all of this is that the minute I am done typing, I will post about this blog on social media.

It’s late July in Texas, and I am thankful it’s been a mellow summer compared to recent years. This is usually the part of the season when things start to really cook. I am used to strings of days over 100 degrees where I have to walk the dog before 7am or after 11pm, avoid going outside, and I keep the blinds drawn in order to keep the nuclear heat of the western from raising the temperature inside my home too much. Shoot, the forecast is calling for 88 degrees with rain on Saturday.

I love listening to music. I love finding out about new music. I love performing and recording music. Music is a central part of each and every day. It brings me happiness, entertainment, contemplation and every now and again my jaw will hit the floor in a sense of wonder from something I’ve just heard. I have a few friends that will corroborate that Ry Cooder’s “Live in San Francisco” is the best CD I’ve purchased in 2014. It’s so good that I struggle to find the words to do it justice in describing it. The only thing I can say is that it’s some of the most honest and pure music of any genre I’ve heard in a long long time. The performance is not technically flawless nor is it overly tight. I get the sense that everyone on stage is taking their cues from Ry and just letting the performance ride. There’s an occasional odd phrase, patchwork ending, funky harmony, false entrance, and yet it’s some of the best music I have heard. It puts that sort of stanky smile on my face which forces me to nod my head and go, “Mmhhh!” There is real honesty in it. There is no ego, no will to impose, just perfect music. I’ve read some critical reviews of the recording and every time I’m left thinking, “What more do you want?”

In turn, this has me thinking about how we often judge or critique art and specifically music. I find that my first inclination is to judge something based on what it is not instead of what it is. It’s easy to walk down that road. It’s easy for me to comment on what I think is missing or lacking and it takes more thought for me to analyze what is actually there. I am working hard at being as objective as I can when I hear something new. If I get a bouquet of roses, I cannot criticize the fact that I don’t get purple flowers in the bunch. Who am I to criticize something from Picasso’s Blue Period for not having enough variety in color?

It’s not fair to judge visual art (paintings, drawings, sculpture) in the same manner we judge musical art. This is only my opinion, but visual art is something that we either immediately connect with or don’t connect with. We can take a quick glance at a work and decide whether it is or is not for us. Most of how we appreciate visual art lies in what it is depicting and we can appreciate the process in which it was made fairly quickly after that. Still life with fruit? No thanks. But wait, look at the use of color and shading. And the way the light is being used. I can’t even see brush strokes. Alright, so I don’t so much care that there is a depiction of fruit, but I can at least appreciate the process.

We generally apply this same process when judging music, but the problem lies in that music inherently requires an investment of time. We cannot “take it in” with the initial immediacy of visual works. If we listen to the first 20 seconds of a piece of music, I would argue it is equivalent to cutting a square piece from the top right corner of a painting and judging that small piece on its own. We don’t get the “full picture” in music with the same immediacy that we do with visual art. The same could be said about film in that there is a finite time of experience that we have to give it in order to actually judge it. I don’t think anyone will deny that the vast majority of the listening public is not educated in the behind-the-scene process of music. You don’t overtly get any of the process in the making of the music while listening to a recording or a live performance. You don’t really get an artist’s intent as much as a performer’s interpretation. Add in another layer that there are artists who perform their own works and can alter the interpretation of their own art independent of their original intent.

For clarity, we need to be aware that there is a difference between how music as an art is made and then how as an art it is performed or interpreted. While it is possible to appreciate them separately, by and large we judge what is actually heard. The process (the making of the music) and the product (the performance of it) can be at complete odds with one another. Take, for example, Tom Waits’ “Anywhere I Lay My Head.” If you haven’t heard the original recording from Rain Dogs hop over to YouTube and listen to SCARLETT JOHANSSON’S VERSION . Now take a listen to the ORIGINAL TOM WAITS VERSION. Note the differences between the writer/composer/performer version and the… other version.

Music is meant to be heard, not looked at on a sheet of paper. Does anybody who can read music pick up a piano score, read it top to bottom and say, “My God, this is some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever seen?” No. In truth, nobody really cares about the process (except for academics in art music). Does rolling some dice to get pitch sets or throwing magnetic words at a refrigerator to get lyrics really matter? No. What matters is how the end result sounds. That is what listeners appreciate when *listening* to music. I can appreciate a process, but if the process yields something that sounds like crap, maybe it’s time to try a different process? For the record, in my most humble of opinions, nothing trumps a great melody. I am all for the artistry in finding out new ways to write or compose, but in the end, the process doesn’t matter if the product doesn’t connect with listeners. If you are not using art a means to connect with others, to share in an experience, what are you using it for?

Bringing this full circle to my earlier comments about Ry Cooder’s live album, the product is simply that good. Of course, my taste and your taste are going to differ. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. However, what Cooder has managed to do on this recording is capture the raw shamanistic spirit of music. The band is more of a conduit for the music rather than a performer with Cooder playing the role of interpreter. Even the way the recording was engineered and mixed further enhances the purity of the music. My point is that we simply hear the 50+ year pursuit of a master performer’s ability to get out of the way of the music in order to play exactly what ought to be played and nothing more.

I’ve held off on writing for the good part of a month. It wasn’t for lack of anything to write about, but rather to find a way in which to write. I’ve had this talk numerous times with my peers in the business, and every conversation ultimately ends with, “Well, that’s just the way it is.” I don’t think it necessarily has to be that way. This also addresses one of the themes I’m working on within the book I am attempting to write. It’s a slow burn. So slow the fire may be smoldering, but there are a few sparks that crackle out here and there. I want to do my best to word this so it doesn’t come off as a negative rant. That is not my intent. My wish is that this will come off as being constructive to promote further discussion, and not be an “Us versus Them” or a “Damn The Man” spree.

I cannot remember the last time I have seen a non-touring act put on a show with any sort of production value to it. Most of the shows I play have little to no production. It’s hard enough to get the lead vocals heard over the muddy sludge low end coming from the subs in the PA. Patrons do not leave their homes to listen to music (something they could easily do in the comfort of their own home, without having to drive their car, pay to park downtown, pay a cover, and pay big city prices for low quality drinks.) No, patrons go to see music. There are 100 reasons to stay at home, and really only one reason to go see music. The experience. The experience of a live show is something that cannot be downloaded, streamed, copied, or shared for free. One must physically be present.
It is our obligation to not just be musicians, singers or songwriters, but to be entertainers. There’s a way to do this without pandering, but requires more than simply showing up.

We need to get back to the stage being a sacred place. Why should anybody listen to what you (the musician) have to say (vocally or instrumentally) if you don’t look like you want to be there? If you don’t really want to be on stage (or even worse, if it’s just a paycheck), there are countless other ways to make money that are far less soul crushing than playing to a room of drunks who don’t know when you’ve finished a song. I will never fault anybody for “not sticking it out” or getting out of music as a profession no matter what their potential or talent level is. If the heart is not in it, it can be one of the most toxic situations out there.

Being a musician and putting on a show requires money. Lots of it. The days of knowing three chords and being able to sing while looking good enough to get signed are done. They have been done. They will not come back. Where does the money come from? You (the musician). If you think you’re in this profession to be an artist, you may be mistaken. In addition to artist, you also need to be manager, promoter, salesman, financial advisor, marketing consultant, web designer, motivational speaker, guitar tech, troubleshooter, life organizer, know the basics of amplification and EQ, and you need to know your way around a calendar. You will then use the calendar to effective and concisely communicate with others. You also need to know what constitutes a gig. If you can’t tell someone else with absolute certainty: Where the gig is (including the physical address), load-in time, soundcheck time, the time you start playing, the time you stop playing, and who will be paying you, you may not actually have a gig. If you ever get something in writing that you and somebody else have to sign, all of this should be very clearly indicated.

As an artist, do whatever you want. As an entertainer, it’s up to you to make sure your art reaches an audience the way you intend it to. Why would you leave that up to somebody else? If you were a painter, would you want your canvases hanging in a room with awful lighting? No, not unless that is part of the display requirements. If you are a musician, your art is in the form of sound. Have you ever tried to record your acoustic guitar by plugging the output jack straight into a mixer only to find yourself thinking: “This sounds like ass.” You are 100% correct. Why would you then send that assy signal through a direct box of unknown origin to a “sound person” who has no idea about what you’re thinking your acoustic guitar should sound like? In 99% of the venues I’ve been to, simply being able to amplify sound is commonly mistaken for Good Sound. You owe it to your art to invest in good gear, to then spend time with that gear, to learn it, and then to hire somebody who knows what you are supposed to sound like. Artists, this means that you do everything in your power to allow the caring sound engineers to do their job well. Keep that stage volume down. Roll off the low end. If you are really comfortable on stage and playing a club, I’m willing to bet that your comfortable sound on stage is having a negative effect on the sound out front. That’s just been my experience. As a bassist, if I can hear myself, I know people are getting blown away who are 20 feet away. The only thing that should be perfectly clear on stage and out front is the lead vocal or lead instrument. If there are words and the audience cannot hear the words, you have lost. “What did she say?” “No idea, I thought this whole tune was a rhythm guitar solo.”

The last thing you want is somebody who doesn’t care giving you their interpretation of what they think you should sound like. Even worse is the all too common “set it and forget it” mentality I see in sound engineers as a performer and patron. “I can hear everything on stage. Surely, nothing will change in the next 90 minutes. Time to grab a smoke, send some texts, and chat it up with the barkeep.” Wrong. The last thing I want as a businessperson is to have to automatically pay 20% of my door income off the top to a club who’s only promotion consists of putting posters above urinals and who employs an apathetic sound engineer. You can keep your posters and engineer, give me 100% of the door, and I’ll do it all out of my own pocket.

If a listener is going to give you their time and (more importantly) their attention, we owe it to them to give them the best product possible. Money is so tight across the board that we have to over-deliver on the product. Driving to the show, sitting in traffic, plus a $5 cover, $5 parking, $5 drink(s) is about a $20 out of pocket expense (before any merch sales) for a single person. For a couple, a night out is closer to $40. As an entertainer, we need to make that expense justifiable. Even though we are really only making $4 per person who walks through the door, we need to make that $20+ per person night feel totally worth it. We need audiences to go home and say, “They were so great. I would easily go see them for $10.” At this point, the fact that you do what you do on stage very well is a given. It’s a necessary condition. You look the part. You act the part. You are engaging. You are in control. The best entertainers are in control. There are no surprises. You might “not be feeling it” all night long, but the audience will never know. You don’t get to tell them that you’re having an off-night. You don’t get to ruin their paid-for experience. If they thought you sounded great, then you sounded great. It doesn’t matter that you couldn’t hear yourself all night long. Smile. You just made someone’s day.

The more I perform, the more I don’t want to play established venues. There are too many hoops to jump through, and too many factors that are out of my control. I would rather cooperatively work with artists to deliver amazing sounding and looking shows. If we were to look at it simply as a business model, would you want your product being poorly delivered? If every package you sent was destroyed in transit, it doesn’t really matter what was in the package to begin with? Nope, it just didn’t make it to the final destination. That is all. Just because a room has a stage and a sound system does not mean it’s a venue. Real venues are getting fewer and fewer. Real venues sell out most of their shows because the room is known as a good place to go for those who want to hear/see live music– people who want that specific experience go there. Everywhere else is a bar that just so happens to have a band. As musicians/entertainers/businesspeople we need to cultivate a demand for ourselves and for whatever product you have independent of a venue. The only way to do that is to offer a superior product. It can be done, but exponentially more non-music and non-art work has to be done.

I’m just getting back “fresh” from two weeks on the road with Reed Turner. You learn a lot about yourself and others while on the road. For instance, I learned that I am a “treats guy.” I wish that was actually a revelation. I didn’t learn that about myself, I was called out on it. I was doing moderately well for the first week on the road, but after seven days of sleeping on air mattresses, sitting in a van, and missing my dog, I had to indulge in a few creature comforts. Before I knew it, my usual “keep the afternoon rolling” Americano was replaced with a double tall white chocolate mocha with whip cream and a cake pop.

I also learned (rather, reaffirmed) that when working/dealing/communicating with people in the music biz what I say can have two contrasting meanings. Examples:

1. “I really enjoyed your set. You looked like you were having a lot of fun.”
Meaning A: I actually did enjoy your set, and you really looked like you were having fun.
Meaning B: I couldn’t tell you what you just played, but you had a lot of energy doing it.

2. “Thanks for doing sound for us tonight. It was a treat working with you.”
Meaning A: Hey man, I really appreciate that you know what you’re doing and took such good care of us while we played. I can’t wait for the next time.
Meaning B: Bro, you could not have been more awful at your job. How have you held onto this position?

3. “Thanks for listening.”
Meaning A: It’s so nice to play for somebody who really cares.
Meaning B: I saw you turned around, talking and texting the whole set, but I’ll still happily sign this CD for you.

4. “No worries at all.”
Meaning A: I know you are doing your best, and not everything can go according to plan.
Meaning B: How did you ever get this far in life? I just don’t see how it’s possible.

5. “Can we stop for coffee?”
Meaning A: I’d really like to grab a coffee if we have time and it’s on the way.
Meaning B: It’s 2pm, I didn’t sleep, the sound at gig last night was horrible, and I am going to bludgeon everyone in the van to death with the heel of one of my boots if I don’t get some caffeine coursing through my veins.

By necessity, I think I have overcome my aversion to public restrooms. Let me be clear, I do NOT like public restrooms, I hate them, and I’ll still hold out for as long as I can, but sometimes they have to be used. More often than not, they have to be used. Sitting in a van and eating road cuisine, no matter how health conscious, does some mysterious things to one’s digestive system. Any excuse to get out of the van is a good one, especially if there’s some trouble brewing.

Traveling in a big “Silence of the Lambs – Buffalo Bill – Are You A Size Fourteen” van is a real game changer. It felt like we were in the lap of luxury since there was room for one person to actually lay down across the back seat. Even if you don’t sleep, just being horizontal for an hour works wonders.

As is now customary when I tour, I always bring too much to do in my “off time.” I bring a kindle, an actual book if the kindle dies, and my laptop so that I can work on writing, composing, or making charts. At this level, I should just acknowledge that there is no off time. There is sleep time, shower time, coffee time, travel time, food time, load-in time, soundcheck time, gig time, merch time, load-out time, and killing time, but there is no “off time.” Off time cuts into sleeping time, and sleeping time is sacred.

All things being equal, it was a successful tour. The elements that were under our control always went really well. The elements beyond our control sometimes went really well and sometimes went really wrong. Until you get to a point where you can control everything, this is the way the game is played.

There are so many fascinating things that happen while traveling and performing, and I am always interested in the range of perceptions for any given performance. I am fascinated by the perceptions from the stage and from the audience. Examples:

1. We performed a very intimate show in Philadelphia where the average age for the audience was late 20s to early 30s. The Young Professionals. On a musical level, we took care of business and we had everyone’s full attention. However, despite the entire audience loving the music and commenting on what a special experience it was, only a single CD was sold.

2. We performed as an opening band, and the stage sound was some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. Somehow, we have a knack for having a great soundcheck where things feel comfortable, then two hours later, we walk on stage and the whole vibe is off. I would say that this was probably our weakest gig due to the monitoring difficulties but merch sales were off the charts.

3. Differing perceptions regarding a given performance. There was performance in another intimate venue, and while I thought that we played well, were very focused, and purposefully restrained, another in the band thought that we weren’t connecting, the whole set felt tired, and that we were phoning it in. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong perception, only shared perception, but I do find it interesting when there is a wide variance in perceiving how a show was performed.

When you’re on tour, 90% of what you’re getting paid to do is hang. And thus, to enjoy the experience, you have to be with people who can hang. Being a virtuoso musician is a distant second to being cool to talk with. Bonus points if you can play music at a high level and carry on a conversation that isn’t about music.

Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty. Thirty.

That is quite a lot. Thirty thirties. It’s roughly one third of a lifespan, give or take a few years on the back end. I’ve been reflecting on this for the last three days. Most birthdays feel the same, or rather, don’t feel like anything at all. With the exception of getting more nice phone calls than I receive normally, and more nice mail than I receive normally, a birthday is just another day. This one actually felt different.

It’s like going to the optometrist. Does A look more clear, or *click* does B look more clear? A or B? Ok, how how about 1 *click* or 2? Which one is more clear? It’s all some form of blurry. Not perfect. Can I go back to A again? I just don’t know which one is clear. That’s how thirty has felt thus far.

Questions. Questions galore. Questions are the only things sharply in focus. Have I done what I’ve wanted to do? Am I on the path to doing what I want to do? Am I at a point where I can still do what I want to do? Do I really want to do what it is I think I want to do?

I am here
I want to get there
I have no idea how

I am sitting in the Kansas City airport. I’m working on about 2 hours of sleep. Brian, who has a flight an hour before mine has just departed. I tried to get onto his flight to get back to Austin a little sooner. Even though the flight had empty seats, was on the same airline, and had the exact same flight path (Kansas City, Dallas, Austin), I would have had to pay more to get on the earlier flight. Some things will never make sense to me.

We were in Kansas City for the 2014 International Folk Alliance conference. If we have ever breached the subject in real life, outside of the digital realm, then you will already know that I am not one for “organizations,” “alliances,” “clubs,” “academies,” or “conferences.” I am, however, in total favor of cultivating natural, genuine, mutually beneficial, work toward the same goal, long lasting friendships. I don’t believe I need to pay money or membership dues in order to meet and work with cool and talented people. That’s just me.

Folk Alliance is what it is. For some, I believe they have the time of their lives. They learn a lot, and they make some connections. They meet the couple who has a house concert series. They meet the guy who owns a coffee house. They meet the person furthest down on the totem pole who is there to represent a Name festival. I do not dread going, but I have a hard time getting totally on board. I went this past year to support Reed Turner, because I believe what he does has artistic value and I want to see it succeed. If this is one of the road blocks that needs to be cleared to pave the way for success, so be it.

I can’t pander. I can’t beg. There is a present status quo in the Folk world. If you don’t go to the conference, you ain’t in the folk world. I don’t know if it’s brag-worthy to tell people you’ve been attending for 30 years. It should be a goal to get BEYOND the conferences. That’s my goal, anyway. (Sidebar: I just saw that THE Stanley Jordan is playing the midnight slot at the Elephant Room for South By Southwest. It’s a shame and a sham that someone with that amount talent and resume has to play that time at that club.) Five years and out. If I am going to be attending after five years, I had better be getting paid and compensated for my participation. It’s not that I’m above it, it’s that I want my career to be in a place of sustaining itself; to have a name that is a known brand. I’ll be playing theaters instead of house concerts. I’ll have management. I’ll have a PR team. My networking will be more of a streamlined business effort. It’s a dream.

If the conference is a chance to throw a few back, sleep late, see your friends once a year, and to pick a few tunes, there are cheaper and far better places to hang. If I was to spend $100 per night on a hotel room, $200 in membership dues, $250 to register for the conference, plus airfare and food costs, I can think of ten places right off the top of my head where I’d rather hang and spend that money. Kansas City, MO in the middle of February doesn’t make the list. After writing that last bit, I’m going to start my own organization. It will be free. You only have to be a cool person, and you can meet other cool people. It’ll be called the Save For A Year And Blow All Of Your Disposable Income Alliance. SFAYABAOYDIA – for short.

For being in a genre that is supposed to be intimate and have connectivity, I am always amazed by the lack of people skills from many venue bookers/promoters. Not all, but many. Oh, You’ve got a concert series? You’re going to book that person who played after us in a hotel room on the 7th floor at 2am? Good for you. I’m not sure why you’re telling me this. I’m glad you liked the artist that couldn’t competently accompany themselves on one of the three instruments they brought, couldn’t carry a tune, and also used some beat to death mountain imagery in their lyrics. You know what you like. It’s a long way to the top. I get it, and I’m glad that’s your thing. No doubt, you hated what we just played.

“Do ya have a business cahd?”
“We are selling CDs–”
“I don’t know anything about that. I have a house consat series. Gimme a seeday.”

Intimacy is not an excuse for a lack of competency, but this is often the case. That person just butchered the second verse of “Hold On” by Tom Waits, and delivered it like they would if “Born in the USA” was actually pro-American. Am I the only one who sees this? My standards are high, but I hold myself to the same standards. If I can’t go out there and own a piece of music, it stays home until I can. I don’t care what genre you’re in or how many are in attendance. The stage is not a lab, and the audience is not a test subject. You need to know what you’re doing. There are just too many “folks” that have no clue that they have no clue.

