Day 333, February 11, 2021

 You and the Night and the Music

Tonight's soundtrack: The Chick Corea Akoustic Band, Jazz San Javier, 2018

There are times when one is playing music in a band that you can sense the shifts and changes intuitively. It is not really communication, at least in the traditional sense of the word. Sometimes there is standard communication, a little shout over the drum kit, or a glance catching the eye of the bass player, a little nod of the head. But other times, it can be something that is so entirely caught up in the act of creation that one might mistakenly assume that it was entirely by chance. 

The Warblers at The Paradise.

Even for the musicians, it is hard to tell what led into a crescendo, or how three or four different people followed one another into an improvised interlude. It is just one of those joyful moments that make musicians smile with a childlike glee... though I suppose sometimes it is hidden under the guise of professionalism or looking cool... but those are the moments when it feels like one could inhabit that space for all time.

Sometimes, it happens when you are all alone. My practice routine, when I'm able to exercise in that way, is to alternate between learning something new, practicing old and new songs, and improvising. I will switch up the order of things, but I try to cover all three, and hopefully snippets of what I am trying to learn and something of the songs I've been playing, find their way into the improvisation. I will play, sometimes with the aid of a looper pedal, and when I come across something that feels special, I will pull out my phone and make a voice memo. Sometimes it is only a few seconds long, but most are around one minute. They are just long enough so that I can go back and recover the moment of inspiration and turn it into something else. I think there are several hours of snippets now saved on my phone. They are like little vignettes waiting to be attached to something more substantive. But, when you are playing by yourself, that is how you celebrate those moments of inspired playing when something special happened. Perhaps, with my next vacation, I'll sift through these snippets and try to shape them into songs.

I have been lucky to play with a bunch of different really fantastic musicians and songwriters. Within our little valley and the surrounding hilltowns, it is something that feels special. I imagine in a big city like New York I would feel intimidated and probably never have a chance to play out. But here, in our little bars and clubs (back when we could), a small handful of cheering people can feel as exciting as playing at The Paradise in Boston... well, almost.

The other day, someone asked me if I had found my people. My initial reaction was that I hadn't. I'm not really sure what that might feel like and how I might know. I think about my brother who, in college, rediscovered his Korean identity. He has carried that into adulthood with his pan-Asian cadre of friends... I suppose that is one of the advantages of living in San Francisco and New York. I always enjoy hanging out with him and his friends, even if I feel a little out of place. 

There was one time when I followed my brother and his friends across the city seeking out the best hamburger in New York. We were a group of 12 Asian Americans that poured into the small bar bistros, ordered a burger, fries, and beer. As the evening progressed we became louder and started dividing up burgers to share. It was amazing being a part of a group that walked into a bar in New York, in America, and felt like we belonged there. We acted like we owned the joint. It is something I see often in other groups of people who come into a bar, the way they act, how loud they talk, the comfort with which they talk up the bartender or waitresses. I am never part of those groups when I am at home. I am always on the outside looking in. 

The other thing I discovered is that the best burgers are the ones without all the extras that cover up the deficiencies of the burger or bun. All the bacon, blue cheese, fried onions, only distract from the core thing and a good burger is undeniably good, even when it is just by itself between a nice bun. I also learned, one should not eat so many burgers in one evening and if you are going on a burger crawl, you should probably divide up burgers to share at the beginning of the evening and skip the fries.

In one of the bands I used to play in, we would sometimes joke about being guy-guys, because none of us were. We'd pretend to tell ribald jokes and scratch ourselves suggestively. The women in the band would laugh at the ill fitting postures. We were all gentle people in that band, which isn't always a good thing in terms of pushing ambition or gigs or evolution, but it made for pleasant company and some wonderful harmonies. 

In recent years, all the bands I've played in have also doubled as my friend group. We meet and talk about our days, laugh a bit, and then get to dig into music. We are all busy people with children and jobs and the demands of busy lives, so it is hard to find time to gather when it is not music related, but we each prioritize the importance of making music, and that brings us together. Otherwise, we would just be lazy and stay home where it is nice and warm and we can watch rerun episodes of Cheers

I've always enjoyed the idea of being in a band, how a group of people with some longevity can create a body of work, can enjoy a comfort and ease, while also pushing and exploring boundaries. I suppose I always imagined that I would be in one group and that would be a singular focus. But in recent years, I've spread out, playing with as many as 5 different groups at once. Despite being a bit too much at times, it was also wonderful to play with so many different combinations of people because I felt like I played differently with each band. Different collaborators drew different kinds of creativity from my well. I grew and became a better player by playing with different people and trying to learn how to communicate in different contexts. 

So, I suppose, when I say I haven't really found my people, maybe I haven't found my people because I am not looking for one group at all. Maybe, I enjoy dipping my feet into many different pools and I find energy, creativity, and excitement by mixing it up with different people in all aspects of my life. There is, of course, the danger of spreading one's self too thin among too many bands. There is the envy that one has when talking with people who seem to have an inherited sense of a hometown, or inherent sense of belonging. And there is a danger in that it is easy to let go of things that one is not so solely invested in. But, when the balance is right, like when three musicians are in the basement and the lights are turned low and the music is really cooking.... Or, when you are sharing your writing and bouncing ideas back and forth between friends and it feels like something wonderful is growing... those are truly special moments that rekindle faith in humanity, in possibility, in our own limitless capacities.

Take care and be well,

Leo

June Bug looking really cute curled up in my spot after I left for a shower.




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