Fronting The Metaphorical Band

Dec 15, 2020

I moved to New York with the idea of becoming a jazz musician. Instead, I wound up playing all different kinds of music for a while, and that included a stint with a young singer-songwriter about to make his first record with a small indie label in Hoboken. He came to rehearsal with the news that things were moving forward, and explained that he'd be signing as a solo artist, "because I can." He was really talented and a smart, sensitive guy, and at twenty-three I was still legally commitment-phobic anyway, so as long as I got to play on the record and do the gigs, it was cool with me, and he could have his solo identity, with bells on.

Besides, scratch the surface of any supposed band and you'll find someone, or maybe a pair of someones, really running the show, based on who's writing the songs, singing them, or both. For much of my career, I've been a sideman, and I'm good at it. I dig the focus on craftsmanship, the satisfaction of excelling at something specialized, and the liberty to take my trade elsewhere if things get stale. When I started writing music for picture – a catchall term for scoring advertising, television and film – it felt strangely familiar. A film composer is essentially a sideman; picture is the diva. Use your skills to make the diva look good, without drawing undue attention to yourself, and you've grasped the gig. The rest, to quote Rabbi Hillel, is commentary.

But for all that, I'm kind of a lousy collaborator. When I have a creative idea of my own, I just want a lot of space and quiet to do what I do. Co-writing songs? Forget it. And do not get between me and the cast iron pan when I'm making grilled cheese sandwiches – there is a right way and a wrong way for that to come out, and life's too short to compromise when the perfect tuna melt is at stake. There's an art to getting the best from other people, and I'm pretty sure it involves a delicate balance of clarity, self-awareness and tolerance for blowback. These are not my forte, but I reckon they're worth working on if you want to put things of your own into the world, not just help other people do so. Especially if you reach the point where you can no longer do so with just your own two hands, or hope to.

But the biggest challenge in fronting the metaphorical band is that if people don't like the songs – they're your songs. I had a hundred people sign up for last Saturday's Improvisation workshop. The response to the material itself was really positive, with lots of enthusiastic comments afterwards, including from one attendee who wrote, "In thirty-five years of playing, I’ve never thought to break the blues down the way you have here." Sweet! And then...there was the one person who wasn't happy with the class, and wrote to tell me so. I made an executive decision not to take it personally, but I wrote back and thanked him for dropping me a line, and asked him for details, because if I could communicate my ideas better next time, I want to know about it.

That does leave the other 99%, who seemed to really dig it. If you missed Improvisation: How To Create Great Solos From Scratch and would like to sign up for access to the replay, I'm making that available from now through Thursday. Just go to the link below for all the workshop details and to register for three months' access to the entire two-hour video of everything we covered last Saturday. You'll get the complete lesson tabs and scale diagram downloads, and the slides from my opening presentation on form, phrasing and the development of the twelve-bar blues progression in blues, swing and jazz:

Improvisation: How To Create Great Solos From Scratch