I may be jaded… may be. For the record, there are some amazingly talented artists and musicians that I’ve met at these gatherings. I wish them all the best and they deserve any and all accolades they get. The experience has also granted little old me the opportunity to meet and hear the likes Telecaster Titan Bill Kirchen and songsmith Jim Lauderdale in some very cozy settings.

A very happy new year to everyone! 2014 has been off to quite an adventurous start with a whole lot of travel: Drove from Texas to Michigan (24 hours), drove from Michigan to New York (10 hours), left the car in New York, flew from New York to Texas (8 hours), had 20 hours in Texas before starting a tour, drove from Texas to California (24 hours), performed some excellent west coast shows, drove from San Francisco to Austin (30 hours), slept for 10 hours, got hit by a car while walking to the bank (5 seconds), and in a few days I will fly back up to New York (8 hours), get my car, and I’ll drive from New York back to Texas (30 hours).

There’s one little part to that last paragraph that I realize doesn’t quite fit in with the rest, “Got hit by a car while walking to the bank.” Right. So. First, obviously, I’m alright, and I’m able to write about that experience less than a day after it happened. I currently don’t have a car. The Blue Dragon is being held captive in the frozen dungeon of upstate New York for the next few days until I make my way back up to bring it home to warmer climates. Thus, my mode of transit for the next few days is/are my feet. This actually works out quite well. For 2014, I’m on a bit of a health kick, and there’s no telling how long that will last. I might as well do what I can while I’m motivated like regular exercise and healthy eating. I should mention that for as long as I can remember, I have hated exercise. Hated it. I don’t get the rush from working out or “feel good about myself” after it. I hate to sweat. Hate it. However, as I round the bend and close in on my 30th year on this great planet, it’s time that I started to be “proactive” and “take care of myself” on a real level. Taco Bell might be out of the equation. The jury is still deliberating.

To make a short story long, it was a beautiful day, and I wanted to test out my walking legs by running a few errands starting with the bank. Tra la la, off I go, going to the bank which is a bit over a mile away. The building right before the bank is the post office. It’s quite a bad traffic situation at this post office. The entrance/exit is very close to a busy highway intersection. It’s almost impossible to turn left out of the post office due to traffic and the timing of the traffic lights, but drivers still think it’s a good idea. The exit is wide enough so cars turning left have a space, and cars turning right can come up along side of them. The cars turing right easily go about their day while the cars turning left have to wait, and wait, and wait some more, often times punching the accelerator to get across two lanes of oncoming traffic only to wait in the turning lane with a blinker on to get into one of the lanes they actually need to be into. I am acutely aware of this scene, because I’ve had to rock a left turn from the post office a time or two. As a walker, I came upon the post office exit. There were two cars. One was wanting to turn right, the other wanted to turn left. I saw that the oncoming traffic was heavy and that I would have enough time to cross the entrance/exit without any issues– or so I thought. I made it past the first car. As I was walking in front of the second car, I had made it to where I was in front of the driver’s side, and then I heard the roar of an engine.

Time stopped. Everything was in slow motion. I heard the car, and I immediately turned to face it. I jumped, I’m not sure why. Does that help you to not get sucked under the car? I landed on the hood of the car. Hard. The car now occupied the space where I was standing. I was somewhat on the hood of the car, and thankfully the loud THUDTHUDTHUD of me and my arms coming down (hard) on the hood was heard by the driver and she stopped. She said, “Sorry! Sorry!” from behind the wheel. I was in a daze of adrenaline. I wasn’t myself. If I would have seen this happen to somebody else, I would have had an expletive laced sentence for the driver, but having been in the situation, my mind was blank. I rolled onto my feet, shook my limbs to make sure it was all working, moved my tongue around to make sure I had all of my teeth (not sure why) and I walked off in a stupor toward the bank. There was a sizable dent in the hood of the car from where I landed. I should have stayed, got the license plate number, and called the police, but that didn’t happen. I can only assume that the driver saw me standing/walking and drove off because they thought I was alright. Or she has no soul. If that were me behind the wheel, my day would have been ruined. I can only hope that the driver is now more aware behind the wheel and will actually use her eyes when trying to get from Point A to Point B. There’s a first time for everything. I’ve never been in an actual car on car accident, knock on wood, and I’ll be satisfied if this is as close as I ever come to one again.

I walked into the bank parking lot and another woman who saw the whole thing asked, “Are you alright?!? I saw you almost get run over.” My response was devoid of my typical acid tongue, “Yes… Austin drivers… Bank… I’m alright, thanks.” As I can figure it, I’ve already gotten my near death experience for 2014 out of the way. The rest should be smooth sailing.

It’s been a good long while since an “official thought” has been posted. I’ve spent most of my writing time on the I Can’t Not Work Like This… posts found to the right of the main body of text on this screen. As that project nears completion, I’ve had some time to think about new topics.

Bassists, save the low notes. Save them and make them count. It’s rare that we hear recordings or see performances where *only* a four stringed bass is being used. Many bass guitarists are using five stringed instruments with extended low end, and pop acts will often use synths combined with bass for that earth splitting sub low end. You say, “Wait, Pat, don’t you play bass? Shouldn’t you be lobbying for more bass in the mix?” No. Let’s not confuse the bass instrument with the “low end” sound that is produced. More bass and more low end does not a good concert or recording make. I’ve seen too many shows ruined because there was too much happening down low. The low end of the sonic spectrum is where the “energy” of the music comes from. It’s real energy. Air is physically being pushed. Hint: Bassists, if you are comfortable with your volume on stage and can hear yourself clearly, you’re entirely too loud out in the house, you’re holding the sound engineer hostage, and you’re stomping all over the lead vocals and every other instrument on stage. The lowest notes on the bass will take a good 20 to 30 feet to fully develop. If you start going lower than the E-string, more distance is required. The fundamental frequency of the open low E string (42Hz) on a standard 34 inch bass isn’t being accurately reproduced, and what we hear is largely the first and second partials. Our ears do a great job of filling in the gaps and creating the illusion that we’re getting the fundamental, but the physics can’t be argued with. Think about the fundamental sound of a seven foot grand piano compared to an upright piano. Unless you’re touring with a top of the line Meyer PA system, the fundamental frequencies of your instrument aren’t even getting reproduced, and there isn’t a compelling reason to hang out “down there” for a whole show. Even if these frequencies were being reproduced (and not rolled off by the sound engineer) through the super hi-fi PA, they are going to be felt far more than they will be heard.

Think more like a composer, keep it musical, and quit muddying up the mix. We can equate “low end” with “energy” and “moving air,” and it makes musical sense that we should not be playing an entire show or even entire songs with the same amount of “energy.” In most live and recorded situations, the dynamics are an illusion. The actual volume (decibel level) is constant, and it is the texture of the music or the energy that changes which gives the illusion of a dynamic difference (loud vs. soft). Most of my favorite bassists, both upright and electric players understand this. It’s worthy of a separate post to go into detail why I appreciate my favorites, but for an example: Phil Lesh and Dave Holland are two bassists at polar extremes of the spectrum in terms of musical style, but they both play like composers first and foremost. The vast majority of their playing is in the midrange of their instruments, and they save the lowest range of the bass to create moments of impact. Their bass lines often work in contrary motion to the solo voice or the direction of the song. As a soloist builds, the trajectory is typically to keep moving higher and higher in register to create tension and then to release on a peaking high note (think of Santana). Lesh and Holland use the lowest range of their instruments to resolve down. As the soloist hits their peak, the bass, having played largely in the midrange, goes low, “drops a bomb,” and the audience is hit with considerably more “energy” from the band. It compliments the soloist perfectly. Due to their increased energy, the lowest notes are also used effectively to convey finality in a piece of music. If a country song is in D (very common), it’s nice to save that low-low D for the very last note. Spontaneous smiles will result.

Just because you have a Low E string, does not mean you need to play it every time an E chord comes around. I don’t need the E-bomb on the top of every chorus of “Stella By Starlight.” With the added energy that comes from the low end (and extended low end), I have a hard time accepting it when players arbitrarily go to the low extremes “because they can.” While it could be said for anything: If you’re not going to make it count, don’t do it. There has to be a compelling reason to draw attention to the lowest part of the instrument otherwise you’re getting in the way. Playing consistently “down there” gets old in the same way that playing without dynamics or playing everything in the same key gets old. Variety is the spice of life.

This one goes out to all of you singer-songwriters, band leaders, and anybody else who routinely gets a microphone shoved into your face on a gig… This one is for you. I’ve noticed a growing trend as an audience member watching shows, and I would like to put this thought out there: If you don’t have anything to say, be silent, say nothing, and just play the next tune. If what you’re going to say doesn’t address the song you just played, the song you’re about to play, introductions of band members, or something genuinely interesting, please stay away from the mic. I don’t really care if you shot 2000 pounds of meat but could only bring 3 pounds back, if you were attacked by savages in the night, if your grandmother died of dysentery in the night, or if you broke an axle (in the night). Unless the song you’re about to play is called “The Oregon Trail,” I don’t care. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve seen an otherwise great set of music totally ruined because of the front person’s compulsive need to fill the space between songs with the sound of their voice.

If you’ve been on stage more than once, you know there is going to be some downtime between songs and that you’ll eventually have to tune your instrument. Part of being pro is having some stories and anecdotes ready at the helm for these instances. You don’t go on stage and improvise songs, so why would you improvise the spoken sections between them? So much of the improvised babble these front people say is useless information about their daily lives. The whole reason I go to see a musical performance is to tune out and disassociate from daily life. I’m willing and want to connect with performers, so please, try to connect with me, and let’s have that connection be something of substance. I use Facebook for all of my other shallow and superficial connections.

Stop apologizing on the mic. If you’re not going to get on stage and own the show, don’t get on the stage. This is called “being pro,” and it seems like there are fewer and fewer of these performers out there. If you can’t go on stage and kill it, cancel the gig. Do not get on stage to apologize and inform me about the subpar performance you’re about to give and I’m about to receive. If your ailments aren’t enough to keep you off the stage, I don’t want to know about them. I don’t want or need to know that your allergies are bad in this part of the country, or that you’ve got a head cold, sore throat, hangover, or that you’ve been up for the last 48 hours, driving solo with a urinary tract infection, and you haven’t had a shower for five days as a reason for you not giving the audience your very best. You and only you have chosen this line of work, and it’s definitely not for everyone, AND it doesn’t take long to know what you’re in for. I’ve seen artists harpoon themselves and tear themselves down in front of a crowd in ways that the harshest of critics could only dream of– and all before playing any music. Self deprecation is not cute and it’s not funny when it’s reality.

A checklist of things to avoid saying into a microphone, no matter where they may fall in a sentence:

Ok, guys…

I’m so tired…

We’re going to try this one out…


We just worked this up and I’m not sure how it’s going to go…

We haven’t done this in a while, and I hope it goes well…

Let me think about the words…

How does that one go…

I’ve been drinking for ____ days in a row…

I’ve been dealing with (insert ailment here)…



Any requests…

If you must let the crowd in on your personal life, or the super-crazy-nobody-else-has-any-idea day you’ve been having, there are eloquent ways in which to do it. I remember seeing the Dave Holland Quintet back in 2006, and the show started late because the soundcheck had run an hour longer than it was supposed to. As the band came on stage Dave took the mic. “Good evening, and thank you all for being here tonight. I apologize for the late start, and for making you wait in the lobby. The weather kept our plane from landing on time, and some of our gear was lost in transit. We’ve got all of our things now. We took the extra time in soundcheck to dial everything in because we want to give you the best show that we can. We’re really looking forward to getting to play some music so we won’t make you wait any longer. Thank you again for coming out.” That is how you address an audience from the mic.

It’s rare that musicians have performance experience outside of playing their instruments in front of people. It’s also rare that musicians know how to socially interact with anyone. People don’t go out to “hear” music, they go out to “see” music. If it were just the music that audiences wanted, they would sit at home with the album. Clearly, patrons come out to see an artist because they want something more. It is the performer’s job to create a flow throughout the show through their music and through the moments without music. Even if something is a bit off the cuff, it needs to feel like it belongs. Books, movies, theater, and great musical performances all have a sense of motion, of progression and moving forward. There is nothing left to chance on a Peter Gabriel show. Leonard Cohen has been using the same short speech before starting “The Future” in his shows since 2009. Tom Waits has some spoken word stories that have been used time and time again to get from one song to the next. Dave Matthews will sometimes say some sort of incoherent banter with a few recognizable words, and there are many other artists/bands who don’t say anything at all. These performers serve not just the music, but also the show as a whole.

As an audience member, I am giving you, the performer, something much greater than my money. I am giving you my attention. There are countless other things that could occupy my attention, but I have chosen to focus it on you. Have you ever tried to focus your attention on just one thing for over and hour in this day and age? It’s a task. I will give you my attention, and in turn, I expect to be given the best performance you have without excuses or reservations. A good song is a good song. A good performance is a good performance. If you don’t tell me that you’re sick and tired (and you’re pro), chances are high that I won’t even notice. As an audience member, I’m giving you my time and attention, and as a performer you should be able to give me yours. If you can’t do this, you may need to think about a different profession. You still need to be on, even on your most off day.

This would definitely fall under the Bigger Picture category. I have two words to share: Jesus Fish. In Greek, Ichthys. It’s a symbol made of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish swimming to the left. We’ve all seen them out there subtly blending or obviously drawing attention within their surroundings. I often see these symbols while driving. They are on the rear of cars, and usually above the logo for the make of the car in a sort of Jesus Fish Ford or Jesus Fish Chevrolet. I can’t say that I’ve seen a Jesus Fish on imported cars. Jesus Fish Honda or Jesus Fish Subaru just don’t have that Neo-Christian authority that Jesus Fish Pontiac has.

Having spent a fair amount of my life in a car traveling from Point A to Point B, I’ve noticed a correlation between the presence of the Jesus Fish on an automobile and the driving tendencies of the person behind the wheel of said automobile. I did a bit of digging for this, and the meaning of Ichthys is an acronym from the Greek spelling of the word which in English translates to, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” Cool by me. However, I’m pretty certain the whole point of affixing the Jesus Fish to a car bumper has a more direct meaning sort of like Russian prison tattoos (where a cross on the chest definitely does not mean that you go to church on Sundays). A Jesus Fish on a car is a statement, nay, a testament. It is a devout symbol for all to see, for all to know, for all to hear. In layman’s terms, a Jesus Fish let’s others on the road know from one God fearing driver to another, “F-you, I’m protected.”

Example 1: It’s 6pm on a Wednesday. A middle aged parent in a minivan is stopped at a light. There are five children in soccer uniforms with food in one hand and sugary fruit drink pouches in the other. All of them, while belted to the seats are still bouncing around. There are two DVD screens playing two different movies for each side of the car. The parent, clearly running late and now in rush hour traffic, is talking on the phone with a look of seriousness on their face while simultaneously consulting their GPS device which keeps getting unplugged from the cigarette lighter. The light turns green and without so much as a blinker being used, the parent makes a right turn from the left lane. They do not punch the gas in order to avoid the oncoming traffic. No. They slowly pull in front of another car about to go through the intersection. The Jesus Fish van slowly stops tree lanes of traffic while making the turn, paying careful attention not to go too fast because any speed over 5mph will flip the van. In the last possible moment, an oncoming car, the car which under normal laws has the right of way, spots the Jesus Fish, the universal sign of protection, and slams on the breaks because to T-bone a car baring the symbol will no doubt lead to an afterlife of eternal hellfire and damnation. The van continues its hero’s journey to the soccer game, blissfully unaware of the the Devil’s plan to thwart the team’s victory that evening.

Example 2: It’s 11:40am on a Thursday. Car Jesus Fish is stopped at and waiting for a clearing in the 40mph traffic to make a left turn onto this busy two lane road. The lunch hour is rapidly approaching and the traffic is thick. After waiting at the stop sign for a pious amount of time, the time in which at least four “Hail Mary’s” and three “Our Father’s” could be said, the driver Car Jesus Fish hears a voice from on high that now would be a good time to make that turn despite what the driver sees to be consistent traffic from both directions. Being careful not to flip it, Car Jesus Fish proceeds onto the busy road at a safe 5mph. Cars from both sides slam on their breaks, hurl curses and hand signals to the driver but then see The Symbol of ultimate protection. They cannot stay mad at Car Jesus Fish, for their rage quickly fades to defeat. Car Darwin, while firmly rooted in law abiding reality, will never have the same highway trump card as Car Jesus Fish.

It’s a beautifully rainy day. I can’t remember the last time I’ve stepped onto my patio and smelled life in the air. I love the way the gloomy skies make all of the leaves and grass a surreal shade of green. I’ve been working at home this afternoon, and I love how I can hear my bass creek as it stands in the corner, slowly drinking up the humidity in the air. I don’t need any further excuse to drink coffee, but I’ll happily use the rain as a reason to brew more and slowly sip it’s sweet bitterness throughout the afternoon.

I’m going to do my best to not word this like a rant, but I am of the firm belief that bassists (and many other acoustic instrumentalists, and heck, even vocalists) use entirely too much vibrato. Entirely too much. I’m going to refer to this as the Paula Dean Effect; PDE for short. In a gross overgeneralization, Paula Dean believes that blindly adding four sticks of butter to a recipe will make a dish better. It’s a simple enough argument:

I have to cook a simple meal.
Butter is delicious.
More butter is better than less butter.

My simple meal will be delicious because I have used lots of butter in it. The Paula Dean Effect.

Musicians use this same bit of logic in their own playing with their blind implementation of vibrato. They slather the music in vibrato in all instances under the false supposition that it will make the music, sound, expressiveness, somehow better when all it’s really doing it contributing to aural obesity and sonic heart problems. Think of the children. Vibrato, in my opinion, should be used only when it enhances and serves the music. It should be something that is special, but instead, it is so overused that our ears are numb to it. It’s as if somebody came up with an algorithm for being expressive in music: If you make every note sound byayayayaya, then you are being expressive. If you want to convey even more expression, make every note sound byyyyaaaayyyaaayyaayayayayaya. False. Limiting the use of vibrato is the key to its effectiveness.

In many of today’s performances, I hear vibrato being used to mask intonation, as if the performer is going to pull a fast one over the audience. “If I just play with a super wide vibrato, not only am I being expressive, but I can also play totally in the cracks without anybody noticing.” The PDE is firmly in place. “If I just add butter to this cookie recipe…” I’ve heard conductors tell an orchestra to employ more vibrato because it “warms up the sound.” Upon closer inspection, I think that’s a really nice way of saying, “I can’t stand the tones that I am hearing, so please, everyone use vibrato, and the law of averages will help make this group sound something like music.” I’ve never heard a piano use vibrato, and I’ve heard some incredibly warm piano sounds. I’ve heard John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter playing with a perfectly straight tone and their tone is both warm and expressive.

As musicians, we owe it not only to ourselves, but also to listeners to be able to have a warm and inviting sound without having the drench our playing in sonic lard. I’ll put it out there right here and now. I hate hearing an upright bassist use vibrato in the low register of the instrument. I feel the lower the range of the instrument, the less room you have to vibrate a note due to simple physics. If you can’t play in tune, please don’t make your problem my problem. If you can’t cook, don’t make me a fatty dinner. Low/Bass notes require a lot energy to produce and much more space to develop. The lower the pitch, the more control the performer needs over sound production of their instrument. I’ve never heard a pipe organ and wished that there was a slow oscillation happening with the bass notes. There are plenty of ways to darken a bass without adding vibrato to it. How do you expect an orchestra or band to build upon a foundation that is constantly shifting and oscillating?

I point this out, because I care about my fellow musicians and I care about music. I don’t want you to find yourself a few years down the road making that call to Liberty Medical and unable to walk up a flight of stairs because you’ve been consuming and feeding your loved ones too much butter for too long.

This past week has been good for the soul. I’ve had the increasingly rare opportunity to perform with Peter Stoltzman and Steve Schwelling, and playing with this trio has consistently been one of the biggest musical joys I get to experience. The three of us first performed together at a restaurant in 2008, and while the words may not have been there, I believe the three of us immediately knew that we had stumbled upon something very special. The level of musicality and sensitivity that we were able to achieve while on this first gig had us all scratching our heads and smiling. While I am always grateful to be working and making my way by performing, restaurants do not always lend themselves to be the most musically satisfying or stimulating gigs. After a year of playing around Central Texas, we recorded “Walk the Path” (2009). Two years after that, we played our last Austin show which resulted in the recording “Live at Casa Karen” (recorded 2011, released 2013). Peter was offered a university teaching position in Chicago, and then another position opened up which took him to Denver. This past week, he came back to Austin to have CD release performances for “Live at Casa Karen” which is finally seeing the light of day after a long proces of fundraising and all of those other behind the scenes realities associated with making a CD. We had two hours of rehearsal before we were to play live on the radio to promote our upcoming shows. It was so nice to see Peter after two years, and it was so refreshing to be able to make music with him and Steve. From the first notes of our rehearsal, the “x-factor” was there. I wasn’t sure if there would be any rust on the arrangements or in our group dynamic, but if anything, I found there was more passion and expression than had been there before.

