Saturday, January 22, 2011

Joey Baron master class, part 1 : Paying Your Rent Is High Art

This is part one of a transcript of a master class Joey Baron gave at the New School in 1994. I originally found this in '98 on the news group, and was just able to dig it up again. I've edited it substantially for clarity- the original transcript is by a student who left in all the 'likes' and 'I means', and fragmented sentences. It's long, and editing it is a giant pain, so here is part one:

It's difficult. Most of my experience is like out in the field... maybe i should give you a little bit of background. I'm 38 years old. I've been playing since i was 9 and travelling, starting on weekends when I was a kid travelling since i was about 10 and a half. So my expertise is kind of like out there in the field, so any questions you have about that kind of stuff- I'll do my best to answer and... to answer your point: it is really hard, to get out of school and out of the academic world. It's a whole other thing, surviving, and paying your rent... if your can pay your rent, that's being a success, forget about Downbeat awards and all that stuff, paying your rent, that's like high art.

It's difficult and everybody has their own way of making things work. I have some really good friends who came into music through a different angle than i did. Most of my experience has been as a player, doing apprenticeships, and as sideman with a lot of different kinds of musicians. I have friends like John Zorn, who's mainly a composer- that's his main thing he's been doing since he was a child. And he had his own way of making music and he just stuck to that and in terms of surviving, he did day jobs, worked at record stores, he helped assist people in the theater, you know, and he kept his overhead low. He didn't live in a big fancy place or anything like that. A lot of people do that, other people do a lot of commercial work, they end up doing club dates or if they're lucky enough to do recording work or jingles. It's as many different people as there are that's as many different stories as there are, as to how people pull it together.

When I first came to New York, I got at the end of the line; and that was after I had been playing, touring around the world, with pretty famous people, and I came here and I was working on Wall street as a file clerk. And there's nothing wrong with that, whatever works for you, that's what's happening; you don't have to feel bad if you're not making your living playing music. I think that's a point in your growth and progress- people think you gotta make your living playing music and they make choices about jobs based on that alone, they forget why they picked up their instruments in the first place. I can't really say which way to go, that's like a personal choice. If you have a vision of your own music, and you're writing it and everything, you just have to think about these issues, and decide for yourself. There's no right way to do it. Tim Berne is alto saxophonist, and he writes his own music, and it's not what they call commercial music. You're not going to hear it on CD 101 or anything like that, but it's really good music. He worked at tower records for years, behind the cash register, and he worked for other record companies, just doing- deliver this, get me that- those kind of jobs, and he learned about some of the business that way and today he's got his own band and he's writing, doing commissions for a lot of different people, he's got a lot of things on the ball. That's how he went at it. For quite a while there nobody knew of him at all, he just steadily worked at his own music, and then to take care of his rent and his expenses he did a day job. That's one way to do it. Anything is possible, you just have to think about what's gonna be right and make sense for you.

When I lived in Los Angeles for about 7 years, I went there to play jazz- I had no idea there was a recording industry in Los Angeles! That's where I ended up playing with a lot of really great people... I wasn't earning a great salary just because there wasn't a salary there to be earned, but as time went on and my name got around [bigger name] people would call me- Lou Rawls was one of them, and I worked with him for a while. He couldn't find a drummer that could play with an orchestra and follow a conductor. And I knew how to do that, so I worked with him for a little bit, and we played Las Vegas and I'll never forget the impression of the musicians, all these guys were sitting there totally bored, all of them had Newsweek and Time on their music folders. They had played the show 5 million times and they knew it in their sleep and that's kind of where they were at, and that made me think about, somewhere along the way those guys made a choice to do something solely for reasons of money, and they kind of forgot what was good about playing music. Again, there were a few people that were really into the job, but for the most part my memory is of people just sitting there like this, you know, i mean that's, like, they're playing music! So, think about that kind of stuff. It's very important to have a focus and always remember why you picked up a microphone to sing, why you picked up a pair of drumsticks; what was that inital feeling? What's the point, you know?

That was a conscious decision and I didn't really abandon you know those straight-ahead things. My history has been a lot of jazz playing, and R & B, and rock and roll was where I started, and so after going through playing with a lot of different people, there's a point at which you start getting calls from everybody and you do their gig and you do their gig and you do somebody else's gig, and at a certain point I wanted something else. I wanted to take what I love about all this music and I apply it in a different context, and that's where it was the conscious decision to decide to lead a band, to associate with people who came from a different point of view, you know, who weren't-- it's like, I was a jazz snob for quite a while! I was one of these guys who- if it wasn't jazz it wasn't music, almost, and I went through- and I think everybody goes through a phase like that. Hopefully we can all get out of it, because there's a lot of music out there that can feed each other. So that's basically what I did. I made a conscious decision to take what I love about jazz and funky groove playing, and apply it somewhere else, and to twist it around a little, adding something personal.

You're talking to a die-hard guy who's in love with New York. I think this is a great center, it's a focal point it might not be there might be that much active work for the creative... for playing. I mean clubs which there are to play creative music there could-- there could always be more here. The thing about New York is it's a community. You got guys like Reggie- could bump into him at any point any time- the other day i bumped into Jimmy Cobb, you know, or Elvin Jones, or... I would say that New York isn't the only place you can learn stuff- it's obvious if you've ever heard any music from other countries, folk music or anything- but the community here is to me what New York is about. You can come here from anywhere in the world and if you're interested in anything you'll find another peson, most likely a group of people, to connect with about that thing, and it's-- not only that, you'll find if you stick to it you'll find a group of people that want and are interested to hear what you're thinking about.


Anonymous said...

hey! thanks for sharing this.. super great! i love what joey is saying here, so thanks so much!

Todd Bishop said...

Yeah! I was thinking about this for years, and was only able to find it again as I was reorienting the blog last year. It's a great piece-- I need to find a contact for the guy who originally made it and thank him.