Blog # 81: Going against what you know
Last night I played up in Harlem at Shrine. It has a mixed reputation amongst musicians, I think mainly because its a 'tips only' gig. Shrine has lots of different styles of music booked in hour slots all night, every day. I actually think this is a great idea because people are exposed to music they wouldn't normally go see. There also seems to be some sort of built in crowd of people that just come hang, enjoy a drink etc. So, I actually enjoy playing there. I usually go in with a band that is unrehearsed(or has never played together) and just try to hit as hard as possible for our hour slot(no need to pace yourself when you know its just an hour). Its a certain music experience and can be a lot of fun. Low(to no) pressure environment.
This gig I went into with a real goal in mind. I wanted to play differently. I know that's kind of vague, but what I mean is that I wanted to do things that I wouldn't normally do. I really wanted to be unpredictable and I wanted to play not like me. The anti-Crowley.
Back up to the week before, I was house-sitting for my parents for 7 days while there were out of town. They have a nice house in the suburbs, and there wasn't much to do but practice and take care of the animals. Just a lot of time to think. I tend to just take a song and practice one all day, trying to come up with different ways to approach it, different soloing ideas. I was working on 'Freight-Trane' one day(a blues for Alice type tune in Ab). I guess I was having an uninspired day and just felt like everything I was playing I'd played before at some point. I don't know about other musicians, but somethings I just don't know what to play. After working on the tune for 4 hours or so I started to really think about my note options. Granted on any given chord you've got 7 diatonic notes, and 5 that are 'outside'. I started really spending time trying to figure out what those 5 notes were and how they related to any given chord. So for a major chord those notes are, b9, minor 3rd, #11, b6, and b7. Each of this pitches has a feel, direction(pull towards a chord tone) etc over that chord. #11 is the most obvious and consonant, b9 has a certain pull towards the root etc. (I wasn't trying to rationalize them as a tritone sub or anything like that, purely as stand-alone pitches).
I've never been a licks/patterns player(something I pride myself on), never got into playing ideas in all 12 keys(or songs for that matter, sorry teachers!!), but there are still approaches that have, things that are in my DNA as to where I like to phrase, where I usually end ideas within a bar etc. And I wanted to go against that. All this was just an attempt to find something different. New. Something I wouldn't normally play. I had a week to think about this gig coming up and was committed to fighting my normal impulses. If I felt like I should play here, stop and play in a different place. If I felt like I should play this phrase, play the opposite. I was committed to change, even if it meant sounding like shit.
Anyway, the gig was fun, short and sweet, and I felt like I accomplished my goal to a degree. Its pretty hard to just change your style in a week or one gig. But I had moments where I felt myself caught up in the music and I pulled myself out, to fight my natural urges/tendencies. It was a good experiment, and I'm going to keep trying it, looking for new approaches, questioning every note or phrase, striving to find something new. That's what its always been about for me since day 1, and that's what its still about. Growth and progress.