Monday, September 20, 2021

Notes on the first playing gig in some time

I had my first actual jazz club gig since COVID the other night, thought I'd share some playing notes about it. This is the type of thing we talk about here. 

The rhythm section was excellent, the pianist was Jasnam Daya Singh, who played on my last two records, and co-wrote the material on one. The bassist, who I had never met, was great. The leader, a guitarist, played too quietly, with a rather airy style, which makes my job extra hard— mainly, there's nothing to support, there's no lead voice to partner with. The contract falls apart and what you play becomes kind of meaningless. He also gave some funny guidance, which undermines your decisions taking the band from section to section. For example after the head I'll do a big set up for the piano or guitar solo, and he points to the bass for the first solo. There kept being bass solos in weird spots. Or he cuts off the last two bars of my solo before I can set up the head properly. Little weird moves that put everything off kilter. 

I hate complaining about the instrument, but— it was a younger drummer's set that was miked up for a live recording immediately after us. The bass drum was too close, his pedal was cranked way back, and the snare drum was tuned ridiculously high. Usually playing a different drum set is fun, because it changes all your parameters— you do some different things with this different set of sounds. I'm a little bit a slave of the sound of the instrument. I can't just wail in the same way on any old thing. I don't mind suck drums within certain parameters, but I can't do much with a dry super cranked snare drum. It's one-dimensional, and gives an offensive piercing crack when you play a rim shot, which I normally do a lot of. It's like trying to play a jazz gig on a Ping Ride. It doesn't work. Or you make it work, but it's not fun. I never could do anything with that bass drum. Couldn't make a double on it.  

The whole thing was virtually non-technical; none of the denser textural stuff I might normally play was falling right, so I was mainly focused on the cymbal, and doing what I could with single notes on the drums. My soloing was all about rhythm, melody, and sounds, very little technique on display. It's a good kind of playing to be good at— to be able to be exciting while doing that— because then you can play great no matter if you're comfortable or your chops are feeling good or not, or whatever. Your time and rhythm concept have to be good, you have to know the tunes, or at least the standard forms, and have some kind of creative approach to playing the drums melodically and dynamically. And a concept of how to conduct a tune from the drum chair.

So, kind of weird. Not terrible, not fully gelled, either. I like to feel comfortable and in a creative mindset when I'm playing, and the that wasn't really happening. This carping and worrying about the gig is not a fully pro mindset, either, by the way, but that's me. Real old whores play the thing and forget it and never talk about it. 

Oh, yeah, and I played the ride cymbal with the butt of the stick part of the time— using very controlled technique so it wasn't louder than playing it normally. Even at a moderate volume it activates more of the cymbal, generates some intensity. I think I was desperate for something to fill out the sound. I'm pretty sure Elvin is playing the butt on the cymbal on Afro Blue. Even if he isn't, that's the kind of sound you get from it.  

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