In the past couple of weeks, I found myself in situations where I didn't know what the hell was going on, I was way over my head, and/or I didn't give a tinker's damn.
1. Jam session: A younger musician, though by no means a kid, plays the "Dilla Beat" behind his jazz singing wife. At least I knew what he was playing, having recently checked out the roots of this beat in Detroit Hip Hop of late last century, this jazz musician was intrigued, but not overwhelmed. Take a listen.
2. Piano workshop with young kids. The teacher asked ahead of time if I knew some current tunes. She named the titles. I hadn't a clue. I did some research and all went well. But, I had never heard of some of these tunes. A clear case of not knowing you don't know.
3. Our classic rock rehearsal band starts playing "metal". The guitarist hands me double bass drum pedals. Ooooooooboy. What the heck are these things for? It gets better. He books us at an outdoor street festival in June.
What to do?
Strategy one: Don't give a hoot. Complain loudly that that isn't music and take a seat at the table of cranky old farts.
Strategy two: Dilla, I'm not sure where I stand here. I'm checking it out. It sounds cool, but I've got to admit it isn't singing my song. Current pop tunes, I'll ask my students their favs. Maybe we can dedicate the month of June to Pop music of their choice. Double bass pedals? I found a drummer who will teach and coach me to be ready for the June festival. Rock on baby!
Most of us need a reason to practice: David Story, musician
· Self-respect: we are musicians, musicians practice, it's what we do. Feeling unmotivated? Join a new band, find a practice partner, volunteer at the local school to help the jazz band, or even better offer to start and run one as a volunteer. I know about this, I did it for over 20 years at Westdale high school in Hamilton, Ontario
· Identity: Keith Richards said in an interview years ago, something to this effect. "A guy may not have gigged in years, but every Saturday afternoon he feels like packing up his gear and putting it in the car".
· Self-esteem: Like fitness, starting can be hard, but afterwards bliss.
Check out James Clear's short essay on deliberate practice. Short cut to practice joy and mindfulness at the instrument.
It's going to happen. "The old grey mare ain't what she used to be". The only way to escape this inevitability is to check out early. Not my plan.
Lars Ulrich of Metallica fame has a personal trainer on site in the office. The band tours in 2 week bursts having giving up the 1.5 year tours. Booze way down. Sensible eating. Boundaries around his work ethic. Goal: avoid burnout and last another decade or more on the heavy metal merry go round.
Terry Clark of Boss Brass fame rebuild his technique to survive as a player in his 70's. So far, so good. Time is spent playing, teaching, and walking the dog.
As always, we need to pace ourselves, sleep enough, fuel up with healthy choices, and manage stress with down time and exercise. The smart folks get professional input before undertaking any radical change. You don't want to drop dead in the gym.
For me it happened in my late forties. I was tired and didn't give a fuck anymore. Thirty-two years of playing, booking, recording, and producing on demand: Weddings, corporate, studio, civic, theatre, clubs, you name it this guy has done it. From Billionaires to Paupers with all stops in between. One day I said, "I'm done". But, I'm still a musician. Now what?
I found answers, your answers will be different.
If you have been at it for decades, there sensible solutions to your problems too.
Transforming oneself from "Professional musician" to "Musical artist" in one's fifties is an interesting proposition. The cynic in me interprets that as playing for free music that nobody likes. The romantic in me says, "go for it". The realist in me just wants to have some fun and make beautiful music with skilled musicians and visionaries. Music we create ourselves.
Artist: Someone who makes stuff, creative stuff like musical compositions, poems, paintings, installations, movies etc. that help people make sense of their world.
Entertainer: Someone who makes life easier for others to bear through performing on stage, internet, T.V, movies, apps, blogs etc.
Professional musician: Someone who interprets the work an entertainer or artist. Artists and Entertainers put the "stuff" in front of the musician. The vision belongs to them. We are paid to play it.
Skill, experience, training, ambition, and hustle is required for all the above. But both artists and entertainers need vision. Musician not so much.
A Plan for Transformation
"‘Beauty is our weapon against nature; by it we make objects, giving them limit, symmetry, proportion. Beauty halts and freezes the melting flux of nature." Camille Paglia
Here is a heroic vision, a romantic vision, and really outdated vision in the age of identity politics, polarized populations, war and terrorism. My two cents.
Song: Girl from Ipanema
Drummer: Yours truly
Attitude: Improving with each chorus
Ages of musicians: I calculate roughly 25 to 65, a forty year spread
Why still jam?
David Story: Professional pianist, drummer, composer, and educator. Well into his 5th enthusiastic musical decade, David works with adults pursuing musical dreams in the autumn of life, while he maintains an active presence in the Toronto arts scene.