Archive for the ‘Bass’ Category

The Bird

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

It’s pretty amazing how time flies.

While it doesn’t quite feel like yesterday, it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been an entire decade since I walked onto the Recital Hall stage at UMM and played what was, up until that point, the best performance of my life.

It was a hell of a night; aside from being the culmination of weeks of practice, my entire immediate family was there to watch the show – including my father. I was also awarded the Keith Carlson Memorial Jazz Award that evening, the award given to the “outstanding jazz musician” at UMM every year – a personal goal since my freshman year.

The bizarre thing about the evening is that, by all expectations and plans, I shouldn’t have even been there.

Let me back up a bit. I had originally come to UMM as a wide eyed freshman with no future plans whatsoever, other than the notion that I wanted to play bass. I registered for an entire semester of classes without really looking into any sort of requirements or planning, unfortunately skipping the fact that there was no bass major offered. After a year of sampling various majors (Psychology, Biology, Computer Science) I settled on Biology. I had gotten a bit of a late start, so I knew by the end of my freshman year that I would wind up having to stay an extra semester.

The years passed, and as I half-assed my way through my Biology courses, I worked very hard at my music courses. I had decided to at least get a minor in Music, so I enjoyed the ridiculous challenge of taking Organic Chemistry and Music History during the same semester. When I started my senior year, I auditioned for and got accepted into Jazz I, the bass spot of which I had eyed with fascination and envy for three years. Considering I couldn’t read music when I started school three years previously, I was pretty proud of myself. As the year progressed, I learned that the band would be headed off to tour Europe in the summer of 2000, a semester after my planned graduation in the fall of ’99. I felt bad about not being able to go, but decided I could live with it. As the tour plans were starting to take form, it became apparent that I was going to be missing out on a tremendous experience. After a period of very intense soul searching, and getting some of the greatest advice I’ve ever received in my life from music director*, I made the decision to stick around another semester and head out on tour in the summer. This decision wound up being what I consider my point of divergence.**

The spring semester was something truly special; having finished all of my Biology coursework, I focused on music courses.*** I practiced up to eight hours a day during this time, and it was wonderful. I also met a whole bunch of people who would become lifelong friends (and a spouse!) and generally had an all around ridiculously good time.

It’s the tradition in UMM Jazz for graduating seniors to have a feature piece, and since in theory this was going to be my last concert with the group, Doc (the music director) picked out a number of different tunes to try out for a bass solo piece, settling on “Gunslinging Bird” by Charles Mingus. Bass solos are, by nature, odd ducks. Because of the frequencies involved, it’s difficult to hear bass solos over the full band, and so the common practice is to have the whole band drop out, with the drums providing minimal, quiet support. I’ve never liked this, because it kills the energy level of the song. After several attempts at making something work, we finally decided on putting a solo cadenza at the end of the piece, with a goal of “about two minutes”. I worked up a solid ending to cue the band back in, and we would rehearse just that. As the weeks of rehearsal went on, and I kept working at new and exciting things to incorporate into my cadenza, Doc kept increasing the time: “Trav will do about three or four minutes of stuff”, “then we’ll have five minutes of bass”, finally ending with, the last week before the show: “and then we’ll have about eight minutes of solo”.

One does not simply walk into Mordor come up with 8 solid minutes of bass solo on the fly. I spent a lot of time and many late nights working up a very solid plan for the solo. I actually created an outline, a system that I still use to this day for writing bass pieces as well as other original music. By the date of the first performance, I had worked up eight solid minutes of music, with about four minutes of that pre-scripted, and the rest open sections where I had a rough idea what I would do, but open to interpretation.

The Friday dress rehearsal before the first show was the first time I played the whole solo in front of the rest of the band; I left out some of the key parts, and clocked in at around six minutes. Opening night, I hit seven. Feeling pretty giddy about winning the jazz award, I pulled out all the stops for the Saturday night show, hitting 9 minutes. Pretty ridiculous, but amazingly fun.