After playing three gigs and now having another coming up at the end of next week, I can’t even begin to explain how restored I feel. I love all of the other music I get to play, but this particular trio holds a special place and scratches a very unique itch. I had been in a musical rut for about two months, and I feel like this experience has shown me why I initially chose to be a musician. Playing within this trio has at times put me in a very meditative and almost out of body state. It’s as if we are channeling music rather than imposing our will on a predetermined form. It’s a group where I can play one note that is held for four bars and the groove is still totally present. When it comes time for the bass solo, I feel incredibly supported and I don’t have to think about what to play, the music just presents itself. The trio is a lot like having a huge safety net, but instead of just catching you if you fall, it lifts you up, gently guides you back into place, and gives you a smile. It happens so quickly and effortlessly that the audience never even saw you fall to begin with.

There is complete artistic freedom within the Stoltzman Trio, and the only unwritten rule is to be present and serve the music. When you are present and truly serving the music without an ego, amazing things happen. It’s not about being a jazz player or an upright bassist, it’s about being a musician, approaching the sound with a global perspective, and being aware of what is happening around you. Jazz, classical, rock, folk, funk, etc, all use the same twelve notes, and while there may be a “jazz language” that you learn about in books and school, there is also “musical language” which is infinitely more powerful and requires not only a broad range of musical experiences and influences, but also a range of life experiences and influences independent of music. Peter and Steve certainly have both.

I think part what allows this group to function in the way that it does is a result of the three of us coming to terms with the fact that this is not going to be our full time money maker gig. We all do other jobs and projects to financially support ourselves, and when we come together, hopefully, more than every two years from now on, we have the luxury of making it all about the music and if we’re lucky breaking even on our expenses. We (obviously) play infrequently, but when we do play, we have the luxury of playing for attentive and gracious audiences. This is such a rare gift that I wanted to publicly acknowledge how much I appreciate it, and I look forward to many more years of sustained creativity, musical beauty, and partnership with these fantastic gentlemen.

It seems like for the past week and half I have had my head buried in many different kinds of music and frantically transcribing and charting out songs. I had a very crazy month in April, and I’m slowly but surely working on a writing my journal I kept into a long narrative that will get its own post sometime in the near future.

Regarding “the art” of making charts, I feel like a bit of a master after these last two months. I don’t mean to gloat, but I make one hell of a nice chart. Some people grill, some people quilt, and apparently, my secret skill is chart writing. A good chart is like good driving directions. Give me all that I need to know and only what I need to know. If there are some landmarks that will help the journey be easier, great. Don’t give me the musical equivalent of, “Take a right, go through two stop sings, you’ll see a street to your left, don’t take that one, keep going, now you’ll get to a light, turn right at that light, look for the Taco Bell, if you see the Taco Bell, you’ve gone too far.” I am not a mind reader. I take what you write down to be correct, and if I don’t know “what you meant” it makes the whole group sound bad. Toward that end, some folks/musicians/artists/songwriters, are just plain awful at making charts, to the point where I secretly get angry to myself when they put something in front of me and expect me to follow it. If you put a chart in front of me and I have a question or questions about how the song goes, your chart is garbage. If you don’t care enough about your music to clearly communicate it on paper, why should I care about your music?

My rule of thumb: Make a chart so clear that anybody could feel comfortable and easily play your song without having heard it first. Present your music so that it is musician-friendly and easy to read. Most of the mistakes I make are not a result of not being able to play the music itself, but rather trying to figure out what you meant to write for me. If you have to explain your chart once you hand it out, your chart is garbage. Here is a list of pointers, in no particular order, that I feel make excellent charts.

1. If you don’t use music notation software, write clearly in black ink. I don’t care how many awesomely colored gel pens you have, nobody can see those colors in low light.
2. If you don’t use music notation software and you make a mistake while writing a chart, it needs to get thrown away. Don’t give out something with a bunch of scratched out markings.
2a. If you don’t use music notation software, at least use paper with lines on it and make sure everything is straight.
3. Use music notation software. I was always a Finale guy, but I find Sibelius is much easier to use for chart writing.
4. This should be a no-brainer: Put the title of the song on the chart.
5. Use 8 measures per line, or whatever number of measures fits and follows the phrase structure of the song.
6. Start new sections of the song (verse, chorus, bridge) on their own line at the left. If for some reason, somebody gets lost while reading your chart, they should easily be able to find where they are.
7. Go ahead and label each part of the song (intro, verse, chorus, etc.) Don’t let people second guess themselves while reading your chart.
8. There is no reason a 5 minute song can’t fit on two pages if you do your job correctly. Think about outdoor gigs and non-keyboard playing musicians, and remember that 2 pages is the rule.
9. If there are any specific rhythmic hits or grooves you want, write them into the chart.
10. Don’t clutter the chart with useless information. If there is a constant groove or strumming pattern for the whole song, write it in the first 4 bars and then leave the rest of the chart blank. We don’t need to see the same figure over and over again. It’s hard to read.
11. Make the chart easy to read, easy to follow, easy to navigate.
12. Resist all urges to use anything with D.S., D.C., Coda. If you know what these things are, great, but make a chart as through composed as possible. If you must use one of these structure markings, make sure the chart is only two pages. Nothing is worse than flipping back 4 pages to the D.S. playing 16 measures and then having to flip forward 5 pages to get to a coda. Don’t be lazy. Write everything out.
13. The job of a chart is to make the people who have to read the chart’s life easier. It’s to your advantage as an artist to take your time, PROOFREAD, and make sure it is accurate. Rehearsals too often devolve into the “Guess what the songwriter/composer meant” game.

As I type, I am listening to DaXun Zhang’s recording titled, “Bassic Bach.” As the name suggests, it features Zhang performing the 1st, 4th, and 5th Cello Suites by J.S. Bach on double bass. I have no doubt that it’s only a matter of time before this recording becomes *the* go-to for bass students and scholars alike. For anyone who has performed or attempted the Cello Suites, we all know they are everything but basic. I find that Zhang’s versions move me more than two of my bass idols: Francois Rabbath and Edgar Meyer, and I hold these two bassists in very high regard.

Not only is the performance of each piece flawless, but the actual recording fidelity does justice to the sound of the bass. All too often, classical recordings fail to capture the nuance of the bass. In an effort to create “space,” many records are drenched in reverb which allows for little definition of the low end of the instrument. Other times, in order to make the bass “cut through” on home system, engineers will lean on a microphone placed close to bridge and we hear a very hash or brittle attack of the bow on the string. In my opinion, this CD has one of the best recorded solo double bass tones that I’ve ever heard. Granted, there are no other instruments (ie: piano) that would muddy up the low and low mid frequencies of a recording. It’s nice to hear a bass that doesn’t “bump” particularly in the problem areas of 72Hz and 150Hz. There are countless times where I’ve heard something sound great only to hear the bass play an open D which then engulfs the entire mix.

Hearing this recording has certainly inspired me to go back and really shed on my bass with my bow… maybe even some Bach. It also has me wishing that I had an instrument dedicated solely to classical music. With the setup of my current bass, I use it for folk, jazz, Americana and even some good old rock and roll. My instrument is setup to cut through and growl through any playing situation– the total opposite of the blend that is needed when playing in an orchestra. I love the brightness of Edgar Meyer’s bass and the ability he has to clearly articulate even the most delicate passages, but DaXun Zhang’s sound has certainly got me thinking about changing things up a little bit.

For those dedicated readers out there, I hope you were able to get the tongue in cheek nature of my entry on 1/19/13. This past weekend I was performing with Phoebe Hunt and the shows were recorded with the intent of putting out an album. In total, we’ll be doing four performances which will be recorded, and the hopes are that we’ll have some versions of songs that are definite “keepers.” The first two shows are under our belts, and we have two more coming up at the beginning of March. That being said, I had a difficult time performing on our first show. The material was very new, and I was “hearing the tape roll” in the back of my mind for the entire performance. My inner producer was in full effect, not for the full band, but for my own playing: “Relax. Early. Late. Out of tune. Lock in with the drums. Follow Phoebe.” I was pretty brutal on myself for the first set. What gave me the most trouble is that what generates musical excitement in a live setting typically doesn’t translate when listening back to the recordings. None of the mega-pyrotechnic-chops-fancy-licks hold up on on playback, but it can certainly make an audience smile in the moment. There are two different audiences that we were performing for: The audience that was physically present at the show, and the would-be audience who will hear the recordings when all is said and done. The lesson of last weekend is that you have to perform for the bodies in the room. Always.

One of the things I enjoy most about playing with Phoebe is the connection she makes with her audience. She breaks down that fourth wall without pandering or putting on a show. It’s a hard thing to connect with a room full of people from many different walks of life, and she is able to get every person in the room to go along for the ride on any given night. Not only that– she connects the band with one another, and then in turn connects the band to the audience as well. She makes everyone in the room feel like they belong in that space at that time. She has a very honest and endearing stage presence (which isn’t just for show, it’s how she naturally is). If you mix her inclusive nature with a batch of very eclectic and really quality songs, it’s easy to see why she’s as popular as she is.

As a sideman, it is a very unique gig. There is no shortage of music/songs/material that needs to be learned for a Phoebe Hunt show. Prior to performing with Phoebe, I had the mindset of being absolutely prepared, going on stage, and nailing the music. The music could only be performed one way. I’ve been challenged to change my approach to playing music in this context. What I’ve found is that I need to compartmentalize the sections of each of her songs. Where most “typical” songs have a fixed form (A, B, C, A, B, C, D, B, C, C) which stays constant, Phoebe will often play with the forms of her music on the spot, both in rehearsal and at the show. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had many frustrated moments in rehearsal because not only am I learning new material, but the material is ever changing. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to walk on water… in the dark, and instead of water there’s lava. I not only have to know the song, but I also need to know the structural components of each part within the song.

On the gig itself, It’s a bit daunting to have to constantly be listening and watching her body language. From the start of each tune until the end of it, it’s pretty much fair game as to what will happen. Sometimes sections repeat, sometimes they get placed earlier in the song, sometimes a section is never played. It’s a musical tightrope act and it’s our job to make sure the audience doesn’t know how hard we’re actually working. There is a very real threat of falling on our collective faces in front of a crowd. At the same time, it really forces everyone on stage to be very much along for the ride and to follow wherever our leader takes the music. Once I can wrap my head around the fact that it’s okay to fall down, the whole experience is incredibly liberating. The nature of the gig forces everyone to listen intently to what is going on. The level of focus is greater than any other gig I’ve played because everyone in the band has to have everybody else’s back. The onstage nonverbal communication is constant. At the end of the night, I walk off stage feeling fulfilled; not because I was a bassist who perfectly executed my part, but because I was a part of a group who shared a common goal of making the best music we possibly could where we all had to work together and support each other, something that is all too rare these days.

I’m going to share a secret for those of you brave enough to continue reading: I love Taco Bell. There it is. I live in the land of TexMex but the Fourth Meal still reigns supreme. I don’t know what it is. It might be that tasty mix of kangaroo and possum with spices that they call meat, or it could be that all of their dairy products are artfully loaded into food grade caulk guns and then dispensed appropriately when the time comes. Being a former college student, The Bell was my go-to after many a night imbibing too many of Michigan’s finest micro brews. As a musician, it’s the one beacon of hope I have for food on the road as I get out of a gig at midnight in Houston and have to drive three hours back to Austin.

Granted, some locations are better than others. In my travels, I have found that the best Taco Bells, and I’ve been to many, are located in their own stand alone building when there are at least four other fast food options, particularly a Subway near by. The presence of a Subway seems to raise the bar for all other competing chains. Do NOT go to any of the “combo” Taco Bell/KFC, Taco Bell/A&W, Taco Bell/Pizza Hut Express or any other Taco Bell-something-else. It’s been my experience that the meat sits way too long, and the rice feels like a granular rawhide in your mouth while chewing. Similarly, any sort of Taco Bell within a travel plaza or airport is going to be A.) overpriced, and B.) severely compromised in quality. It’s hard enough to work at a Starbucks at 4am in an airport. I imagine it’s even harder to willingly serve a chalupa and then try to get a customer to add cinnamon twists at 4am in an airport. It’s one thing to be serving this delicious cuisine at the end of some drunkard’s night, but to serve it at the beginning of some person’s travel day is inexcusable. The human body needs a bit of a buffer before going full on into gordita heaven. The sole exception to the “Find a free standing Taco Bell building” rule is if it is the only building/sign of life on an exit on the highway. Just keep going. There’s something in the water if the greedy oil companies won’t even put a gas station there, but a Taco Bell exists. I’ve been to one of these sorts of places. I won’t make that mistake again. There was one person working the counter and the drive through window, and there was a clearly visible air mattress on the floor in the back of the kitchen area. The woman was nice enough, but through her gummy smile, I could barely make out her salutation: “Hah.We’comTaTakaBeh.” As I think on it, it’s best to just gas up and never, ever stop anywhere in Arkansas.

I think the thing that I respect most about The Bell is their willingness to reinvent the wheel over and over again. SSDS. “Same shit, different shell.” And we Americans fall for it every time. For instance, the Beefy Five Layer Burrito has a shell, beans, cheese, sour cream, meat, and another shell. Half of the menu has that exact same filling, but when The Bell rolled out the Beefy Five Layer Burrito about two years ago, the first thing I thought was, “Wow, I wonder if that’s any good? I should try it…” As if I were going to be amazed with some exotic new flavor-scape upon the first bite.

The only point of contention I take with The Bell are those “limited time” promotions they do. I will destroy a Cheesey Bean and Rice Burrito like nobody’s business, but it’s only around for a “limited time.” Who are they trying to kid? I don’t go to The Bell to play games. I’m not asking for a McRib. I know what’s in the damn thing. It’s a Bean Burrito with Rice and some Pico. I know how to make it, you at the window ought to know how to make it, and yet you refuse to make it. Shame on you, but I’m sure I’ll still throw $2.75 your way sometime soon.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I’m still not used to the 80 degree Thanksgiving weather in Austin. I remember quite a few snow storms on Thanksgiving while I was living in Michigan.

I was back in the studio just prior to the holiday with my “A-team” to record an album of new original music. Despite my own stresses, top to bottom, it was by far the easiest session I’ve ever been part of. This was the first time I’ve recorded something solely for “myself.” To clarify, I have no illusion of making any sort of financial return on my investment. I don’t plan on having any kind of heavy promoting or touring behind this release. With the total disregard for the, “How can we get this on the radio?” thought process, we were able to create something that I am very proud of. The aesthetic from the first notes of the rehearsal to the final notes of the recording were to just make the most beautiful and touching music that we could.

The process was incredibly fast. I was very fortunate to get some of the best musicians (who also happen to be some of the best people) I know to help me bring the music to life: John Arndt (piano), Carter Arrington (guitar), Keith Gary (studio/mix engineer), David Sierra (drums), and Ashleigh Wisser (photography, piano technician). The musicians and I had a single two hour rehearsal where I introduced the music to them, and the only instructions I had were to “trust your instincts.” A week later, we went to the Fire Station Studios in San Marcos, TX to record eight new pieces of music. We tracked everything live as a band in the same room. No click track. No overdubs. The way music (in my opinion) is meant to be played. Six hours after Keith hit the record button, we had eight new songs ready to go, and I am so proud of the results we were able to obtain. To my ears, the playing is absolutely egoless, but you can still hear each musician’s individual personality, which was a goal of mine. What’s the point of asking people to record with you if you’re just going to delegate parts to them? That’s the way it goes for a lot of music, but I love the results when you put highly skilled AND creative people together.

I purposefully do not want to give away what the material on the album means to me, or what inspired it. I think the music and lyrics could mean many different things to many different people. My goal is simply that any listener can make any emotional connection to it and take from it what they will. Once CDs and downloads are available, please let me know if you’d like a copy. I am only taking donations, so you can set your price. It’s more important for me to share my art than to make money from it at this point, so free is also an option. I wish everybody reading this the very best for the remaining days of 2012.

Election season is upon us. Who am I kidding? It’s been election season for most of 2012. I am thankful that I don’t own a TV, and that I can pick and choose when I want to willingly subject myself to the barrage of garbage advertising and endless speculation about how close the presidential race is. That being said, Texas is a state with early voting, and I voted early. I don’t really think there is any doubt as to which way I lean politically. I certainly don’t align myself with any political party or doctrine. I think it’s a safe bet to assume I’m a common sense liberal who isn’t yet jaded enough to think that there is still a greater good worth fighting for. I vote for the candidate, which, if you live in Texas, in a national election, means you either vote Republican so your vote can “count,” or you throw it away.

During my voting this past week, I came to the realization that the only thing that really gets me to the voting booth are social issues. As far as the budget, homeland security, the economy, tax reform, healthcare, etc etc are concerned, I think either candidate would be fine for the job- fine in the sense that either one can screw it all up or be a success. In that department, I don’t really see much difference. No matter who you vote for, I’m willing to bet that there’s likely going to be another war in our future that is paid for with money this country doesn’t have. Special interest groups are still going to get what they want. If it’s not the extreme right wing folks being obstructionist, it will be the extreme left wing folks who do the same thing.

The thing that makes me cast a ballot are the social issues, two in particular. I have a hard time with a party who’s platform is “small government” wanting to be “big government” when it comes to social issues. I am absolutely in favor same sex marriage, not partnerships, not civil unions, marriage. If two people of the same sex love each other, and want to commit to each other, they should have every right and every protection that a man and woman have. If that somehow degrades your marriage, then I think you’re the one with the problem. I am absolutely in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Look at how well the war on drugs is going. Whether they legal or not, abortions will still happen. Outlawing something does not solve a problem. It’s like the villagers with pitchforks and torches are at the gates and you think that by going to the other side of the castle that they aren’t there anymore. These are not only the social issues of our times, they are the reality of our times. Whether you like it or not, this is our current state. To deny these issues is to deny reality. I’m sure if some people had it their way, the earth would still be flat and at the center of the universe. You can believe what you want to believe (one of the many benefits of living in the good old USofA), but you also have to get real. Nothing worth fighting for ever comes easy, but I ask, why would you want to make the world an exclusive place when it would be so much more positive to be inclusive? End rant.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If anyone says, I love God, but hates the brothers or sisters, he is a liar…Whoever loves God must also love the brothers and sisters.” I John 3:20, 21

“Beginning with Constantine, Christianity triumphed at the level of the state and soon began to cloak with its authority persecutions similar to those in which the early Christians were victims. Like so many previous religions, ideological, and politcal enterprises, Christianity suffered persecution while it was weak and became the persecutor as soon as it gained strength.” Rene Girard

Lots of travel this month. At the beginning of September I made it out to Arizona. What an incredibly beautiful state. After 28 years, I finally made it out to see the Grand Canyon. Amazing. Awe inspiring. I was totally unaware how hugely awesome the canyon is. I found myself sitting on rocks just trying to take it in. The size. The colors. The layers. The way the clouds cast shadows. The way the entire perspective changes as you move twenty feet to the right or left. It’s totally one of those “power centers” on the earth, a magical place, and I wished I had enough time to camp to take in a sunrise over the canyon and then a sunset. I don’t think I’ve been in awe of nature as I was in Arizona. Driving through the mountains to get to Flagstaff- great city. Driving up into the mountains to get to Prescott, and then over to the cliffside city of Jerome. Every turn was breathtaking. Felt the temperature drop as we got higher and higher. We traveled through the beautiful red landscape of Sedona. Again, words fail in comparison to seeing the nature in all of its natural beauty.

Halfway through the month, I then traveled east to Nashville for the Americana Music Conference to play with Phoebe Hunt at the Station Inn. I met some of my musical heros at the conference, played some great music and was able to hear so many other talented musicians. Tennessee is also beautiful. Getting to Tennessee from Texas is not. I’m thankful we went through all of Arkansas while it was dark. I’m sure there’s some beauty to Arkansas. I have yet to see it. From Nashville, we made our way to Atlanta. I love driving through mountains. Love it. I love seeing those “Mountain grade 6% signs” or “Watch for falling rocks.” We played at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta. Such a great venue. The icing on the cake was that I was able to hear the band, The Pines. Check them out. Now. After Atlanta, I was traveling with Reed Turner and we made the (what should have been) 16 hour drive to Austin in 13.5 hours. Not too shabby.

