Storms apparently kept a lot of people away. A shame. The monthly gathering at the New Covenant Methodist Church on Bellerive happened anyway, a St. Patrick’s Day session complete with a pot of corned beef, and the limited audience enjoyed an evening of good music delivered by people who were having an enormous amount of fun.
More fun than I’m used to having inside a church.
I’ve been attending these now for almost five years. Maybe longer, someone would have to check. When I began, these open mic sessions offered nearly 80% karaoke, of variable quality. Rich and Annette (Annette more forcefully—though Annette’s “forceful” comes across with the glee of a 12-year-old wanting to share a puppy) had been on me to come play. I didn’t play at first. When I did…
Let me explain something about my music. Way back in the distant past, in a galaxy far, far away, I had aspirations to be a rock star. Never happened, and in hindsight it never was going to happen. As hard as I worked for those years, I really didn’t have the full range of dedication it would have taken. I wanted to get up on stage (or better yet in a studio) and rock out, mainly on my music, music I wrote.
And it frankly wasn’t very good. Like my fiction, it required time to ferment, to acquire some growth, some maturity, some…worth. And playing other peoples’ music was just a stop along the way.
So I quit. Didn’t touch a keyboard for, oh, almost 15 years. I bought a guitar, learned enough to play along at parties, and then started writing a few songs (not very good ones) and Donna bought me a better guitar, and so it went, and there were even a few gigs, but…
After Clarion (1988) I came home, started writing stories that actually sold, and about a year later we found a piano that I thought would be perfect. A Yamaha Clavinova. It has a lot of bells-n-whistles, but mainly it has the touch of a real piano and two piano samples that are superb. So, we bought it and I started noodling again.
Fifteen years is a long time to not play an instrument, and I had forgotten nearly everything. But I didn’t buy it to restart a career that was never going to happen, I bought to for stress release. (And in that cause, this machine has taken a beating. I still have it, it still functions well, and I assure you I have pounded on it. I’ve had it repaired once in 23 years. That’s pretty reliable.) So while I occasionally pull out some sheet music and painfully struggle through material I once knew by heart, for the most part I just jam.
I’ve developed a free-form style built around a handful of basic motifs that can be mixed and matched into a variety of presentations that allow me to fly. Just the sheer joy of playing is what I want and I don’t care about the tune. What I play sounds like something, has a familiarity to certain things, and people listen and apparently enjoy it while thinking “I just can’t quite place that…” It’s pyrotechnic, utterly improvised, and I do it because it makes me feel good.
Well…when I started playing at this little coffeehouse, it apparently made others feel good, too.
Gradually, the musicians have taken over from the karaoke. There are now some fine players doing their bits. There’s a floutist of considerable talent, two drummers (one of whom is phenomenal), a couple of good guitarists, plenty of singers (not me) and occasionally a violinist, a conga player, and once we had a first-rate saxophonist, and a trumpet player.
Then there’s me.
Charitably, I think I just shock people. They don’t know what to make of me, but either they’re too polite or too stunned to not like it.
Occasionally, I even play well.
Last night we hit some grooves. Some? All night the playing was excellent, by everyone.
I brought a composed piece. I wrote it down because the changes and the overall direction was more complex, more disciplined than what I normally do. I arrived early with the intent of (hopefully) working it out with a couple of the others and at least including drums and maybe a guitar solo. We ended up rehearsing—
Yes, well—don’t scoff, I liked the Monkees, and I was saddened by Davy Jones’ passing. For the ending sing-along, we did five Monkee’s tunes.
Rehearsing those took all the time we had, so I didn’t get to work on mine with anyone. I mentioned it to Bob, the drummer. I asked him to sit in on the free-form I intended to do in the second half, just a basic 4/4 rock beat over which I could waffle.
When I began playing my prepared piece, all of sudden I had a rhythm section. Bob and the conga player, Robert, just joined in, laid down a solid beat, and to my deep pleasure I didn’t stumble, and it was…
It was like flying.
A word about Bob. He’s a musician’s musician. Keyboard, guitar, vocals, and drums, he plays it all, and he plays it with a natural grace I envy. But as a drummer he is surpassing good. He found my groove, figured out how to nail it, and played as if we’d rehearsed it a dozen times. I felt my face stretching into a grin halfway through.
I haven’t had quite that much fun playing in a long time. Last year we did something fairly complex with a spoken-word piece I wrote (which is posted on this blog, the Jazz posts) that came together surprisingly well. But I expected that, we had rehearsed. This time it was spontaneous and it just rocked! They made me sound pretty good, I think.
The rest of the evening was as good or better, and the Monkees’ jam was just fine, even if Rich’s voice was a touch raw and he couldn’t quite make those Davy Jones high notes.
And a lot of people missed it.
I am so glad to have music in my life and so fortunate to know first-rate players. Thank you all.