Looking back, a decade later, I have to laugh. There’s a lot of wrong notes, I “fret out” quite a bit, my tone is awful, and I go completely off the rails towards the end. Still, it is a fantastic snapshot of who I was and still am as a bassist, and I have yet to top the showmanship of the last ten seconds of that solo in my career.

And so, after all that, I present my bass solo from Charles Mingus’ “Gunslinging Bird”, as performed by UMM Jazz Ensemble 1, Saturday, March 4th, 2000. Listed underneath the video, you’ll see a list of song quotes to listen for.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvUQlH4GXZ4[/youtube]

:19 Malaguena – Stan Kenton
:30 Trombone melody from the beginning of Gunslinging Bird
1:01 – Toccata in D Minor – Bach
1:30 – Chromatic Fantasy – Bach
2:36 – Ornithology – Charie Parker
4:28 – Cruisin for a Bluesin’ – Maynard Ferguson
5:07 – Moanin’ – Charles Mingus
6:25 – Zelda Overworld Theme

* “You’ve gotta do whatcha gotta do, man!”
** This is worthy of a whole separate post, but had I not stayed that additional semester (which turned into another year) I wouldn’t have met my wife.
*** A quick look at my transcript shows that I had an internship; at this point I had a vague notion of going into animal behavior for post-grad (LOL), so I spent a few nights a week at the Humane Society playing with kittens. I’m not making that up. I also took a course called “Fitness for Life”, which met for FIFTEEN MINUTES once a week, at 8am Friday mornings. I went to three classes, missed all the exams and the final, and managed to earn no credit for what was considered the easiest course on campus.

In which I write about music and probably come off as an egotistical ass.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

There have been two things, recently, that have gotten me to take a good, hard look at my musical life thus far. First off is an article from allaboutjazz.com called “Careers In Jazz”, which while meant to be humorous and tongue in cheek, is all too painfully real. The second oddly enough, is the movie “The Rocker”.*

I’ve written before, in length, about how the music industry has changed over the years, and in particular how my theoretical day dreams about “making it big” have changed with it. To sum up, when I first started playing the idea was to get signed by a big label, get the videos on MTV, sell millions of albums, and play large stadiums.** As I matured (well, kind of), this changed into being respected and admired for my technical abilities. As it stands now, I would be thrilled to make a living off of playing good, honest music.***

Anyway, on to the main point of this whole introspective rant. I’m a pretty decent bassist. I have a lot of areas that need work, and I’m certainly no virtuoso, but I’m pretty proud of my abilities. I spent thousands of hours practicing over the years, and I do think it was time well spent. I think my reasons, at the time, were misguided; I had the notion that being a technical wizard would be a cool thing. Ultimately, though, it’s kind of a redundant idea, because for the most part the only audience for that style of music is students of that style of music. I switched gears, especially after I stopped teaching, and focused more on music that was simply enjoyable. It’s an odd concept, but didn’t actually listen to a whole lot of music from 2001-2006. Or rather, I didn’t listen to a lot of NEW music. I spent a lot of time in those years not really enjoying music, and I think a lot of that had to do with teaching, but that’s a whole different story.

Ok, now actually on to the main point of this. The article I linked a few paragraphs ago lists off some jazz musician archetypes, and while meant in jest, they are for the most spot on. And really, you could come up with similar stereotypes for different genres (or even different styles of art). As I send off dozens of resumes every week for a “day job”, in the end I really just want to be a full time musician, but I realize that while it’s an achievable goal, it’s a tough, tough gig. I know quite a few full time musicians, and all of them juggle three or four bands, a teaching gig, and usually a part time job. This is where the problem lies: I’m stuck in the odd position where I’d rather work a full time day job that I am interested in but don’t love, in order to really enjoy the time I spend making music, than work twice as much to make music a full time occupation.****

And now for “The Rocker” part. Watching that made me realize, yet again, that I have a very strong desire to be part of a band that is on the road playing in front of actual people. People who are actually interested in the band that is playing. It’s an odd concept.