As I reflect on this past month, it seems like there was beauty everywhere and in everything. Maybe I just got lucky. Maybe my eyes are ears are open for the first time in a long time. Whatever the case may be, I hope to continue this feeling of amazement with the world through my day to day, month to month, and year to year living.

I’ve been playing the upright bass 10 years to the day. When I was growing up, being a bassist was not even considered in my Top Ten list of career choices (which had a broad range of fields from Criminologist to Ghostbuster to Magician). When I was a senior in high school I was pretty sure I wanted to be a musician. As far as the arts go, that’s pretty late in the game to decide to do something. Most of my peers had gone to camps, clinics, had a private teacher as soon as they could hold an instrument, and traveled to see some of the best orchestras in the country. I didn’t go to any camps or clinics. I hated the outdoors and physical activity. Sweating while playing music didn’t suit me at all. I had a few private teachers for piano and saxophone, but I didn’t last long with any of them. I didn’t enjoy practicing. I was totally ignorant to classical or art music. The only live music I sought out was Phish. When I finally got around to deciding that music was going to be my path, I spent the last two years of high school working up some hefty saxophone audition literature, I had a private teacher, I did all of the solo and ensemble competitions so I could show off how squeaky clean my scales were in hopes of getting a “1” rating, and I did all of those things associated with being a “serious” musician. While researching schools, I found that getting into a music program is a two-fold process. Not only do you have to be academically accepted into a university, you then have to be accepted into the school of music within said university.

Winter of 2002. I’m not a high pressure situation kind of guy. As far as stress and anxiety go, I am my own worst enemy. Does anyone ever feel like they’ve performed their best after an audition? I’ve never walked (or crawled) out of an audition with a “Heck yes, I made sweet, sweet love to those required audition materials, and it’s only a matter of time before my acceptance letter arrives.” I did my college saxophone auditions and they went as well as they were going to go given the circumstances. I was blissfully unaware that saxophone is one of the most competitive instruments to get into a school with. To shorten a long story, I was rejected from each school I had auditioned for. Access denied.

I did not have a Plan B for higher education, but some things have a way of working out. I tell people that being a bassist is the best decision I never made. At my Central Michigan University audition, I had (in passing) mentioned to the sax professor that I played electric bass in a band in high school– But who doesn’t at one time or another play the electric bass in high school? On the night I received my final rejection letter (from CMU no less), I received a call from the bass professor at Central Michigan University. The conversation with him went something like this:
“I hear you play bass,”
“Yes, but only electric.”
“Well, what about upright bass? Would you be willing to play that?”
“Absolutely. I just want to get into a music program.”

Music or bust. He then invited me to meet him at CMU and to attend one of the bass studio recitals. I was told to bring my electric bass. It was there that I met Ed Fedewa. I played him two octaves of a G major scale. That was it. He put a piece of paper in front of me, and told me to sign on the line if I wanted to be a music major in the fall. The fact that I didn’t actually own an upright bass didn’t stop me from signing. The fact that I didn’t have a car that could transport an upright bass also didn’t stop me from signing. Looking back, my parents took a huge financial leap to help me get an instrument that I had never played before. What if I didn’t like it? What if I had decided that music wasn’t for me? Things just have a way of working out.

I didn’t begin playing upright bass until my first day of college, and I am eternally grateful to Ed for seeing something in me and giving me such an amazing opportunity. I can’t think of any college professors that want to take on a student who hasn’t touched their instrument prior to their first college lesson. Orchestra rehearsals began on the second day of classes. Jazz band auditions were within the first week. While everyone else was practicing Beethoven’s 5th symphony or Thad Jones music, I was contending with new blisters, wrist and hand pain, trying to hold a bow and then trying to make it sound like something other than a band saw. Intonation is something that would have to be worked on much further down the road. I had to practice just balancing the bass against my body without making a sound.

I am eternally grateful to Ed for opening up my life to me. I’ve never met a more selfless and giving person who just wanted to see a student succeed. I learned just as much about life and being a good person as I did about playing the bass in our time together. I hope to be able to give to somebody in the same way he gave to me. There are others out there who have also played very important parts in my musical life (my mom and family, Tony Rongo, Bob Bloenk, Don Clark) but they all deserve their own entries. To Ed Fedewa, I humbly thank you again. The first ten years were amazing. Here’s to the next decade.

I was in the studio last week with singer/songwriter Reed Turner. If you haven’t heard him or heard of him, I suspect you might be doing both when his new album is released sometime in early 2013. I really enjoy Reed’s music both as a bassist and as a fan, so I was thrilled when I got the call to be part of the project.

This was by far the most “produced” recording experience I’ve been part of. I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Produced and over produced are two very different things. Having done production for my own CDs, I’ve always had the philosophy of, “Great material yields great results. Just get the best performances possible and everything else will fall into place.” I think this comes from my appreciation of live music and wanting to maintain some spontaneous vibe throughout. If the music and lyrics are there, and the vibe is right, I could care less if something rushes or drags a bit, or if there are a few too many notes in a passage. To me, all of that stuff is charming because it’s the imperfections that remind you that humans were making the music to begin with. I’ve never been a tone freak for albums. If it sounds good in my car on whatever speakers Honda deemed worthy, it’ll sound good pretty much anywhere. The last time I checked, nobody is using car speakers in place of their Delux Reverb amp. Thus, anytime you record, your “tone” is going to be at the mercy of whatever system it’s coming through. Factor in the fidelity loss of compressing it down to an MP3 and listening to it through some ear buds (terrible things), and that’s why I don’t get bent out of shape if my bass doesn’t sound like it sounds when I’m in an acoustically treated room with 20 foot ceilings and playing into $20,000 worth of recording equipment. If you can capture a great performance and get it to translate into the most awful of listening situations, then you’ve done something magical.

My own personal philosophy aside, it was a great learning experience to be a part of something where *everything* about the recording is under the microscope, not just the performance. As I had mentioned, if you hit a drum and it sounds like a drum, I’m ready to start recording. This was the first session I’ve been on where the actual sounds of the instruments were as important as the performances themselves. It’s like picking between three shades of green: They’ll all work for your painting of the lawn, but one of them is going to be the best possible shade in relation to the other colors. It was very educational to be part of a process where the timbre of the instruments so greatly affected the performance of the music. By having these huge, dark, and dead drums happening, it put us into a performance space that we would not have had if it were a typical drum kit sound. I would have approached the bass guitar a completely different way had we not cut a sponge to fit under the strings by the bridge to heavily mute all of the strings.

Once all of the sounds were achieved, the actual performance and execution of the music came next. This was very revealing and enlightening. When I practice, I do a bit of everything to keep my chops in shape for the different kinds of groups that I play with. I work on my jazz chops and improvising, I work on difficult tango passages with my bow. What should I be practicing? Playing whole notes with perfect accuracy. Nothing else matters if it’s not totally in the groove. A bit early here and a bit late there turns a whole take into useless garbage. As musicians, we work to have the endurance to play long 4 hour gigs, but maybe we really need to work on playing perfectly in time for 4 minutes. That level of focus is something I need to be able to dial in with every performance either live or in the studio. If there were sheet music for the parts that I played on the recording it would look incredibly easy. There is nothing in the bass part that would call attention to itself or is even remotely flashy. It’s just solid functional bass playing. That said, playing half notes perfectly in time and perfectly in tune for 4 minutes takes more of a mental toll than a physical one. When I went back to listen to a take, it really exemplified how less is absolutely more when it comes to music. Sometimes playing “simply” what’s best for the song can be one of the hardest things to do. Anybody can learn a bunch of fast notes with enough practice. To throw all of one’s ego aside to be totally subordinate to the music… that takes real artistry.

Summer is in full swing, and it seems like the whole country is in the thick of it. You know it’s summer in Texas when you look at the weather and say to yourself, “Oh, it’s only supposed to be 95 degrees tomorrow. That’ll be nice.” June was a busy month, and July (thankfully) seems to have no intention of letting up. I have been extremely fortunate to have many doors open to me in a very short period of time. I suppose that is the way of the world. There always seems to be a balance even if it’s not immediately evident. One door has to close for another to open, and I feel like that has been happening lately.

I have been half-jokingly and half-seriously been calling 2012 “The Year of No.” For those of you who haven’t yet heard my mantra, “The Year of No” effectively means that money cannot be the sole motivating factor for taking a gig. This does not mean that I am better or higher or have some huge ego trip that makes me elite, but it does mean that if I’m going to be performing, it’s because it’s something that I want to do, and it’s music that I want to play. Using this philosophy, I have had to really cut back on my spending and carefully consider my purchases. However, every time I play my instrument, I have fun, and that is a luxury I am thankful for. After actively putting “The Year of No” at the forefront of my decision making for the past 6 months, I think it’s really more of a tongue in cheek way to say, “Live authentically.” It’s pretty general and pretty vague, but at the heart of it is basically that any happiness we need/desire/find has to come from within ourselves. We (people) need to be able to sustain our own well being and happiness while at the same time coming to the realization that all things fade and nothing is permanent. We cannot be codependent on others for our own fulfillment or happiness. It’s absolutely wonderful to have support from others, but we ultimately need to be able to support ourselves in an emotional and spiritual sense. To be happy/fulfilled be it personally or professionally, we have to come to terms that if everything we know and expect were to suddenly end, we could still maintain and find purpose in life that would be just as gratifying. Ergo, money in and of itself, while helpful to pay bills, does not nurture my soul like playing great music does, and if I could not play bass anymore I have other interests that are just as fulfilling.

I’ve really been doing my best to live in an authentic way to who I am- Living in accordance to one’s self. The world could be a wonderful place if we all had some honest soul searching to see what it is that makes us tick and inspires us. Imagine what a great place the world would be if we all were able to live in a way that was in accordance to who we truly are. This concept is above simply “Don’t do something if it doesn’t make you happy.” Part of functioning in society means that we’re all going to have to do a few things that we don’t really enjoy doing. This is more along the thought of, “Why are you doing a job that you hate? You can earn money doing any number of things, why hate life for 40 hours a week?” Are there other factors that play into life and all of its decisions? Absolutely, but I believe that we are all rational beings and have a choice to either dwell on the negative and be stuck, or acknowledge the impermanence around us and continue to move forward.

Without going into the philosophical or theological arguments, which have already been done by writers and thinkers far better than myself, and before you start thinking that this is just a way to “check out” of life and not assume responsibility, please do some reading on Buddhism, Dukka, and existentialism, and try to make a rational argument for the fact that everything around us is in a constant state of change.

Part of my inspiration for writing this post is that I recently walked away from a project that I had devoted all of my personal and professional life to. I put this project at the top of the pyramid and all other personal and professional decisions were made under the umbrella of this project. That way of living and working was just not sustainable for me and it did not afford me the personal, professional, or spiritual nourishment that I needed in order to justify having it rule my life. I was not living in a way that was authentic to myself, this caused me much personal strife, and I had nothing left to give in any capacity to anybody in my life. Thus, after much soul searching, I had to walk away; certainly not out of anger, but out of a sense of needing to take care of myself so I can get back to giving to others.

It’s been far too long since my last entry. Without going into much detail, the last two months have been pretty crazy both in the positive and negative senses. There was a huge family tragedy, an independent two week tour (6,000 miles in 14 days), learning/charting music for some very gifted songwriters, gigs, travel, and that doesn’t leave much time to sit and collect thoughts. Most recently, I had to get my amp fixed. If you’ve ever talked gear with me, you’ll know I’m a diehard fan of ACOUSTIC IMAGE having exclusively used their amplification since 2006.

As things go, nothing lasts forever, and after hundreds of gigs with hassle-free performance, my balanced output (which sends my bass signal to a bigger sound system) in my amp needed fixing. Acoustic Image has without a doubt the best customer service I have ever experienced. I sent an email to the company, and Rick Jones, the founder/developer promptly emailed me back saying that I should mail the amp in, and they’d get it back to me as soon as possible. I had to hit the road on a two week tour, wouldn’t need my amp, and it was the perfect time to send my amp in. Here’s where things get interesting.

Rick repaired my amp and sent it back at no cost to me. However, I was gone, and I had somebody else sign the slip giving the green light to leave the package at my door. When I got home, the slip on the door was gone, but there was no amp to be found. I called the shipping company, went through their process, and essentially the package was DOA and nowhere to be found. When I then called Acoustic Image, I was taken aback because Rick Jones answers the phone. There is no automated menu to go through. It’s just you and Rick, and he knew exactly who I was from our email correspondence. Rick was totally sympathetic to the situation at hand. I had a Series 3 amplifier which is now discontinued so there are now only Series 4 amps. I expected to pay the difference between the two, but no. Rick promptly sent me a brand spanking new amp which was an upgrade from my previous model at no cost to me. Crazy. Find me another company that will do that.

A few days later, the brand new amp arrives. I take it to a gig, and after the first set, there is a very concerning sound coming from it. I troubleshoot as best as I can, but it ultimately led to another phone call to Acoustic Image. Once again, it’s Rick who picks up the phone. He emailed me a shipping label, and I sent the new amp to the shop. About a week later, I get an email saying that they’ve found the issue and have had the amp running failure free for a little over 25 hours. Two days later, the amp arrives in perfect working order. Again, at no cost to me. I just want to publicly thank Rick Jones and Acoustic Image for their amazing products, service, support and for going well over the extra mile. They really understand what it’s like to be a musician, and in this day of Guitar Centers and mass companies selling sub-par gear from overseas, it makes me happy that there is still somebody that’s willing to do it “The old fashioned way.”

On the subject of having something besides music in one’s life. Before getting deep into the topic for this entry, March and April have been very good to me. In one of those “right place at the right time” moments I came across a (new to me) bass luthier named Brady Muckelroy. Brady is a high in demand bassist and also happens to build amazing bass guitars. For those that read this, and those who know me, I don’t think that there is any dispute that I put myself into the Upright Bass category. I play 99% of my gigs on upright, it’s what I practice on, and it’s really what I consider to be my musical voice. Bass guitar has never been that way for me. It’s always been something that I drag out of the closet for the occasional rock or latin gig. I would consider myself a functional electric bassist compared to those who exclusively play bass guitar. I think part of this has to do with the physical space and sound that the bass guitar occupies in a mix. When I put on the affectionately titled “pork chop” for a gig, I want to do nothing more than groove with the kick drum. I don’t want to solo. I don’t want to burn. I don’t want to shred. I do want to groove, and I want to groove hard.

My whole concept of the bass guitar changed the instant that I played one of Brady’s custom fretless basses. All of a sudden, “my sound” was available to me. I love the sound of the wood in an upright bass, and this is one of the first bass guitars where you can literally hear the tone of the wood itself. After ten minutes of playing this beautifully crafted instrument, I knew that I would be needing one for myself. My philosophy on gear is that I want to get something that I never have to upgrade. Period. I have done that with everything but the bass guitar – until now. I am very excited for the possibilities and creativity that this new forthcoming Muckelroy fretless bass will provide.

Onto the subject at hand, I believe it’s incredibly important to have something(s) besides music to make for a healthy life. While I certainly have a love for music, having a passion about other things is incredibly important to my development as a musician. In a previous post, I alluded to the fact that we live in a world where everything is fleeting and nothing is permanent, and yet I know individuals who put so much stock in their music career that they would likely implode if they woke up one day and music wasn’t available to them. I was having a conversation this morning, and a particular individual said, “This is what I’m good at, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning, this is all I have keeping me sane.” I don’t mean to be cold, but we all need more than one thing to get us out of bed in the morning. Substitute “music” for “spouse” or “partner” and you have the makings of a very toxic relationship.

There is a deep underlying issue if one’s happiness is tied up or codependent on something outside of themselves. Fulfillment and happiness have to come from within. I realize there are many accounts of music “saving” this or that artist, but in the end, there has to be “something else” because one’s ability to perform, or make music can end at any moment. What happens when you get burned out on music? You devote all of your time and talent to one thing, only to find out that you resent that one thing the most in your life. What then?

It’s really all about balance, and I feel like I can speak pretty objectively here. As a musician, I am fortunate for my good luck of being able to pay the bills doing what I do. At the same time, music is my job, and I often times don’t want to talk about music. I spend a large part of each day on music, the craft, the art, the business end, and when I’m out and about, it’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, it’s that I *need* to talk about other things; normal things, everyday things, philosophical things, heavy or light things, movies, random quotes from obscure movies, the latest dark and gritty foreign film I saw at 3am on Netflix, different types of beer, you get the idea. It’s a necessary condition for happiness that we don’t put all of our eggs in one backet and we try new things. Live.

On the subject of getting paid. I think it is extremely rare that I will publicly challenge another musician’s writing, but being compensated for a performance is a bit of a sticky situation. There are many variables at play when an artist says, “Yes,” and agrees to take a gig. However, there is a thought process developing among musicians that I see as being the incorrect path to take.

My attention was recently directed to an article written by Dave Goldberg. The full article can be read BY CLICKING HERE. While I respect Mr. Goldberg’s points, I don’t wish to challenge him in a battle of minds. I know there are others that share and support his views, but I disagree with his proposed course of action. Rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, we as musicians need to be MORE inventive to achieve financial stability and artistic success. My biggest issue is that Goldberg aims to shift responsibility away from the musicians to the club/restaurant owners to bring in a crowd and we as musicians should be adequately compensated to just show up and perform. No.

We (musicians) are in a very good situation to simply say, “No, thank you.” Sure, we have to hustle and make cold calls for work. That alone puts us at the mercy of our employer(s). When you call asking for a gig or work, you put yourself at the mercy of whomever is doing the booking. It’s on their terms at this point and you can take it or leave it. If you call a club and their policy is that the band gets 70% of the door, that’s the deal. If a restaurant pays $300 for a four hour gig, that’s the deal. I hate to be on the side of clubs and not the musicians, but everybody has a financial bottom line to meet. The one thing we can do is reject the terms and not perform. Musicians rarely do this. Most musicians will take what they can get and bitch (excuse my French) about it rather than trying to further themselves or looking for additional means of employment to support their music career… because a crappy paying gig is still better than no gig at all, right?

To further my point, most clubs and restaurants (I believe) could honestly care less about who or what is on stage as long as it’s serving the function of providing music. The downside is that there can sometimes be very little quality control, but again, that is out of our hands. Guess what, if you’re playing a bar, lounge or restaurant, chances are that most of the patrons there are NOT there to see you. You are the happy accident playing songs quietly in the corner. You are there to accompany the dinner experience. Clubs are similar. True, they want to get people in the door… to drink. I can’t even begin to imagine the overhead costs of operating a club in a prime city location. There are very few “dedicated to music” clubs. Many say that they are, but they are basically just a glorified bar. Very few clubs actually have a reputation of their own for the quality of the entertainment, and if they do have a great reputation, they are charging a $20+ cover, and guess what, the musicians DO get paid.

Another point I’d like to mention is that (unfortunately) the public just doesn’t need music. The arts are the first thing to get cut in schools, and the same goes for life in general. What happens when a restaurant isn’t doing well and needs to slash costs? They don’t fire cooks or bartenders. They kill the music first. Instead of booking live music, clubs switch to DJs, and if that doesn’t work, it’s Larry’s iPod playlist. We are expendable. I know, I know… We’ve all done our time shedding to the point of being professional, but we can’t get paid simply for existing. If I can make a comparison to something that *is* needed: Plumbers.

As musicians, we feel that we should be able to walk into a gig, play, and get paid. That’s fine, but if nobody is at the gig/club/restaurant, that means it’s coming directly out the owner’s pocket. Regardless of what you agreed to get paid, if the owner takes a loss for the night and still pays you, he/she is good people in my book. If you don’t like the terms of a gig, don’t take it. Period. I’ve never been in a situation where there was any fuzziness as to what was expected of me and what was expected of my employer. Musicians playing to an empty room and demanding payment is much like a plumber fixing a pipe that doesn’t really serve any purpose and demanding compensation for his time. We musicians are constantly on the hunt for work, and we are the ones making the calls. Last time I checked, plumbers don’t make cold calls to see if your plumbing is working (those people work for Viagra or Cialis). When somebody needs a plumber, they call a plumber, the plumber makes an estimate, hands are shaken, the job is performed, and everybody walks away. I’ve never gotten the musical equivalent of this phone call: “Oh my God! I know it’s the weekend, but my toilet is going the way of Chernobyl! There’s a poop-tsunami that has already devastated the nursery and it’s coming for the master bedroom. My husband tried fixing it himself, and I haven’t heard from him since. I can’t lose anymore family in this disaster. I’ll pay anything, ANYTHING for you to fix this immediately.” The key to the kingdom is that we need to do everything in our power to make the owners call us. That is what puts the ball in our court.

