In my musical travels, I’ve sometimes come across players that have got to a decent level of ability and then for one reason or another have quit practicing their instrument and developing their playing. The list of excuses for not practicing is pretty convincing and usually goes something like:
- I’m just naturally talented, so I don’t need to any more
- I did my practice in my 20′s (whatever that means) and that’s me done
- I don’t have the time (kids, gigs, X-factor, drinking) top the list
- I’ve got my technique and time down so I just learn extra things when and if I fancy
- I’m bored with the instrument and no longer inspired etc…
People say you shouldn’t compare music to sports, but since I’m a big tennis fan, I’m going to give it a go. To me, it’s the difference between an amateur league tennis player and a sportsman of the calibre of Rafael Nadal. A club league tennis player can go onto the court and hit 10 forehands and maybe 7 of them land in and even 2/3 look really great. When these good shots come off, they can almost convince themselves in that moment that they’re Rafa Nadal drilling Roger Federer into submission and go home feeling like a hero.
But it’s those other 3 shots that really matter. This is why Rafael Nadal is on the court every day at 9am for 4 hours hitting 1000′s of balls. I don’t imagine him screaming “Vamos!” in ecstasy after every shot either.
In music, I’ve come across the same. A good player that’s stopped practicing can occasionally hit the heights now and then and play a good 16 bars here and maybe a great grooving chorus fill there. But, if the regular practicing has stopped there’s always a giveaway fumbled 2 bars, an out-of-the pocket fill or badly executed run, all of which is a dead giveaway. The consistency is not there.
Marcus Miller is a musician that I look up to in a big way and many consider one of the most talented of his generation. In his own words “You never become a master in music”. We’re the lucky ones as musicians, as in sports you run your course and then retire and have to find something new. I imagine Marcus Miller in an old folks home aged 95 still figuring new things out on the bass. I hope that’s me too. Here’s a man that’s still working on his playing daily, even with all he’s achieved and his considerable natural ability.
What are the rest of us waiting for?
I’ve learnt a lot and continue to be inspired by reading some of my favourite musician’s biographies and thought I’d post my top 5 to date:
1. Quincy Jones – “Q” (Autobiography)
“We had the best jazz band in the planet, and yet we were literally starving. That’s when I discovered that there was music, and there was the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.”
Quincy Jones’ career spans 5 decades, 27 Grammy awards and has taken him from the highest echelons of Jazz trumpet in the 1950s to Sinatra Arranger in the 60′s and then dynamite producer in the 70′s and 80′s. This autobiography encompasses everything from his incredibly tough start with his mother incarcerated in a mental institution through to his frustrations with the jazz scene and eventual move to arranging some of the biggest tracks the world has seen with Michael Jackson.
2. Jaco Pastorius – “The extraordinary and tragic life of” (Bill Milkowski)
“I grew up in Florida where there was no real musical prejudice. Everyone was playing everything from Suban music to symphonic music… keep listening… keep your ears open”
Although this book is a bit controversial as some of the stories are of questionable authenticity and source, and did upset part of his surviving family, it still remains as an amazing source of information and inspiring background on the self-proclaimed “World’s greatest Bassplayer”. Worth it alone for the story of Jaco ripping the frets out of his Fender Jazz pre-gig.
3. Bill Evans – “How My Heart Sings” (Peter Pettinger)
“I don’t consider myself as talented as many… but that was an advantage because I didn’t have a great facility immediately so I had to be more analytical and build something”
A great book written by classical pianist and jazz fan Peter Pettinger. Recounts everything from Bill Evan’s wrestling with his own inadequacies as a musician (self perceived) to the point of visiting a hypnotist at the age of 28 to check if he really should be pursuing Jazz and Music and then his eventual success in his 30′s and beyond with Miles Davis, the recording on the biggest jazz album of all time and his success as a solo artist.
4. Jay – Z – “Decoded” (Autobiography)
“Before… I was aware of the power of my thoughts, staying focused and weeding out thoughts that sabotage.”
Although Decoded is as much an insight into the lyrics behind a lot of his rap, his perspective on a lot of his tracks, and at times a bit self-indulgent about how great he feels his work is, there’s a lot of of insight into the reality of being born into the projects in the US, his intital life as a hustler, before his single-minded dedication to his particular musical craft, which would put a lot of wanna be jazz college players to shame.
5. Hampton Hawes – “Raise Up Off Me” (Autobiography)
“What difference does it make where you go to learn? Toshiko, 8,000 miles from the source burned the keyboard like Bud Powell and Andre Watts plays Mozart like he’s tuned into the grave.”
Hampton Hawes was one of the most talented of the bebop and hard-bop piano players. Oscar Peterson was one of his biggest fans, but in contrast to Oscar, Hampton was a live wire and lived one of the craziest lives of anyone in Jazz. This is one of the best documents of the jazz world and Hampton’s insane path, before prison and an eventual Presidential pardon by JFK.
Here’s the only video I’ve found on YouTube where you can actually hear some proper bass! (show proper starts at 1:45)`:
After a heavy week of Tech Rehearsals and soundchecks (left) in Sao Paulo it’s great to see the Thriller Live show finally come together and finally be able to play some MJ bass lines for the good people of Brazil. We landed in Rio about 10 days ago and began with our first week of press and preview shows last Monday and public shows all last week.
I’d like to thank the hard work of all the backstage, sound and tech guys both from Brazil and the UK for putting things together so well, in the face of a big language barrier to boot, and in particular give a shout out to local sound guy and bass player Silney Marcondes for being a legend generally and offering to pick up his car in Sao Paulo and drive us around Rio to hit the Samba bars !
We’ve all been doing our best to learn some of the local lingo. Probably though, the Brazilian cast are getting tired of us continually asking “How is one today madam?” in the best possible most polite terms… Luckily Silney and also one of the tech guys who seems to be the Brazilian equivalent of “Bez” from the Happy Mondays have begun to balance things out with some more colorful choice phrases.
My Stage Setup
A quick run down of my current stage setup while I’m here in Rio. I’m using:
- Bass A – MM V Fender Jazz (B-G)
- Bass B – Fodera Imperial 5 String (B-G)
- Pedal Board of
- EBS Octabass
- EBS UniChorus
- EBS BassIQ
- Boss TU-3 Tuner
- EBS Microbass II splitter
Then all of this gets fed to front of house, and we’re listening via the standard Avioms on stage, through some Sure 535 monitors….