So…. long story short: a lot of jazz is self-serving, and I want to be on the road opening for Clutch.

* I realized a very odd thing about this film today; while the key reason the band gets popular can only exist in the current time frame (widespread viewing of a youtube video), the original reason for the band calling on the keyboardist’s uncle to play drums (they need a drummer for the prom) can only exist in the ’80’s and decades past. This is because bands (especially bands who have never played a show before) don’t play at the prom anymore.

** And following the outline neatly laid out by “Behind The Music”, eventually have a nightmare descent into (variable), followed by a triumphant return.

*** Let’s be honest, at this point I’d take pretty much any steady paying gig I could find. There’s no such thing as selling out in the music business.

**** I’m still hoping for the third option, in which I get payed a lot of money just for being awesome. See, that’s the egotistical ass part. Sorry.

Weekend Update: Can’t Get These Freaking Songs Out Of My Head Edition

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

A big full weekend is wrapping up, and as I’m lethargically getting back to speed after a nap, I figured I’d jot down as much as I could remember before setting off to finish up some weekend activities.

This weekend was closing weekend for Sweeney Todd. We also had my wife’s family coming down to visit Friday afternoon, so it was a busy week getting things in order in the house for visitors.* As we were eating dinner, we received a surprise e-mail from my brother-in-law: they were arriving late Thursday night. Luckily, we had finished up the majority of what we needed done, so I headed off to the show. The performance was a bit ragged, as Thursday shows generally are. For whatever odd reason, I developed a bizarre buzzing in my sound which we attempted to track down before the show started with little success. Thinking it was something involving the power supply to my pedal board, I ran straight into the amp, having to rely on old school volume control and no tuner throughout the show. I headed home after the show, and hung out with my wife until her family arrived, and we talked for a bit and all went off to bed.

Friday morning started bright and early, and we got to work on one of the main weekend activities, plumbing and drywall in the laundry room. We had decided to move our washer and dryer three feet to the left in the laundry room, which required moving a variety of faucets and outlets. After some configuring, we took down some drywall, shut off the water, and got to work. Well, that is to say my father-in-law got to work, and I watched and ran for tools. I headed off for a hair cut in the afternoon, and when I returned, they were still hard at work soldering pipes. I needed to head in to the show early to try and fix my sound issues, so after a quick “shower”** I headed to the pit to try and sort out my sound issue. We tried damn near everything, and still couldn’t track it down. It was better than the previous night, but still not totally fixed. After the show, I chatted with some of the pit for a while and then headed home for drinks with the family.

Saturday morning it was drywall time, and I helped my father in law cut and fit drywall to the wall and did some taping and mudding. Soon enough, they were off to a Twins game, and I was off to the closing night of Sweeney. It was a bittersweet night, as it’s nice to have my weekends free again, but it really was a tremendous show and fun to work with so many talented musicians.*** I think it was one of the best shows of the production, and the mood was jovial throughout the entire evening. We were treated to a candy filled High School Musical pinata from the cast, and several of the pit made snacks for us to enjoy during intermission. After tearing down and loading out my gear in record time, I enjoyed a beer and listened to one of the bands they had brought in for the after show party.**** I headed out with some of the pit to Perkins after the show, where we enjoyed pie and chatted about geeky music things. It was awesome.

Sunday morning came EARLY, and I was up at the crack of eight for church with my in-laws, followed by breakfast at the always amazing Jensen’s Cafe. After breakfast, the family headed back home, and my wife and I went out and about to get some coffee, a piece of artwork, and a new grill.

After a nap, I believe now I will drink beer and put a grill together. If I get really crazy, I MAY JUST PLAY SOME VIDEO GAMES.

* Mopping, vacuuming, getting rid of all the empty whiskey and absinthe bottles.
** The water to the house was shut off all day, so I washed my face and brushed my teeth using my water bottle and put on more deodorant. Still, cleaner than most musicians.
*** B33n3r and Rygar, feel free to ask me about this in person.
**** The Penguins, a freakishly talented young band.