If we could sell 25, 50, or 100+ tickets at $5-10 each, we ought put on our own shows on our own terms and there really wouldn’t be a need for a club or restaurant anymore. How many working musicians do you know that can do this? If you can sell 100+ tickets in advance of a gig, owners will be begging to have you play their club and you can start setting your own terms because those 100 people are yours. Isn’t that our ultimate goal as entertainers; to have our own dedicated followings? I don’t know many jazz guys that said, “Man, I’ve worked so hard and have all of this hip vocabulary, I want to play background jazz for a living,” or “Man, I want to play in clubs that smell like somebody is rotting beneath my feet when I’m on stage.” No. We say, “Man, I wish I could just make an honest living playing the music that I love to an audience that appreciates it.” If that’s the goal, put yourself on track to achieve it. Rather than trying to convince others on how they should run their business, run your business the best that you can.

I go around and around at times with how to justify choosing a career in music. When in conversation about my chosen line of work, it’s inevitable that the question, “Why did you get into music” comes up. The easy (and often the throwaway) answer is something to the affect of, “Music chose me, and I simply couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t doing music.”

I was having a conversation a few weeks ago with a great guitar playing friend of mine regarding a career in music. There are the up times, there are the down times, and the ups and downs are sometimes, but not necessarily a result of how much money is coming in. A string of very artistically satisfying gigs is just as necessary in this line of work as a string of well paying gigs. Sometimes the two overlap and intersect. Sometimes they are mutually exclusive. Getting back to the conversation at hand, we were discussing how fleeting everything is and that this career path could really end at any time. One injury can take you permanently out of the game, and that is something that we just have to accept. To not accept that music can be snatched away at any moment, only to then be confronted with the fact that you may never play again, can cause immense pain if you haven’t already realized this. The irony was that less than twelve hours after having this conversation, I nearly took off the top of my right index finger while cutting vegetables for dinner. As a bassist, this particular digit is pretty important. Sure, it was a hassle to still have to play gigs with my finger super-glued together and a nasty bandage, but what if I lost a hand, an arm, or my hearing? What would I do then?

Somewhat related – it can be difficult to explain to non-musicians exactly what it is that you do. Unless you have “made it” and you have a recognizable name, or you tour/play/perform with somebody who has a recognizable name, or you play in an orchestra that begins with New York, Chicago, Berlin, or a recognizable name, being a musician is just slightly ahead socially of being a bum. It is very hard for non-musicians to even comprehend a non-9-to-5 work day with weekends and holidays off. I find that more often than not, I have to justify my music career to others by including some more “reputable” things. “Well, I’m a bassist… but I also teach at Concordia and UT,” or “I’m a freelance bassist… but I’ve played with X, Y, and Z.” There always has to be something after the word bassist to justify help the cause. I know this is something I just impose on myself – likely due to insecurities. The simple fact is that I pay my bills by playing music. I teach, but that’s less than 10% of my income. Where some people have a day job to supplement their music, music is my day job. At times, that means working 80 hours in a week. At other times, that means I “work” 2 hours a week, but there is always a lot of behind the scenes work that goes on. I don’t get paid to practice. I don’t get paid to write new material. I don’t get paid to make phone calls. I don’t get paid to send out CDs and press kits. Chances are, in order for me to make money, I have had to spend quite a bit of money. What the general public sees is only the tip of the iceberg. Everything else is underwater.

It’s been a long time since my last “thought.” That’s not to say I haven’t had any thoughts, it’s just that I haven’t made the time to sit down and type at the computer. Thus, nearly two months have passed since my last update. There are many things I could write about. A lot happens in two months.

Back in December, I went up to Michigan to visit with family. It was one of the best vacations I’ve had in a good long while– with the exception of getting the rare opportunity to sit in an Oklahoma State Trooper’s car on the way up, but that’s another story all together. What was so enjoyable about Michigan, was that it’s wasn’t terribly cold, and I actually got to spend time up there without feeling the need to rush around. I was in the north country for almost a month. In that time, I was able to visit with family, friends, play a few shows, and help out some younger musicians. It was a very fulfilling month.

One thing became abundantly clear, and I think it was only clear because I had the time to stop, think, and the whole experience wasn’t just a crazy whirlwind. I miss the folks up there. My family. My friends. The whole lot of them. On the other side of that coin, Austin feels so much like home to me. Every time I drive back, I am happy to be living in Austin. That stretch of road between Dallas and Austin is the absolute worst homestretch ever, but in the course of 24 hours in the car you go from using your heat to unrolling the windows, to turning on the AC in January, and I can’t help but think, “It’s good to be home.”

No matter where you are from or where you go, there is always going to be a place where your roots are, and to me, that is (obviously) Michigan. I know, I’m getting a bit nostalgic. That’s the way it is. It was a totally different kind of musical satisfaction getting to perform with the guys that I “grew up” with while we all attended Central Michigan University. Those are some strong bonds, and time doesn’t even phase them. I was so impressed that some of the best musicians I know were in a small college in the middle of nowhere Michigan at the same time as myself. As we all developed and grew together, we all “get” where each other is coming from. I think it had been about five years since we had played a note together, but as soon as rehearsal began, it was immediately apparent that these are still some of the best players around, and they can hold their own with any “name” musicians out there.

When I look back, and at the time I was going through school, by the end I was so looking forward to getting out of Michigan and moving onto the next step. Now, five years later, it has taken that time to truly appreciate what was there. That’s the way life is.

Austin is a weird town, but not in the “Keep Austin Weird” bumper sticker kind of way. Lately, I’ve had the same conversation with numerous musicians, artists, creative-types, and it’s interestingly been the same story each time. How do you cultivate an audience that wants to see You? The conversation will usually go something like this:

What are you up to this weekend?
Well, I’m playing with That One Group at That Place. What about you?
Oh, I’m playing with My Own Project at This Club.
Really? How many people can that room hold?
It can get about 150 in there comfortably.
That’s great! How many do you expect?
I have absolutely no idea. You?
Could be full, could be empty. Have a great gig.
You too.

I find it interesting that in a town that is so full of art and culture, there is no real barometer for how many patrons are going to attend a given performance until the doors open that night. There are no correlations. You can have lots of press and media attention and maybe the place will be full, and maybe it won’t. You can have very little press and the place could still be full, or maybe it’s empty. Even social networking gives a false sense of positive results. Just because 112 friends click the “join” button, they are in no way obligated to actually attend the show. How do you cultivate an audience that wants to see You?

There are different venues in town that have a built in audience. This can be a blessing or a curse, and often times, it’s a little of both at the same time. These venues have given me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s “as if” people have come to see me for what I am doing, but in reality, they would be there no matter who is on stage. One prime example of an Austin venue with a very built-in audience is the Elephant Room. It is THE (only) jazz club in town. If you want to hear jazz in Austin, that is where you go, and shoot, many of the people who go to the Elephant Room don’t even listen to what’s happening on stage. It’s because jazz is hip, man. Toward that end: To all of my musician friends, I feel the truth is that hoards of patrons do not flock to restaurants to hear jazz. We are the happy and accidental atmosphere for a good meal that otherwise would have been accompanied by canned muzak. There it is. How do you cultivate an audience that wants to see You?

I love Austin. I can’t really think of any other city that I would like to come home to. There is such a wealth of culture, restaurants, movies, artists, performances, exhibits… Austin is saturated. On any given weekend, there are hundreds of things to do, and hundreds of places to spend your hard earned dollars in addition to all of the music that is happening around town. There are advertisements for This, That, and The Other everywhere: radio, posters, tv commercials, facebook invitations, little cards I find tucked under a windshield wiper. It’s easy to just become immune to all of it. I definitely took the small town vibe I had in Michigan for granted. When there’s only four things happening on a weekend in December, chances are, if people want to get out of the house, they’ll come to see you. How do you cultivate an audience that wants to see You? In a town like Austin, there are no rules, there are no correlations, there is just the hustle and the drive to “make it” because it’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s a side of success that isn’t measured in dollars, it’s measured in butts in seats, and those butts have a whole lot of options when they decide where to park on a weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I find it hard to believe that it’s already been a year since the big trip to Maine/New England. Last year at this time, I was up in Bangor, ME at Anna and Ben’s house. I was doing my best to stay warm despite the cold and dampness that ravages that part of the country. I woke up, coffee was already made, I had a rehearsal planned for the day, and then an excellent meal planned with some great people to follow. It’s weird, but as a musician, I don’t really get to “hang” with my musician friends. Aside from talking and hanging on breaks during a gig, it seems like I live in a bubble and our lives rarely intersect if we don’t have instruments in our hands.

Here I sit. A year later in Austin, TX. It’s definitely warmer down here than up in Maine. I do miss the cold on days like today, though. I love the feeling of going somewhere, knowing there’s going to be good company to share, and everybody stays warm indoors while the weather outside tries to get in.

Last year, we went up to Maine with Wayne Salzmann and Carter Arrington. It would be hard to find to guys that have the complete package of personality, professionalism, and performance ability. They are some of the best I know. In just a year, it’s crazy how things have taken off for them, and I wish them nothing but the best continued success. I’ve said it before, but if anybody is going to “make it,” it’s only a matter of time before these guys hit the big time. Wayne got the call from Eric Johnson (yes, *the* Eric Johnson) and is now Eric’s drummer. Amazing. Carter has been touring with Malford Milligan and has just a ton of high quality local work as well. Anna was able to sell her house in Maine, and moved to Austin in January 2011.

Since Anna’s move, it’s been a bit crazy. By necessity, I’ve been having to turn down other work to really make a go of the project with Anna. We put out a CD. That’s a big deal. No, it’s not on a major label. No, we do not have a big fat distribution deal. No, you probably can’t hear it on the radio if you’re not in Austin. It’s still a big deal. Not only did we make a CD, we made it the way we wanted to. Everything was done in-house. I take a great deal of pride in knowing that we busted our butts to finance this thing. It was about a year where I didn’t get paid because everything went into the making of “Traveling By Moonlight.” I believe in this project, and I’m proud of our album. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that. You’d think it would be easy, but it’s not. It was hard to come to terms because if you’re not satisfied with something, it gives you an “out” if somebody else doesn’t like it. If you believe in something and it still gets a bad review, or negative response, it’s pretty crushing. That’s part of the game, but it’s what has to be done if you’re doing to do something on your own merit. Anything with artistic value needs to be done for the sake of the art first. I’m just happy that the response has been so positive. While we didn’t set out to have any radio hits or make it huge, one thing I really try to do is make sure to have a connection with listeners through my music. If it can’t connect with listeners, I haven’t done my job as an artist.

My bass is currently in the shop due to a cold front that swept through town. As Humpty Dumpty gets glued back together, here I sit during my usual practice time in the afternoon. I figured I may as well take this opportunity to give some feedback on a new “toy” I’ve been using for about a month now.

As some of you may or may not know, I recently joined the Austin Piazzolla Quintet. As the name suggests, we play a whole lot of music by Astor Piazzolla. This was and is a great way to get my arco (bow) chops back into shape. It’s also a great reality check for intonation since the majority of the bass parts are doubled in the left hand of the piano. If I’m out of tune, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Due to the nature and setup of my bass, I play with an amplifier on 99.9% of my gigs, which in turn means that what the audience hears is an amplified reproduction of my bass and very little of the instrument itself.

In order to amplify my bass, I use a pickup which is mounted in the bridge. This is nothing new, and if you want to know what the tone of a pickup on a bass sounds like, take a listen to some Ron Carter or Eddie Gomez recordings from the 1970s. It’s got a certain sound, but it’s not “my” sound. One issue that is inherent with my pickup is that when I switch from pizz (finger style) to arco (playing with the bow), there is a dramatic volume difference. This is a result of the strings vibrating in one direction when played with the fingers and then vibrating in a different direction when played under the bow. Acoustically, the difference can be subtle, but through an amplifier, the differences are (pun intended) amplified. What I’m left with is a very usable pizz sound, and then an arco sound that takes everything over like Godzilla destroying some village. The options I’m left with are A.) Miss a few measures of the music as I reach down to turn my amp down, or B.) Play with such a light arco touch that the instrument barely speaks and the quality of tone suffers.

Prior to playing with the Austin Piazzolla Quintet, I had my “arco gigs” and my “pizz gigs,” so I could typically just set my amp up to sound optimal for one of those settings and call it a day. APQ threw a wrench in my operation. Thankfully, I decided to get a Red Eye Preamp/DI ( This has been in my signal chain since I bought it, and it’s probably the absolute BEST preamp I’ve ever heard. What makes it far and away better than everything else? It’s simple, it’s designed for piezo pickups, there is a ton of dynamic headroom (which is particularly important for bass), the EQ is totally flat, it doesn’t color the tone of the instrument, it’s clean, it doesn’t introduce any distortion, there is an apparent “tightening” of the low end on my bass, it’s tiny and portably, it’s made locally in Austin, and it’s guaranteed for life. There is a boost switch with an independent gain control. On APQ (or any other gigs), I can set my arco volume, and then use the boost switch to raise the level of my pizz playing to keep the dynamics even between the two. Problem solved, and one of the best gear investments I’ve made in a long time. A huge thank you to Daren for making such a great product that actually allows musicians to do something musical with the acoustic instruments we have.

I’m writing in order to procrastinate my practicing for the day. Looking for a quick way to drain a bank account? Record an album. Looking for a way to keep funds from going into your bank account? Promote and market an album. How do you get patrons to shows and to purchase your music? There is no reliable answer to that question. I know people that have all of the financial backing and resources to “make things happen,” and they struggle. I know people who have been living out of the back seat of their car and they fall into success. It’s random and unpredictable.

It’s a lot like fishing, I suppose. Person X can have the latest technology, lures, boat, and this would seemingly put them ahead of the pack. Person Y has a stick and some string, and there is no way of knowing which one will be successful in their endeavor.

The longer I live, I see that most of us get to where we’re going by being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we take a direct path, and sometimes we zig and zag all over to finally arrive at our current destination. There is certainly more at play than just being in the right place at the right time, though. Not only do you have to be in the right place at the right time, you have to deliver the right goods. Maybe we’re all slightly crazy? We spend our lives working on “our thing” so that at some random moment we are called upon to produce results and then we hopefully produce the right results for that specific moment in time. That moment could lead to other moments, or that moment could be an end in and of itself. Even if we are in the right place at the right time delivering the right goods, that is still no indication that we will be able to continue on the current trajectory. No wonder so many people are content to just exist.

Volume, perceived volume, and the bass are obviously of great interest to me. With today’s sound amplification equipment, and audiences that can be totally indifferent to the fact there is a band playing, bassists and band leaders have gotten in the habit of turning up the volume to be heard. For me, there is a certain level of volume/comfort for me when on a gig, and it’s all about the way the instrument feels which puts me in my comfort zone. When my bass feels good, I know I am at an appropriate volume. If I turn up too loud, there is a bunch of low end saturation that occurs on stage, it makes my bass feel tubby, and I feel like it starts to fight back. I no longer have the agility or dexterity on it that I like to have.

My own rule of thumb is that if I can clearly hear myself on stage, I am playing too loud. I don’t think many other musicians understand this concept. In most instances, my amp is not a stage monitor. I am using it to put my sound out into the room. Bass sound waves take a long time to develop. My lowest note (low E) is 41Hz. That not only takes a lot of power to accurately be reproduced, it also takes a lot of space. It may sound soft on stage, but somebody that is 20 feet out in front is getting blasted with bass as the sound wave develops. Thus, if we’re all on a small stage, the bass is going to sound quiet to all of the musicians.

Another concept that musicians don’t seem to understand is volume, perceived volume, and low end. With the advent of dedicated bass amps and pickup systems, the bass can be amplified to pretty extreme volumes. Many leaders confuse volume with low end. They want to “feel” the bass instead of hear it. However, when you boost the lows, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a good sound. Again, somebody 20 feet in front is going to hear tons of bass while there is only a slight bass increase on the stage. Plus, additional low end tends to wash out the mix on stage. All we start to hear is the rumble and it’s very hard to hold a musical conversation or play with sensitivity. It’s rare that you will hear a jazz group where the bass is thumping. Think of all of those classic records, and even more modern recordings by Dave Holland. There is a significant cut in the “boom frequencies” between 60 and 100 Hz. To truly hear the bass, you’ve got to have the midrange of the instrument present. That’s where all of the “wood” is. Too many lows will wash out the mids, and then we’re left with a sound that contains the rumble of the low end, and only the extreme high end finger noise. That may be somebody’s ideal tone, but it’s not mine.

Within a jazz context, and even in acoustic music in general, my thoughts are that the bass should be present enough so that you’ll miss it if it’s not there, but not so loud as to draw attention to itself. The bass should not have to compete with the drums for volume, rather, the drums should be able to overtake the bass when the music calls for it. Listen to some classic records, when the band is hitting it hard, the bass disappears into the mix, but when things cool off, it’s right there holding down the fort. This suggests that the bass is essentially at one relative volume the entire time and the band as a whole creates the dynamic rises and falls.

It’s SO hard being so close to the end of a project to then have to go back and make fixes because you know that 40 years from now, you’re going to regret it if you don’t make those tiny fixes right now. I spent a great deal of time at Terra Nova Mastering here in Austin and I was working with mastering engineer, Nick Landis. First, let me just say that Nick is as professional as they come. He was extremely easy to work with and talk to, and was just as eager as I was to get things sounding the way they need to. I’ll save the actual story of the mastering process for another time. However, while we were in the studio, Nick made an observation about the material. As we were listening to one of the songs recording back into the computer from analog tape, he pointed out that, “There sure are a lot of biblical references,” throughout the album. That got me thinking.

I think I fall into the “Raised Catholic and got out as soon as I could” camp. I don’t mean that as a slight to the millions who believe in the Big J.C. as their savior. It was simply my experience that there was just too much immediately observable hypocrisy for me to buy stock in it. If it works for you, I am happy for you. That being said (written), whether you take the Bible to be historical fact, fiction, or somewhere in between, those authors knew how to tell a story. Whether they were the originators, or retold something that had been aurally passed down for generations, or maybe they even stole somebody else’s story, changed a few names and called it their own. Whatever the case may be, they knew how to grab and keep attention. The use of metaphor and symbolism in the Bible is truly fantastic, and the imagery is very vivid. In addition to that, biblical accounts have many similarities and parallels with pretty much every other culture. You don’t need to know Noah to know that a few thousand years ago, there was a flood that wiped the slate clean.

I don’t think I’m going to win any modern Christian Music Awards. So why bring in these sacred elements into secular songs? I’m a big fan of borrowing from the best. The issues of 2,000 years ago are still issues today. No matter where in the world you are from, you are familiar with these archetypes and any references in song are immediately personable and relatable. Life is dualistic. There is dark and light. We all still have our demons to face. There are still struggles between “good” and “evil.” We all have to take the good with the bad. “You can’t think about running through Heaven, until you crawl on your knees through Hell.”

I spent the last week of July mixing, and by mixing I mean sitting in a studio while mix-master Keith Gary reads my mind and does wonders to songs that Anna and I have tracked. We still have a few tweaks to do, especially on the “bigger” tunes, but it came together very quickly. Mitch Watkins was kind enough to let us do all of the mixing at his studio even though he was getting ready to go on tour with Lyle Lovett.

I’m very proud of the way the album is going to sound. It is not going to be “studio perfect,” but that was never the goal. My favorite albums are totally flawed in some way or another, but the music always speaks for itself. My goal was to make an album that was “perfectly flawed,” or put more simply, “human.” It’s very important to me that this music sound like it was played by people and not totally processed in a box, time aligned, auto-tuned, etc. For a project that has taken the better part of a year and a half to make, it still has a very “live” sound to it, and I really believe that listeners will enjoy what they hear. I’ll write more on this when I get a moment. Right now, Calliope (my dog) is giving me the, “Let’s go for a walk,” look. It’s a good idea. It’s supposed to get up to 107 degrees today.

It has been a pretty amazing month thus far. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be working a lot this summer with gigs, recording projects, and teaching. In the past, my summers have been pretty mellow. I don’t know if this is true, but my feelings are that jazz is cold weather genre of music. Perhaps it’s just me. I had the good fortune of getting to record and work out at the Blue Rock Recording studio and artist ranch two weeks ago. Words really fail when trying to describe the beauty of this place. The space and energy allow creativity to just flow. I was doing a session with Javier Chaparro, who not only is a world class violinist, but he is an amazing song writer. He writes music that goes straight to the soul. I don’t speak Spanish, and even without knowing what the lyrics are, I get a sense that there is something very powerful at work. Rounding out the ensemble, Mitch Watkins was playing a variety of acoustic guitars and Paul Glasse was playing mandolin. Getting to play alongside of Mitch and Paul is one of the great joys I get in music making. They are on a whole different level, and their musical communication is telepathic. It’s a leading example of how 30 years of playing together creates a sound that is greater than the sum (of its already incredible) parts. Laura Mordecai was playing percussion, and as a bassist, it was really nice to lay back into some beautiful and understated grooves.

I could gush on and on about how I instantly felt at home in the room I was recording. I set my bass down, and looked at the shelves which were filled floor to ceiling with books, compact discs and a large collection of records. The first thing that caught my eye was a Tom Waits recording, and as I looked up and to the left I saw a row of books that consisted of Cormac McCarthy novels. It’s good company to keep. Speaking of good company, I got to meet engineer/studio-jedi, Keith Gary. What a great guy with a huge set of ears. I’m always a little skeptical when I get into a studio with my upright bass. There isn’t a whole lot of grey area when it comes to reproducing the sound of a double bass. It’s either there, or it isn’t even close. I was elated on the first playback with how Keith was able to not only get the sound of the bass, but he was able to capture “my” sound as well. I love it.

As the sessions went on, I had been very conscious of my note choices and how much musical space I fill. Those that know me already know that I am not a fan of flashy bass playing, particularly if it doesn’t compliment the music. The rule that served me well while playing Javier’s music was that I get one moment per song to make it known that I was there, and then get out of the way. There were a few moments where I was asked to play something busier. I remember my instructions were, “… Sexy boy… sexy… sexy boy…” Obviously, Javier wanted something that wasn’t so midwestern and white. I’m anxious to hear the final mixes of the sessions. It was incredibly gratifying to sit in the control room with some of the heaviest players I’ve ever been around, and to get the nod or smile of approval when there is something melodic in the bass that stands out to them. Although, I think any melodic material from the bass that catches the ear was likely shamelessly stolen from Eberhard Weber.

While I’m on the subject of recording, I think it’s safe to say that Anna and I have finished tracking our album. It’s very exciting. I’m going to do most of the mixing at home. I have this thing where I can hear exactly how the music needs to sound, and to put it in words is both difficult and likely frustrating for others, so I use the sound in my head as a reference and tweak the tracks until they sound like what I’ve already been “hearing.” We’re still deciding on a name for this collection of twelve songs, but we’re going to get it mastered out in L.A, and we hope to have a big release in November. The most stressful part of putting something out there for the world is attaching your name to it.

Well, it’s been a while since it’s happened, but I officially got thrown under the bus on a gig on Tuesday night. I suppose I was due. In the past, these situations would freak me out to the point of not being able to get through the gig. I would make mistakes left and right and the feeling of uselessness and helplessness would then linger for days afterwards. This would often domino effet into my other gigs, to where one bad night would throw off my game the next night. I’m happy to report that those days are behind me. I’ve come to the realization that Pat Harris the Musician and Pat Harris the Person are two different beings, with the Musician making up only small part of the Person. Nobody goes into their job, no matter how much they enjoy it, and performs their tasks flawlessly day in and day out. It doesn’t happen like that. As a musician, I can’t expect to go to a gig and have it be the most profound thing I’ve ever done. It doesn’t happen like that. Sometimes you just have to punch in and then realize that you’re in a “wait-out-the-clock” situation. However, in the worst situations imaginable, I still need to do everything in my power to make the experience musical. I still have to do my very best to keep good time, play in tune, have a good attitude, and support the other musicians on stage. Sometimes you get lucky and somebody on the bandstand will help you out, other times you are your own island. It’s all okay.

Each “bad” gig is a lesson in what not to do. You’ve got to learn these lessons some way. Sometimes the music is just “off,” and that’s alright, too. Sometimes there is a clear person who is getting in the way of the music, and sometimes the music just isn’t there… and sometimes the lackluster performances that we as musicians perceive in the moment turn out to be some of the best stuff when we listen back to it.

Getting back to getting “Bussed” on Tuesday night, part of what helps me get through these tough moments is a meditation/chant that I’ve come up with. I only need to use it when things get particularly brutal. I can handle quite a bit direct verbal abuse, but what really grinds my gears is that passive aggressive announcement to the audience that band leaders have perfected. It goes something like this:

Leader: (to the band) We’regoingtoplaythatonesong,howdoesitgo?HmmHmmBaBaBaBaaaaHmmmBaaaBeDoBeDo.Pickakey.
Me: What song?
Pianist: “I Thought about You,” in F.
Leader: (quickly starts counting off the tune)
Me: Hold on, I haven’t played that tune in ages and need to read it.
Leader: (into the mic) Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry for the delay. The bass player has to read this next tune. (Turns to me) You ready yet?
Me: (I smile and nod)

The smiling and nodding is a key component to the meditation, because while I am doing that, I am saying, “This is not my life. This is just a job and it’s only four hours long.” If the that doesn’t get me through, my plan B is, “**** you, you ******* *******. If I wasn’t terrified of what you would do to me in your drunken state, I would send this gig to Hell faster than you can slur out the next tune, because I’m the bassist, and that’s the kind of power I have,” to myself. Sometimes I only need to meditate on first phrase one time, other times it takes a few repeats, but it really does wonders to calm my nerves. No matter what the situation, you still have to be as musical as possible. Sometimes you’re a hero, and sometimes you’re just waiting until 1:30am. It’s all part of the job.

I played in a really fantastic recording session yesterday and we were able to get some really amazing basic tracks for the CD that I’m recording with Anna. We were very lucky to be able to record at George’s studio. As far as studios go, I can’t think of a place in Austin that better than George’s, and it comes with George as the engineer. I’m always impressed with the sounds that we’re able to capture. He’s one of the only guys that knows how to make an acoustic guitar sound like an acoustic guitar once it’s recorded.

We put four tracks down for the upcoming CD (release date TBA) and they included “Before the Rain,” “New Day,” “Lost at Sea,” and “The Overgrown Graveyard.” If you’ve caught any of our live duo performances of these tunes, I’m pretty sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the studio renditions. We were fortunate to get two of my favorite Austin musicians, Wayne and Carter on drums and guitar for the session. There are some players that are tentative and reactive, but what I love most about Carter and Wayne, is that they are very authoritative players. They could be sight-reading a piece of music and they instantly make it their own. As a songwriter, it’s very rewarding to hear your work interpreted differently than you had imagined it by highly capable musicians. At the same time, they are so well-rounded that they can hear a tune once and “get” how the vibe of the particular song should be. We still have some overdubs to do, but the goal is to start mixing all of this craziness by June.

The Jam Session
There are times when I get invited to various jam sessions around town. I never go to them. My reason is definitely not because I am “too good,” or “better” or anything else that would indicate my superiority over the other musicians in attendance. Far from it. I don’t go to jam sessions, because I absolutely do not enjoy jam sessions. The music is never the focus despite being called a “Jam Session.” Since 2009 I’ve been playing every single Wednesday afternoon with Rich, Masumi and Alex (when he’s not in Amsterdam). We play because we enjoy playing together and the music that results is rewarding. Rich cranks out song after song and we read the material down. I’m envious of his creative output. I’m positive I’ve grown musically at least as much, if not more, from playing new music with the same group of players each week than I did when I was getting my Master’s degree. I do the same with other players in town. If I’m going to jam, I want music for music’s sake to be the inspiration and reason for playing. Everything else is the icing on the cake. My main point of contention is that people go to jam sessions for every reason under the sun *except* to make music. If I want to jam, I’ll call people that I want to jam with. I do not need a weekly night to go out and play for twenty minutes. I suspect that my point of view is also biased being a bass player. As part of the rhythm section, we often get stuck punching the clock at a jam session while someone (usually a sax player) takes an obscene number of choruses in a solo that has nothing to do with anything other than taking an obscene number of choruses because they can. The lone exception is the few players that may not be as musically advanced as the “pros” who attend. Often times, a jam session is the only time that they get to play in public. I salute these people and really respect them for having the courage to essentially learn and grow in public. It’s not something I was/am willing to do. I wish there were more jams that catered to these people. I think it would be a really positive and nurturing environment.

I’m a category kind of guy, and I’ve broken it down into the different archetypes of jam-goers that I’ve seen in the past:

Some folks go for the hang. It’s a social gathering. They are cool with waiting around until the early morning hours to play a tune that they wouldn’t ever choose if given the option. They’ll shell out some hefty cash for beer or other beverages, and it’s a nice night for them to be out. They get on stage slightly buzzed, or completely blitzed, do their thing and go back to the hang.

Others go to jam sessions to stretch their playing ability with the mentality of, “I’ve been working on this for the past week, so I’m going to force-feed it to everyone on stage… Context be damned!” Sax players are the most egregious offenders of this. It usually starts out something like this: “Hey, let’s play a blues. People’s key of F, let’s go. 1… 2… 1, 2, 3, 4.” Maybe we get lucky and they play a head, maybe we bypass that formality and it’s right into soloing. At a jam session, somehow, a sax solo is like a wolf howl that draws other wolves to it. There is a wounded, nearly dead, or dead animal (the tune) and pretty soon the wolves (sax players) are circling. What started out as 2 horns on stage quickly turns into 5 or 6. Then a wolf in sheep’s clothing shows up (sax player who has managed to get a flute). Each one takes a turn at ravaging the carcass in their own special way. It is only by the grace of God that we get out of this situation in some kind of timely manner. Once they finish soloing/blowing individually, we think it’s time for the head out… no. It’s time to trade with the drummer who has been patiently keeping time for the last thirty minutes. I feel bad for the drummers in moments like these. They just had to keep time through the musical equivalent of listening to 6 different versions of some radical talk show host. If it were me, I’d respond with something like, “Look, I’ve been here for the last thirty minutes. You said a lot. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’ve got nothing to say, nor do I care to hold any kind of conversation with you. Can we please just wrap this up?”

Others musicians will go to a jam just long enough to make it known that they are “in the scene.” These players have usually just moved to town, and they use the jam as a network tool. I can respect this. Once others know that this particular person is the new cat on the block, they stop going to the jam. These players are the perfect example of “use the system, or the system uses you.” Every once and a while, gigs get slow, so it’s back to the jam to reaffirm that you are still in town. Sometimes players will go on tour. This is the local scene equivalent of falling into a black hole. They suddenly vanish. They come back from the road and use the jam to get the word out that they are back in town and ready to resume their local gigs. Often times, there is some overlap between this category and the first: those that attend the jam for social reasons.

Some folks go with the thought that they are going to try to impress whomever is in charge. They are going to play something that they *think* the Boss Man would like to hear. Boss Man has the power to get them gigs if they play what they *think* he wants to hear. They will compromise all artistic integrity, lay down, and spread their musical butt cheeks in hopes that they may some day be able to grace the stage under their own name. However, they know that even if they get to do their own gig, there will be strings attached. You see, Boss Man has been Boss Man for a very long time. He has friends, and he needs to make sure his friends are taken care of. His friends, while not your enemies, are not your first choice for friends, but to get the gig, you’ve got to make nice. “Here’s the deal, Sport. I’m going to put you in the game tomorrow. I know, I know…Thank me later. We’re going to name the team after you for this game. I know you’re a pitcher and that’s your comfort zone, but, you see, we’ve already got a pitcher. I know he’s not the best, but he’ll likely kill us all if I pull him. If you want to play, the only spot I’ve got right now is right field… and you have to wear a tutu. We need to get butts in seats. It’s not really about the game at all. Butts + seats = payday. Naturally, I’ll take a small fee for taking the gamble on putting you in right field. If things go well, we might be able to drop the tutu. But hey, it’s your team. It’ll be fun.” In your heart, you know it’s going to take a lot of hours in the tutu to be able to finally pitch.

In none of these instances does the music come first. It’s always just sort of there. For some people it works, but for me, it doesn’t set right. To each their own.

I’m not sure where March went. That month was a total blur. Fortunately, the “blur” is a result of a very busy schedule, not the other life distractions that musicians often get into. South by Southwest came and went, as did thousands of musicians and music industry people. I know that some local inhabitants think that SXSW is the opening of the seventh seal and the sign of the end of days, but I enjoy all of the festivities. I like being swamped with gigs. I like that the traffic is so bad that I have to ride the bus with my gear. For three days, I enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’d enjoy it if it were this way all year long. In the shows that I performed in this year, I noticed a very common trend: There was very little mingling going on among musicians in different groups. Heck, when bands were done, they bolted from the venue as fast as they could. I thought this was weird.

Since starting my project with Anna Mitchell, my views on the “hang time” associated with gigs had changed considerably. I was once eager to be the first one packed up after a gig, but now I find myself wanting to stick around and chat… with anyone and everyone. I’m realizing that this music industry has very little to do with playing music. If you CAN play, that’s great. However, the game is definitely to know as many people as possible from varied walks of life. It doesn’t matter how good of an instrumentalist you are if nobody knows that you exist. It also doesn’t matter how good of a musician you are if you’re a jerk, or can’t have a conversation about anything other than music.

Auto-tune. Like money, this is one of the world’s great evils. The main issue I have with it, is not the fact that many of today’s singers completely rely on it, or rather, do not know it is applied in post-production and they think they really sound “that good.” The issue that I have is that it totally and completely de-humanizes the voice. The human voice is the oldest and arguably the most powerful instrument there is. Using excessive auto-tuning in the studio takes the last bit of “person” out of the music. Much of today’s commercial music is made in a computer or somehow sequenced. Since you can sample and then trigger anything with anything, many of the pop musicians today never play to live studio tracks. The voice is the one element that could add a bit of “realness” or humanity to something that is totally canned and “perfect.” If you want to know what a perfectly in-tune vocal sound is, listen to anything that Allison Krauss sings.

I also think it’s unfair to listeners or aspiring singers who cannot hear this kind of vocal processing happening. They will never be able to sound like the singers they wish to emulate. It’s one thing to deliberately use auto-tune as a vocal effect as is sometimes heard (Remember “Do You Believe in Life After Love” by Cher?), but I’m inclined to believe that in most other instances, it’s meant to be masked or at least not obvious. I understand that there are instances in the studio when a slight digital pitch nudge saves more time (and thus money) rather than another take, but to slather auto-tune on a song like a five year old puts syrup on pancakes is pretty bad. I’m always amazed at Tom Waits’ ability to sing in tune. You may love or hate his voice, but it’s very pure in its own sense. He may be singing through a paper bag dipped in gas through an overdriven harmonica microphone– and he still nails each and every pitch.

It’s easy to be critical. It’s easy to be critical of others, and it’s easy to be critical of ourselves. As a musician, it’s especially easy to be critical. As a musician, it’s especially easy to be critical of other musicians. I was going to write a post about how after many listenings, I am disappointed with the latest Iron and Wine album titled “Kiss Each Other Clean.” I was going to go on about how the songs themselves are fantastic, but the attention deficit disorder production of them totally obscures their beauty. Texture changes and orchestration change seemingly every eight measures and I feel like I need some adderall just to be able to focus on what the song is actually about. I was going to write about that, until my ideas spun in another direction.

So much of the artistic experience comes down to what we as an audience “bring to the table.” We can appreciate art (more specifically music) on many different levels, and it really all comes down to the individual experience. We can hypothesize until the end of days about “intent,” or “honesty,” or how “this” or “that” are crucial to “fully appreciate” something, but at the end of the day, it’s all very personal and very individual. For example, I don’t think it’s possible for two people to have the same experience with a certain song. They can articulate why they may appreciate it, and they may use the same terms, but the experience itself is still very individual. On the other end of the spectrum, two people can have vastly different reasons for appreciating the same thing. Person A may be a musician or scholar and know exactly how and why the music works. Person B may have no idea into the theory or history of the music, and they like it solely for the way the sound hits their ears. Same music. Different positive experiences.

What about negative experiences? It’s not hard to condemn what we think is bad art or music. It is hard to try and find a reason to appreciate something when our natural inclination is to dislike it. When I was in Maine back in November, we went to a restaurant after a gig. We passed a band setting up, and when we sat down, someone said, “Man, I bet anything that this group is a jamband.” They had drums, percussion, keys, guitar and bass. Within four beats, it was confirmed that this group was infact going for the “jamband” sound: A kind of Latin-esque one measure vamp with static harmony, exclusive use of the dorian or mixolydian mode for a melody, and the songs have sections that are autonomous to themselves with little to do with the initial theme. This is a good or not so good thing depending on your preferences. At this moment, it would be easy to talk down about a band like this. As “trained” musicians, we heard numerous “offenses” that we would never have the audacity to publicly commit. We’ve all seen this situation play out in many different ways. If it wasn’t the Jamband from New England, it’s the female singer/songwriter playing before your set at a club, with her out of tune guitar, out of tune vocals, and a sense of time that makes us wonder if she’s been practicing on the moon. We’ve all been privy to these situations.

What we easily overlook is that these people are putting themselves out there. That takes guts. To perform for an audience takes guts. Period. You can be the best or… not the best, but to play your own material for the public takes courage, and that’s respectable. No, the music may not be something I would actively seek out in the future, but that’s just because of my own personal experience. I CAN appreciate that these people are trying to follow their hearts, and that they are having fun. There are times when I’d rather watch a “bad” band having fun and enjoying themselves than a “great” band simply going through the motions. If music or art brings people together for a common goal, I think it’s serving a very important purpose and the level of skill doesn’t really matter. If the Bar Band brings out 30 friends to have a good time playing classic rock and drinking cheap beer, and everyone is enjoying themselves, then everyone wins. It’s not about being educated at all. I think all musicians could benefit from more open-mindedness to the musical world around us. We can acknowledge that something may not be our cup of tea without the need to berate it or put ourselves above it.

I was working on a song last week which was tentatively going to be titled “Politicians.” It had a pretty great Randy Newman-esque thing going on with the lyrics, and some quality sarcasm about how I believe our elected officials are incapable of actually accomplishing anything by working together… and then the events in Tuscon, AZ happened. Eerily, a similar thing happened a few years ago. I had just finished a song called “Time for a Flood,” which dealt with the fact that this world was due for a “reset” because things were getting out of hand, and then Katrina hit. Every generation has their own horrific event in which they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when something awful happens and takes over every news/media outlet. There is always something or someone that comes along to fill a niche of sorts.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone that is offering a thought process like John Lennon or Bob Marley did. It’s as if once these two figures left the world, their respective niches were filled in with concrete and forgotten about. They weren’t the only musicians offering peace as an alternative, but they definitely had the biggest voices when it came to being listened to and heard. When is somebody with huge appeal going to stand up for what is truly right? I think what we as a country need is somebody to say, “Okay, let all of these other people believe what they want to believe. Let them tear each other down, let them point fingers, let them call each other names. WE can rise above it by not engaging in it. WE can appreciate each other because WE are all human and WE have to work together.” We need somebody other than a politician to say this, because politicians have their own niches to fill as well.

This is something that goes beyond religion. I don’t think it matters what set of beliefs you ascribe to, any higher power worth worshiping is not going to cast you down for advocating and practicing peace and understanding.

“What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” – Nick Lowe

A very happy new year to all! I’m still a in a bit of a daze after driving back to Austin from Michigan. That trip is a long haul. I’m taking it easy until Monday and then I’ll get back into my usual practice/writing routine. I had a great time up in Michigan for the holidays. It’s always fun to see family and catch up with friends from my CMU days. I think the high point was playing a gig with Anna Mae Mitchell the Monday after Christmas. It was such a positive experience. Many members of my family were in attendance as well as friends and some folks that I’ve never met before, but hope to see again. It was really wonderful to be able to show the family “what I do” because they know I’m a musician, but most never have seen me perform. One of the difficulties of being a working musician is explaining to people why you would choose a career path that offers zero security. There isn’t an easy answer to that question other than, “I believe so strongly in this, that to do something else would cause me to live an a state of inauthenticity.”

I’m not a fan of using absolutes such as “never.” “Never” do this, or “never” do that always seems to highlight more exceptions to the rule rather than enforce the point you’re trying to make. It’s like saying, “never end a musical phrase on the root.” There are countless instances where “never” or “always” add more confusion rather than clarity to a concept. However, I think it’s safe to assume that when on stage and playing a gig, one should “never” ask the audience, “How does it sound out there?” or, “Can you hear everything alright?”

Most casual listeners do not know the sound/mix that the band is striving for. Think of most of the music we hear today. It’s usually in some sort of lossy MP3 format through a set of in-ear headphones that only reproduce a very limited sonic frequency. If someone routinely listens to music through a laptop, there’s no way they are going to hear anything below 150HZ, which means that they aren’t even able to get most, if not all, of the bass frequencies. Asking, “How does it sound out there” to an audience who doesn’t know the particular band’s sound is only going to open a large can of worms.

Asking this question turns the common listener into a specialist without any qualification. They are not dumb by any means, but most don’t truly know how a band is supposed to sound. There are even some musicians that have no idea how a band is supposed to sound. Putting the question out there will likely guarantee some kind of awkwardness. I was playing a gig, the question was asked, and all of a sudden a woman from the back of the room yells, “Turn the bass down! It’s too loud!” That’s a good way to have a good vibe in a room killed really quickly. Asking this question sometimes even brings people onto the stage to adjust your gear while you’re playing, and that is never… ever, a good thing to do.

I’ve found the best way to remedy any sound issues when the band has to set the levels is to have someone you know and trust in the audience. This person is a friend, has been to numerous shows, and also knows the sound that the band is striving for because in reality, the sound we hear as a band typically isn’t the same sound that the audience is hearing. This person can come up to the stage to discreetly tell the band about any modifications that may be needed.

Another question that should be avoided is something along the lines of, “How did you like that song?” This is not a good question no matter how good the song may be. This sort of questioning turns a normal gig of original material into a “yell out requests” night. This gets particularly hard if you’ve already played a tune that somebody has requested, they were there for it, and they just didn’t bother to listen to it the first time.

Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s best to refrain from asking the audience any questions at all. You can still engage a crowd without soliciting anything more than applause. If you really want to know how they feel, you can hand out a survey for them to complete and mail back to you after the gig.

Maine Tour
I’m sitting on an airplane which is flying back to Austin at the moment. What a whirlwind it has been for the past 11 days.  I just finished what I consider to be a very successful tour with singer/guitarist Anna Mae Mitchell. We played a mix of clubs, schools and produced a few of our own shows as well. I learned SO much while planning, performing and traveling. My personal motto going into this adventure was: “If we don’t loose, we win.” Basically, this means that if we don’t loose a ton of money, and we can get some seats filled, our new business venture is a success. We definitely couldn’t have done it without the help from Anna’s husband, Ben. He was our “yes man” from day one and a real whiz when it comes to logistics.

It’s a long haul to get from Austin to Bangor. I flew into Boston, and from there we drove another solid 4 hours north into Maine. Thankfully, Continental Airlines has a very nice instrument policy, and I was able to carry my NS Bass with me on the plane. I am happy to report that my bass did not sustain any injuries while traveling.

The whole idea to tour the east coast came about in July 2010 and it took four months of solid work to bring everything together. This consisted of nearly daily emails to each other as well as businesses, venues, musicians, etc. etc. Having just arrived back into town last night, I’m sort of wandering around my condo in a kind of “what now?” daze. We’ve been talking about a big outing through the midwest for the Fall of 2011. In no particular order, here are a few of the things I learned putting this whole thing together:

A. A good attitude goes a long way.
B. “Please,” “Thank you,” and a handshake can work small miracles.
C. Go with the flow.
D. Surround yourself with others who can go with the flow.
E. Smile
F. Inquiring as to how somebody else is doing makes them highly likely to want to help you.
G. If you are going to hire professionals, go out of your way to treat them like professionals.
H. Great musicians are cool. Cool people are cool. Great musicians that are cool people are the best of both worlds.
I. Set realistic goals. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate these goals.
J. I am a big fan of sending out “Thank You” cards to anybody that has helped us in any capacity.
K. Do everything in your power to get the word out about your shows. This eliminates any “what-if” questions when you play to a small audience.
L. If you are charging an admission to a show, you owe it to everyone in that room to put on the best performance that you can. I feel this is even more important if the audience is small.
M. Answer all media questions very clearly. If people are paying to see a show, they generally want to know what they are in for.
N. There are some people that you will never be able to please, and this is okay. Do your best.
O. Ignoring hecklers is probably the best defense and the most professional way to go.
P. Always be professional.
Q. Continue to always be professional.
R. Sometimes the stars just don’t line up. Sometimes everything lines up.
S. Do everything within your power to make life easy for others.

I was extremely fortunate to meet some great people while up in the Northeast. One particular person that I had the pleasure of meeting was Bob. Bob came to our theater show on Saturday night and sat by himself in the very front row just off to my left. When we came on stage, I thought for a brief moment that James Lipton was in attendance because in the dark, Bob has similar facial features. From the downbeat of our set, Bob was on our team. He would crack a smile, nod his head, and tap his feet or fingers on his knee. To me, this is what writing and performing music is all about. It’s about connecting with other people. It’s about sharing stories and putting yourself out there, not so that I can be judged, so that I can find common ground with a perfect stranger. If I can get one person in the audience to be on “my side,” I’ll play for them the entire night. There was one song in particular that we played, and I could see Bob wiping tears out of his eyes at the end of it. That is what music is about. Right there.

After the concert, we would go meet and greet with the audience and I noticed that Bob was still sitting in his seat long after most of the crowd had started filing out. After a while, he stood up and came back to Anna and me. Bob had a great handshake, and gave a very heartfelt “Thank you.” He had heard us on the radio, lived two hours north of Bangor, and drove down through the snow alone because his wife wasn’t feeling well and stayed home. He was/is a very gracious man, and it made me feel extremely fortunate to be able to share that moment.

We’re almost half of the way through November. I’ve been gearing up for the venture to the great (and cold) northeast part of the country. A week from today I’ll be in Maine shedding about 25 new songs with Anna Mae Mitchell to prepare for our duo and full band shows. Putting these gigs together has been a great learning experience. The plans for the shows began last July, and I’m amazed at the huge number of details we’ve had to work with, and how relatively smooth everything has gone thus far. At times, I’ve been getting very overwhelmed and almost debilitatingly stressed about elements that are not at all in my control (like making sure I can gate-check my bass instead of having to have it checked with all of the other baggage, and letting whatever Neanderthal is on duty throw it into the bottom of a plane). The “What-If” questions keep entering my mind, but at the end of the day, I truly think that we are doing everything that we can do to make these shows successful. I can see why many artists want to instantly throw money at a management team. Playing the gig is only about 5% of what actually goes into planning and preparing for the gig.

Musically, I’m also a bit on edge. I’ll be exclusively playing my new NS electric-upright bass, singing, and I’ve been teaching myself harmonica since September. The NS bass has a learning curve that I’m still figuring out. It’s a beautiful instrument, but there are almost too many options with it. Anna will be handling the majority of the vocals but I’ll sing lead on a few as well as quite a bit of harmony. The harmonica is a beast unto itself. Trying to play it while playing a bass line is far for challenging than I initially thought. I don’t want or need to sound like Howard Levy, but I certainly do need to sound more proficient than Bob Dylan :)

All of these concerns aside, I’m very excited because once the first notes get played, all of the worries melt away. I don’t mean to boast, but I’m very proud of the material we’re going to be performing, Anna is one of the most consistent musicians I know, and the band can deliver the goods in their sleep.

“Ideally, the point of music is community, not the player. Musicians are simply channels to link the audience to the music and to each other.” – Trey Anastaio.

Knowing many words and phrases does not make you a poet.
It just means you know many words and phrases. I was having a conversation last week with some fellow musicians and we were all making our very subjective opinions known. As the conversation went on, a particular musician was referenced. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While this musician does not “do it” for me, we all agreed that this musician clearly has chops and facility on the instrument. This musician knows the melodies to countless jazz tunes in any key, and can (and sometimes does) solo for days. As I stated: Knowing many words and phrases does not make you a poet. Connecting with others through written and aural word makes you a poet. Has there ever been a poem that “reads” better when you silently read it to yourself opposed to reading it out loud? I would argue not.

In my very subjective opinion, part of being a musician means that a “musician” should and does play appropriately for the band, venue, and most of all, for the music. Being a “technician” is not the same as being a “musician.” I absolutely cannot stand it when somebody thinks chops and facility are more important than the music. Context is important, and good musicians know how to play within a context. I call musicians because I want them to do “their thing,” but at the same time they always make “their thing” subordinate to the musical context first and foremost. If we’re having a very quiet, pretty and introverted musical conversation, nobody is going to start playing “musical expletives” over and over from out of nowhere. Being a musician requires more than chops, facility, or technical ability. Being a musician requires communication skills and an openness to the musical world around you. When you get on a stage and start pushing your individual agenda, rather than building upon what you already have to work with, you might as well be a politician. Knowing every jazz tune does not make you a musician. It means you know every jazz tune. I’m glad you know countless songs, now go practice your communication skills and learn to play nicely with others :)

It’s a pretty mellow Monday in Austin. I get a bit of a breather. Fortunately, September has been a very busy month. There are many different projects in various stages. I purchased some CDs for the first time in a long, long time. It had to be done. I was able to get my arco chops back in working order this past weekend when a last-minute call came from the group Austin Piazzolla. It’s a quintet that plays almost exclusively the music of (surprise!) Astor Piazzolla mixed in with a few originals in that same style. It’s a great group made of great people.

I’ve also been busy making, editing, and re-editing a bunch of charts for groups that I play in. There is definitely an art to using notation software. Some people make fantastic charts, and some people make charts that make the music harder than it actually is. A few things that work really well for me, in no particular order, except for #1:
1. Make the music on the page easy to read. If somebody were to look at the sheet music for the first time, could they understand how the tune is supposed to go?
2. If you want an intro, an outro, a tag, a coda, a false ending, or the entire band to yell something disgraceful, make sure to include that in the chart. Be a champion and take the 10 extra minutes to notate these things.
3. Don’t mix accidentals and enharmonics. If we’re in the key of A, there should not be any Gb-7 chords functioning as a vi chord. F#-7 good. Gb#-7 bad. If a given chord is C#7, don’t notate it as being Db,F,Ab,Cb. Toward this end, use sharps for ascending lines and flats for descending lines.
4. Use phrase structure as a way to organize the page. Most songs have 4 or 8 measure phrases. It’s really awesome to look at a piece of music that has a visual representation of the phrase structure. If you write using 4 measure phrases, don’t have 3 measure in one system, 6 measures in the next, etc. Nobody likes to play out of those Broadway song books for this reason. If you’re a vocalist, ditch those books and make usable charts. This is why everyone groans when a vocalist wants to sing at a jam session. It’s not because you’re a vocalist, it’s because 9/10 times vocalists bring terrible charts (if any at all). For those that think about your fellow instrumentalists, thank you. Straighten those other vocalists out and tell them to stop giving you a bad name.
4. If your song requires more than 3 pages of music per instrument, you’ve broken Rule #1. If you insist on having charts that are more than 3 pages of music, you can redeem yourself by having logical page turns, and a roadmap that doesn’t require going back 2 pages and then quickly flipping 3 pages to get to the coda. Be a champion, use some common sense, and be kind to the folks who are kind enough to play your music in the first place. You know what else is cool? Tape. Tape your stupid-long charts together BEFORE giving them out to other musicians.
5. Simplify.
6. Proofread. Better yet, print out the music and play through it. Errors often present themselves when you are looking at an actual page of music and not a computer screen.

Friday the 13th.
My jazz chops, or what I think are my jazz chops have been taking a pretty big hit lately. I have not been the diligent practicing bass player I once was. I came to the realization that I am not going to be *the* next best thing to hit the bass playing scene, and that is fine with me. Practicing was starting to feel like a chore. Not only that, but it was starting to get very intimidating. There is SO much to learn. It would take many lifetimes of dedicated study, and that’s just in the jazz category. The same can be said about classical bass playing.

My goal is to be a total musician, and for most of the summer, I’ve been following my muse pretty exclusively. I busy myself each day with music, but each day brings something new. Sometimes I practice bass. Sometimes practice jazz, sometimes classical. Sometimes I just play long tones. Sometimes, I strum a guitar for hours on end and repeat a phrase that resonates with me. I bought a harmonica, and trying to play in a capacity that is better than Bob Dylan and strum a guitar has kept me pretty busy.

I’ve really been getting back into songwriting this summer. I’ve been writing new songs and refining old ones. If I were to make a contribution to the world of music, I think this is the place where it will happen. This may be because songwriting/composition is the one part of my musical being that hasn’t gone through any sort of academic training. I write how I want to write. I believe in it, and it is something that I try to keep just for myself. I can spend hours scrutinizing a single line, or verse, or phrase. Writing lyrics is a skill unto itself, and I have incredible respect for any wordsmith out there. I’ve found that I am very fond of alliteration.

There are times when the music just pours out and I can’t even get it written down or recorded fast enough. There are also times when it feels like I am trying to squeeze water out of a rock. It’s different every time. Some songs write themselves in five minutes. Sometimes I have one idea that gets tossed around for months before coming up with something that will fit with it. Sometimes lyrics or a single line jumps out, as if from a place that I’ve always known, but I just happened to get a different glimpse of it on a particular day. Sometimes I have music, but no ideas for lyrics at all, so I’ll just write bogus scratch lyrics that have some syllable sounds I want to use.

The interesting thing that I have found, is that no matter what I’m working on, it all compliments itself. If I haven’t really sat down to practice for a few days, I get the motivation back from having done something else, and when I pick up the bass, it’s because I really want to play it, not out of this dread that if I don’t play every day my chops are going to disappear from the face of the earth. I find that playing chords on fixed pitch instruments really helps my intonation on bass as well. It’s all good.

Music is great. It’s amazing that if you’re open to it, it all compliments itself.

Sound and space. After exclusively playing electric bass for two weeks on the road, I was really surprised at how long it took me to reacquaint myself with the sound and space that the upright bass occupies in a band.

To my ears, and the way I “feel” it, the electric bass has a very precise and direct sound. I play it with a very light touch and let the amp do the vast majority of the work getting my sound out into a room. This being the case, I have quite a bit of headroom to work with. That dynamic headroom allows me to put my Phil Lesh hat on and own the mix with some huge low bomb notes if needed. As much as I enjoy the bass stylings of Mr. Lesh, my main objective when playing the electric bass is to lock it down with the kick drum and do my best to achieve that fat composite sound that a tight kick and bass can get. I’m not a fan of having a big/boomy sound. I much more prefer to have a nice clean and defined sound, and then be able to make the walls vibrate as an effect rather than having that be normal operating procedure. The less notes I have to play, the better. I love to hear the space between notes in a groove, and deciding how long a certain note should be. The kick drum doesn’t have any sustain, so sometimes it’s hip to cut off the notes pretty immediately, and sometimes it’s more appropriate to let them ring. It depends on the tune. Ideally, in most rock situations, it is the kick drum that is moving the air, and I am “adding a pitch” to it with the bass guitar.

The upright bass is a completely different beast. It has a character and fills a space unto itself. It has a more robust sound, and is more diffused. If the bass guitar is like a laser, the upright is a very dense fog. I absolutely hate having a boomy sounding amplified upright bass. There’s definitely a law of diminishing return when amplifying an upright, and I’ve certainly spent countless hours working to find my amplified tone and sound. To retain that “uprighty-ness” the bass can’t be bumping. I mean, it can, but that’s not how I like to sound if I can help it. The defining characteristic of the upright’s sound is in the midrange, not the lows. This is why (in my experience) my favorite jazz recordings sound terrible in the car. The crossover in most car speaker systems accommodates the highs and lows of a mix, but that key midrange where the upright bass resides is absent. There is that inherent “Smiley Face of Doom” EQ present with the speaker configuration. How well can you ever hear an upright bass on a recording the car? I love to hear that snappy string noise on recordings as a low E rattles against the fingerboard. I like to that sharp attack on a walking bass line. I like that the upright sort of “vanishes” when a band really gets cookin’ in a live setting. It’s still there, but the drums and soloist overtake the mix. It makes for a great dynamic contrast when it’s time for a bass solo. The upright fills the low end for most jazz gigs rather than the kick drum. As such, I don’t think it needs to actually have tons of low end in the signal. To my ears, too much low end makes the instrument sound fake or artificial. I keep my amp completely flat when amplifying my upright. The key to a good amplified tone, is a good acoustic tone. My personal preference for my sound is to have an earthy, warm, singing, vocal like tone/sound. What does that even mean? Singing and vocal-like probably aren’t the first two adjectives that come to mind when somebody thinks of a double bass. I like to be able use vibrato and sustain notes. I would like for an audience to know that I’m actually playing pitches not just “bmph bmph bmph.” I like to be able to play soft with the same ease that I play loud. That’s just the way I hear it. It’s been my experience that I can only have my amplified volume up “so far” before my sound starts to go away and low end saturation on the stage physically makes it difficult to play the instrument. It’s like you have to wrestle out each note from the bass because the low end is clashing with the note that came previously.

All of this said, I finally started to “hear” the upright again this past weekend and the space that it occupies. I went from playing a bass guitar, which has a very direct and directional sound, to the upright which has a much more diffused and organic sound… to my ears. It’s a skill unto itself to learn how to listen to yourself in a band setting. We need to be able to hone our ears to hear our own instruments. It’s a tough thing to do, especially since the sonic frequencies overlap so much with guitar, piano and tenor sax.

I’ve slowly been getting back to “reality.” I returned to Austin a few days ago after a two week tour with singer/guitarist/songwriter, Brandon McHose. Touring life is about the furthest thing from reality I can think of. Life exists in a vacuum. Time melts away at an alarming speed. It’s 8pm before you’ve really done anything on a particular day, and there is a lot of playing the “hurry up and wait” game. While on the road, I wrote down any thoughts that presented themselves in one or two sentences, and I’m trying slowly but surely to compile them into a large entry for the site. The tour itself far exceeded any expectations that I had before going into it. Brandon is a true professional and a great band leader. The band itself was really happening, and I also found a new appreciation for the electric bass. At the end of they day, it doesn’t really matter how many chops you have as a bass player. If you can’t lock it down with a kick drum, nothing else really matters. I loved being able to be a groove machine for two weeks.

I’ve been totally busy, and loving it. There are many different irons in the fire. The Trio gave an increasingly rare performance at the Elephant Room last week, and it’s always such a pleasure to be able to play with Peter and Steve. We had a really nice first set that we just eased into. Nothing is ever rushed with these guys, and the music really comes first. Anna was in town and sat in on the second set with us. She always amazes me with her musicianship, which goes far beyond just being a singer. A large part of last week was spent really refining some original songs that Anna and I recorded at George’s studio on May 22. We’ll be going back to record more this summer and likely the fall as well. The one thing we do not want to do is be rushed. I want to make sure we have absolutely what we want before we make any plans for a release, so I anticipate this to be a slow and steady, but ultimately very rewarding project.

I’ve been out of school for almost one year. I think I’ve finally gotten over the system shock of this. The “real world” was a bit of a slap in the face at first; one of the good kind of slaps to the face, though. The kind of slap that lets you know that there isn’t very much time to waste and you need to get your act together. In my short time in this “real world,” I’ve stumbled upon a few truths, or at the very least things/ideas/concepts that occur pretty consistently enough to bet in favor of them. Being out of school does not mean I’m any less busy, or that life is easier. While in school I told friends/family that things will mellow out once I’m out. I made a lair out of myself. Time goes by even faster. I’m pretty certain that the time spent on earth speeds up in a relative proportion your current age. By the time I’m 50, time will pass twice as fast as it does for me right now even though there are still 24 hours in a day. I haven’t figured the math out, but I’m pretty certain that’s how it goes. Life can be as hard as you want it to be. Business, politics, and friendship favorites are never going to be avoided. Somebody will always get something over you/me because they had an in, and you/me both had the requisite skills to do the same job. That’s human nature. We all do this, and most of the time by necessity. While it’s easy to get frustrated at being passed over, there will be opportunities that I get where somebody else will miss the boat. Time and place are very important. Delivering the goods at the right time and in the right place is extremely important. Being a good person, sociable, professional, and dependable have gotten me farther than my playing ability. Sometimes, there isn’t really an explanation… or at least an explanation somebody is willing to give you to your face. This has to just be accepted and then move on. If time is spent asking “what if,” time is not being spent on being proactive. My self-worth cannot not be equated with how many gigs I have in a particular month. The best I can do needs to be good enough for me. That is a good reason to practice every day. If I’m better today than I was yesterday, that is musical success. There are no free rides. Money is the root of all evil. Listening to a lot of different music is good. Listening solely to jazz is not so good. Making time to experience life outside of music is a must. In the great scheme of things, nobody really cares if I can play 1,000 ideas over a ii-V-I progression. Sometimes you need to just play. If people are listening only to hear my mistakes, they likely have more issues than I do. Every now and again, it’s okay to be too loud. Nobody consistently has great days without an off-day or two at their job. Find people and musicians who love you, love them back, and then slap them in the face when they need it. They should do the same in return.

Sitting in. I was on a gig recently at the local jazz club with a very fun and talented group of individuals (Alex, Rich, Bruce, Masumi) and I was a little shocked by the lack of taste one of the musicians that was sitting in with us had. I thought (until recently) that the rules of “sitting in” on a gig were pretty easily understood by all in the jazz scene. Not true. It’s apparently very easy to forget that Thursday at this club is not the same as Monday at the same club. In my own perfect world, these would be the rules I would abide by, and I would hope others would show the same professional kindness.
1. This is my golden rule. Don’t ask to sit in. Don’t do it. You can think it, you can wonder, but don’t ask. This puts the band/band leader in a very awkward situation. If the band/leader wants you to sit in, they’ll ask you. It’s really that easy… and please, pretty please, don’t show up to somebody else’s gig, pull your horn out, and sit off to the side of the stage with it. Again, it presents an unwanted situation. If you can’t go to the club to enjoy someone else’s music without playing yourself, maybe you need to find a new place to hang.
2. If you do get invited, or muscle your way onto the stage, don’t stay all night. One tune. That’s all you get, unless after that one tune, the leader asks what else you’d like to play. Then you get to stay for another. Don’t wear out your welcome. If the band/leader really wanted to hear you all night, they would have called you for the gig in the first place and not the current _______(insert other wankable instrument here) player.
3. If you are invited up to the stage to play, at least have an idea of a tune you’d like to play. This would likely be a jazz standard. Perhaps a blues? Rhythm changes? A Cole Porter tune? You know, something that swings and has a good melody. It’s not a good idea to call a ballad immediately after the band has already played a ballad. Calling obscure tunes that Miles/Wayne/Joe Henderson wrote in the mid 1960’s doesn’t really do it for me either. I love me some “Nefertiti” or “Stuff,” but they’re not the best tunes to spring on an unsuspecting rhythm section.
4. If the band is doing original material that has never been played before, chances are, they’ve worked on it ahead of time and don’t need you sightread it or add your own solo to it.
5. Sitting in requires no other obligations from you other than playing your instrument and not ruining the vibe of the band who has the gig. DO NOT mess with the sound, the sound board, mic placement, etc. Sitting in does not turn you into an audio technician.
6. You are a guest musician. You are not a vampire. We should not confuse the two. If you are invited on stage, it is for that immediate period of time and that’s it. Play your tune and get out of the way. You do not get to come and go through the evening as you see fit. “Oh, I know this ballad, I’m going to play two and a half choruses after the third soloist.” Or, “What’s this tune? I sort of know it well enough. I’m going to try out my extended techniques that I only shed on the bandstand in front of this audience.” This is especially important if the band is doing original material. See #4. You don’t need to take a sonic crap on a tune you’ve never heard/seen before, and then insist on spreading your aural feces all over the band and listeners.

I’m a simple man, or at least I try to be. To maintain a level of simpleness to my professional life, I have devised what I refer to as the “Gig Triangle.” As we know from grade school, a triangle has three points. In order for me to say “yes” to a gig, at least one of the points on the triangle has to be met. If two points are met, all the better, and if all three points are met, not only do we get a triangle, but we also get a very happy bassist. This all assumes that I’m getting a call to begin with, and that the particular date and time in question is available. Unlike some working musicians who may prefer to see their triangle as isosceles or even scalene, my triangle is an equilateral. No hypotenuse for this guy. To be perfectly honest, though, my first question if and when I get called is not, “how much?” I’m wondering first and foremost who the drummer is going to be, and if there isn’t a drummer, who is going to be playing the chordal instrument? Thankfully, I get to work with some of the best musicians in town. They make my job easy. It’s not until I have to actually “work” that I realize how thankful I am to have them on gigs. In no particular order, the points are:

1. Is this gig going to be creatively/artistically satisfying? If the answer is “Yes,” it’s a no-brainer. I’ve found that these gigs are more often than not the free gigs. However, I know some very fine musicians that are able to land a good paying gig that is fun to play at the same time. Even if the gig itself only wants background jazz, to be able to play background jazz with good musicians that can still be creative at a low volume is a huge bonus.

2. Does the gig pay well? Reality check. We all have to eat, and we all have bills to pay. If the gig pays well and I get called, I’m doing it. I am constantly amazed at how many people want live music, but at the same time, don’t really want live music. “We want you to go in this corner, play softer than our in-house stereo, don’t call attention to yourself, and we’ll pay you handsomely.” Cool by me. I am a master of interior wallpaper jazz. Sometimes a gig pays well, and it should because it’s grinding work for whatever reason. Maybe the leader is having an off-day? Maybe the drummer secretly resents everyone on stage. This is where bass playing can turn into work, but hey, I’m getting paid to do what I enjoy. Even if it’s work, it’s still valuable playing time that I am fortunate enough to be paid for. Thankfully, many of the “background music” gigs are fun. It’s fun to just play tasty music. Many of the well paid gigs turn into artistically satisfying gigs. Bonus.

3. Does the gig offer good exposure or is it for a good cause? What goes around comes around. This should have been Newton’s First Law. If you want to recieve, you have to give. Musicians in Austin get a lot handed to them. We’re very lucky people. As such, I really try to jump in on any kind of charity gig I can. Many of the best musicians in town feel the same way. What starts as a free gig, turns into an evening of fun with some of the best folks in town.

If not even one of these point are met, it’s either somebody playing a practical joke, or someone from Craigslist has somehow obtained my number and wants me to join their up and coming Texas-Country-Grind-Death-Hard-Funk-Core with progressive rock and jazz leanings band, with major label support, summer and fall tours in the works, they think that I will leave my girlfriend and dog, and be totally 100% committed to their project which will be going straight to the top as soon as they finish writing songs for their first CD which is due out in a month. Kudos to them for recognizing that I am reliable, have good transportation, own my own gear, and don’t have any substance problems. Gig Triangle.

Singers and vocalists do deserve equal pay for gigs/performances. I’ve done what I believe to be a fair amount of gigs with jazz vocalists. They are all different, and they all have a different aesthetic they are going for. I enjoy the jazz singer gigs because I get to perform tunes you normally wouldn’t play on an instrumental gig (like “When the Moon Turns Green”), and some of the more common standards get played in different keys to accommodate the singer’s individual vocal range. Cool and cool. Now, with all due respect, a vocalist/singer is only going to be as good as her backing musicians. What gets to me on these gigs are those slightly jaded musicians that grumble quietly that all the vocalist does is sing. On a typical gig, the format for every song is: The vocalist sings the 32 measure song, solos/band filling time on a four hour gig, the vocalist sings the 32 measure song again, and done. Every now and again there may be an extended piano introduction with a rubato verse before the chorus kicks in. On an 8 minute tune, which is pretty long by restaurant standards, a vocalist is maybe singing for a minute or two of the total time. The band meanwhile plays the entire time, and breaking it down even further, the bassist is playing on every beat of every measure. To stray from the topic, that means I play about 4 quarter notes per measure (not counting any glitz/glam I toss in there). The typical song is 32 measures long, and 32 measures are equal to one chorus. Let’s say it takes 1 minute to get through the chorus and the tune is 8 minutes long, which means we’re going through the chorus 8 times. 4 notes per measure x 32 measures = 128 notes per chorus. 128 notes per chorus x 8 choruses = 1,024 notes per song, and that is not counting the obligatory one chorus bass solo before the vocals return.

To get back on topic, the band is doing the majority of the work on these vocal jazz gigs. Or are they? What backing musicians don’t realize is that any vocalist that wants to have a happy band has to go through the process of making their own charts/arrangements. Many of the vocalists I know aren’t the most musically inclined, they’re just naturally talented, and that’s fine by me. However, as a non-musically literate singer, it has to complicate the process of making charts and trying to explain in non-musical terms how they want an arrangement to go to the rest of the band. They often have to pay a pianist or other instrumentalist to make charts for them to use on gigs, or to translate what they say in prose to make it useful to other musicians who have never played a specific tune before. Not only that, but the singer is the one pounding the pavement for gigs. It’s very hard work just trying to get work. As a sideman, I am thankful there are jazz vocalists that call me, because they are the ones handling all of the logistics. They get to fight with the management to get us more money, to get us 3 breaks and to get free food for all of us. I just have to show up, play about 1,024 notes per song, and get paid. The vocalist is the one that has to get all “dolled up” for a gig and be the personable member of the band for the audience. I can show up wearing black and I really don’t have to say a word to anybody if I don’t want to. It is also the vocalist that makes it sound like the band is the “best” band that the world will ever hear. I take quite a bit of pleasure in hearing one of the many complimentary adjectives come before my name when it is announced to the crowd who will no doubt immediately forget it as soon as they hear it. However, the audience always remembers the singer’s name, and if the singer continues to call me to play on gigs, it’s a good situation all the way around.

My double bass (aka: upright bass, acoustic bass, standup bass, contrabass, bass fiddle, bull fiddle, gut bucket) is currently undergoing some major repairs, and I’ve been crawling the walls trying to busy myself. Most of my days consist of having a bass in my hands for various stretches of time. The top/front of the bass is too weak to support the many pounds of pressure being forced upon it by the strings when they are at their proper playing tension. This is a result of the bass being made of different pieces/cuts of wood and each piece is affected differently by the weather. For the past 7 years, my bass has lived pretty harmoniously in a nice climate controlled university building. Once it came home to the condo, it’s been one thing after another. The weather in Texas has been particularly wild since May 2009. One day, it’s totally dry and sunny, then it rains for three days in a row, then it gets cold so the heat comes on, but it’s Texas, so the heat doesn’t stay on very long and it gets hot again, so the AC comes on. No wonder this huge, hollow, wooden instrument is having some issues.

I had the pleasure of getting to perform last night with Anna Mae who is in town from Maine. We first met and played together while we were both at Central Michigan University, and it’s been a really nice treat to be able to perform with her again. It’s the most fun I’ve had on a gig in a while, and I am lucky enough to play some pretty fun gigs. This gig is different, though. I realize that I am most happy when I have a project/group that I can really call “my own.” Musically, I love it all, but there’s something about playing really good songs really well that totally gets me going. It’s not about being hip or seeing how far you can stretch, it’s about serving a song that can lyrically and musically stand on its own with just a voice and a guitar. The challenge is not getting in the way of the song, but rather, to compliment it. It also doesn’t hurt to have one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard singing songs that I wrote. The lineup was rounded out by some of the best musicians in Austin (Aaron, Graeme, Darrell), and the way everything just fit together so easily is a sign for me that this needs to continue. I just need to pull a page out of Tom Petty’s playbook and convince them to quit school or their jobs in favor the band.

Part of being a musician is paying your dues. I realize this, but I wonder how some guys get gigs to begin with. Not only this, but how do these people manage to convince other musicians to play with them? The answer: Money. Everyone has to eat and pay the bills. I don’t profess to be a jazz bassist. I am a bassist that plays jazz. I cannot afford to be solely a jazz bassist, and it’s not something that I strive to be. There are some guys that can, and my hat goes off to them. Part of being a working jazz bassist is knowing a lot of tunes, being able to transpose on the fly, and being musically supportive. There are very few gigs that I have to do a rehearsal for. The gig is the rehearsal (or baptism by fire). I’ve had the opportunities to work with some great band leaders and some pretty out of control ones as well. The good leaders all have something in common: They are good guys to begin with. They are sociable, personable, knowledgeable, articulate, talented, and they know how to perform appropriately for the gig. There is a different approach to a club date, a restaurant gig, and a theater performance. A good leader wants a happy band, and knows, “If the band ain’t happen’, he ain’t happenin’.”
A good leader is not out to musically crucify the rest of the band. Music is a team sport, and there is no individual winner in a band. One guy really knowing a tune while the rest of the band struggles does not equal a good performance. The best leaders I have worked for understand that performance is a group effort and they want everyone to be comfortable on stage. If somebody doesn’t know a tune, they will either explain it quickly, or we just won’t do it.
Indication a gig could be headed south:
1. After a tune ends, the leader approaches the mic and states, “We’re now going to play _____,” but doesn’t realize that it’s an obscure tune that only he knows and he doesn’t have a chart for it.
2. “Do you know ____ tune? No? That’s okay, just follow me…. but I do my own version of the Joe Henderson chord changes.”
3. “Just try to keep up and follow me.” As a bassist, this usually means struggling through the first chorus while the leader, who often isn’t a chordal instrument, plays the melody. Unless it’s a bebop melody, most tunes do not have melodies that clearly outline the harmony. Harmony can be deduced based on common practice, but there’s no way to truly know unless the piano player knows the tune and is feeling kind to the bassist.
4. “You’ll hear it.” Again, the leader is likely a horn player or vocalist that typically will blanket through the chord changes instead of playing something to clearly outline the given harmony.
5. “Well… it’s complicated.” This is my favorite. Roughly translated, this means, “I don’t actually know the chords or what is going on. I’m just doing what I do, and it works. I can’t explain it to you, so I’m going to make you feel dumb.”
Thank goodness the folks in Austin are good people.

I was in a recording session with Bruce, Peter and Steve yesterday playing some very challenging music that Bruce had composed. In sessions/situations like this, I feel very fortunate and humble at the same time. I am very fortunate to be invited to be able to play with musicians that are as incredibly talented as these three guys are.
I really enjoy getting to play Bruce’s music. The approach to it is radically different from how I normally get to approach music, and it does not contain melodies or harmonies that would come naturally to me if I were writing. In performance, practice, composition/construction it reminds me of Hindemith. This music is hard! It’s also very intelligent. On the first reading, none of it makes much sense to me. I find myself thinking, “Who writes like this… and why? It’s hard for the sake of being hard, and that’s it.” I learned a while ago to curb these kinds of immediate judgements. It takes time to get inside of this music. I have to really think about how to connect the dots as a functional bassist. Soloing through this music requires other demanding skills. “Here’s a complex new language, write me some poetry.”
The more we rehearsed the music, and the more we played it, the more I was able to get beyond the mechanics of it and really start to hear it. Once I’m able to get comfortable with the execution, the music morphs from being hard to being fun. Imagine that! It’s very complex, and I would think most listeners would need more than one hearing to truly hear it and appreciate it. I believe it’s definitely the kind of music that requires active listening.
I think Bruce’s music has a very modern sound to it. Think of those old Brit Lit days in school and having to read Chaucer. It sounds very dated in its Old English (maybe it’s Middle English). Now, think about reading a book with English as a root language, but the syntax, slang, and expressions are brand new, and unlike Tolkien, there isn’t an appendix. I mean this in a totally positive way, too. I’m merely trying to illustrate my own struggles. I would love to get behind this material in a concert setting.

This is the first entry for 2010. December was a pretty mellow month with the exception of the immense amount of driving I did over the holidays. January has been fairly mind-melting thus far. There are some great things going on that I’m very excited for. I am doing a recording session coming up on 1/10 with Bruce Saunders, Peter Stoltzman, and Steve Schwelling. We’re going to record mostly Bruce’s material, which is very enjoyable and very modern. I’m also playing with the Austin Symphony on 1/15-16 in an all Samuel Barber program. That music has been kicking me around quite a bit. The classical mindset is vastly different from jazz. The difference between the two something worth devoting more thought to in another post at a later time. I’m then touring some high schools the following week with the ASO and then playing with NY guitarist Steve Blum when he comes to town on 1/21-23. On 1/29 I will be playing with David Stevens and then I’ve been asked to perform with bassist/composer P. Kellach Waddle on 1/31 as part of his concert series.

The best single piece advice I have received regarding practice was from my first teacher, mentor, and friend, Ed Fedewa. “Practice slowly. If you can’t play something slowly, you can’t play it fast.” The second great words of wisdom were, “Slow bow.”

(Cynicism Alert) This is dedicated to the lost art of comping behind a bass solo. Notice the adjective in that last sentence before “bass solo” is “behind.” Where is the comping? It is behind the bass solo. You could also say the comping is “under” the bass solo. The comping could also be “for” the bass solo.
Let us examine this further. There are many gifted and talented rhythm section players (guitar, piano, drums). In their pursuit of individual domination on their instrument, they forget that they will often have to play in a group context. They occasionally forget that they will not be the featured soloist or sideman at all times during a gig. In the process of learning every substitution under the sun, and how to make chords built on minor seconds sound musical, they forget how to be supportive of other musicians in the band. Sure, for the sax solo, they catch the cross rhythms, and they have some nice interaction with the drummer. They may even toss in a few chord substitutions that go with the solo. Very cool, indeed. Then it’s their turn to shine. They start off their solo, and slowly build it to the next level, and then the next level after that. A piano player may toss in some very thick shout chorus-esque voicings to bring his solo to a close. A guitar player will peak out the solo, peak it again, and then when you expect he will wind it down, he fakes the audience, the band, and maybe even himself out as he did not adequately send off his solo. He is then forced to take one final chorus which pales in comparison to the previous 20. Now, clearly, this is the final guitar chorus. What happens next?
Situation #1: The band resolves to the top of the form, the bass drops out in preparation for the bass solo, and nobody really plays anything at all. Sure, the drummer may splash a bit of cymbal, and there is some light chording (if any at all), but nobody really knows what is going on. What has changed? What nobody realizes, is that while they were burning on their solo, the bass stayed at home, guarded the fort, was laying it down, and was playing in a supportive manner. In this instance, the first chorus is spent by the bass player not really soloing or creating, but trying to get the train back on the tracks.
Situation #2: The bass solo begins without incident. The volume drops, and the bass has the floor. Now, this is where it gets into personal preference. I (the bassist) have spent the last however many minutes doing my best to make you (the soloist, usually guitar or piano) sound like a bad M.F. on your instrument. You and the drummer have had your rhythmic love affair, yet after the first phrase of the bass solo, you have forgotten that you are supposed to be comping for the bass solo and you both get back into it while paying very little attention to the soloist. All of a sudden I am held at musical gunpoint. All trajectory I was trying to establish is gone, and I’m forced to go along for your musical journey. Bass solo devolves into “rhythm section breakdown before the final head.” OR…
Situation 3: The bass solo begins without incident. The volume drops, and the bass has the floor. Although, this time the comping instrument listens too intently. The concept of being supportive turns into “throw every idea the bassist plays back at him.” If I start a cross rhythm, you play it back. If I hang on a motive, you play it back. Seriously?  I believe many comping instruments think this is cool, and that because they can hear what I play, and play it back, we are having a dialogue. Hey! Want to play Shadow? I want you to know, that when you cross rhythms and motives in your solo, I make a very conscious decision NOT to go there. Cross rhythms only sound cool when they are played against the original meter. It’s only now due to the softness of the music that your ears are open enough to hear somebody other than yourself.   This goes on for one, maybe two choruses until the bass player ends his solo in disgust at becoming the guitar player’s personal chew toy. OR…
Situation 4: The bass solo begins without incident. The volume drops, and the bass has the floor. This is where the comping instrument now decides it’s time to try out all of their most angular and disjunct rhythms as well as the nastiest chord voicings they can conjure up. They play nothing but alterations and upper extensions. Here’s a hint: If you play a D major triad over C7, it sounds hip. If you voice D major over my C7 during a solo, it sounds like I’m playing a whole step lower than a should be. Thanks for that. At this point, any cadences are completely up for grabs. You had better have a very clean soul, because I’m going to wish you to Hell many, many times.
How do we avoid these possible situations?
*Play in time. Pretend you like to play chords. Bill Evans is possibly my favorite pianist because his comping for his bassists is so supportive, yet unobtrusive. He often just lays down a simple voicing on the downbeat. You may also want to check out Pat Metheny or John Scofield.
*Play something useful. Just lay it down. Be supportive and musical. Give me a V-I every now and again. Maybe even help accentuate the form of the tune. If I start riffing on three notes that are common to 4 chords, play those chords clearly. That sort of thing only works if the underlying harmony is there. If you can’t play anything useful, just don’t play. I’d rather go unaccompanied.
*Stay out of the way. My highest usable note is roughly the D above middle C on a piano. Think about it. When I solo, I do NOT want to have a conversation with you. You have spent the last 15 minutes musically monologuing to me. It is now time for you to shut up and be tasty for about 64 measures. That is all.
*Don’t even think about playing a walking bass line under a bass solo. Don’t play anything resembling a bass groove. I don’t care what the instrumentation is. Don’t do it. Period. I will silently hate you with a smile on my face.
Keeping these little guides in mind will greatly help everyone’s musical experience. :) I don’t want to sound completely bitter, so I should add that I personally don’t have to encounter these situations very much. I am very appreciative of that.

I am very thankful today. Thankful for my family and friends. Thankful for my health. Thankful that I am able to make a living and pay my bills by playing music. No matter what life may put in front of me, there’s always something to be thankful for.

“Let my inspiration flow…” – Robert Hunter. It’s one of my favorite invocations to a muse or higher power.