Readers, going into the studio to record improvised music is an interesting process.
Whereas misplaced notes or awkward phrases will eventually be forgotten in a live performance, in the studio it feels like every mistake is etched in stone in real time. Or at least, that’s how it can feel when things aren’t going so well and you’ve entered the wholly uncomfortable mind-frame of trying not to try. An unfortunate mind-frame I lept into whole hog two weeks ago when I took my trio into the studio to record an album of my original, 1930s inspired songs.
It was somewhere in the middle of that day I remembered a friend, Jay from NYC, relating to me the challenges of delivering a relaxed, natural performance during symphony orchestra auditions and asking for my suggestions on the subject. An irony which wasn’t lost on me last Monday as I half chuckled through gritted teeth. Of course, it would have been even more ironic had I been able to offer Jay a definitive answer.
But I couldn’t…
Well, not really. I tried to relate to him in terms of how I try to steer myself back to “the groove” in live performances (focusing on breathing, relaxing any tense muscles, and simplifying what I’m playing) but I knew it wasn’t the same kind of situation at all. Unlike a live jazz performance, you can’t really say “Fuck it! I’m going to take this in a different direction and see what happens!” in an orchestral audition (or at least, I wouldn’t imagine you could). Similarly, when you’re footing the bill to record your jazz trio and you know you can’t afford to do it again,… you really want to deliver a solid performance consistent with (or preferably better than) your average performance.
So, I’m recording the first tune of the session, about to finish playing the melody, gearing up for a solo and words like posterity, consistency, inspired musicality start popping into my brain. Then my solo begins, simple, sweet, and then,… “hmm, maybe a little too sweet, a little too simple?” I wonder. And then,… I start trying, and analyzing everything as I play it, and second guessing, and then the fingers tense up ever so slightly. Now things are starting to go awry, “Hey! Where’s my groove gone? Why couldn’t I play that double-time passage cleanly this time?!…. I never have trouble with that!… WHOA! Why did I just play a D on an Eb7 chord! HOLY SHIT, WHY DID I JUST DO IT AGAIN!?!? What’s happening!? I CAN’T PLAY CHANGES,.. SOMEBODY SHOOT ME!”
And so on and so forth. And it doesn’t get any easier as the hours whittle away and the vision of little dollar signs leaping out the window becomes more and more present in your mind.
So,… how did JD get his groove back at the very end and manage to perform a few decent tracks?
He said “Fuck it”, considered the recording a complete write-off, had a couple glasses of wine, seriously questioned the legitimacy of his chosen career path, and,… relaxed enough to play a few tunes with some semblance of a groove.
So Jay, clearly, if today’s SMNP has taught us anything, it is to drink heavily prior to any occasion where you must act “natural.”
Okay,… maybe not. That’s kind of lame actually.
I suppose the trick would be to,… care less? I suppose the more experience one has the better AND also not having all your eggs in one basket helps with that too. In other words, the more recordings/auditions you do the more you’ll get used to the pressure. As for the “eggs in multiple baskets” thing, I’m sure it would help to relax in an audition if you had other career things on the go as well BUT that said, as performers there’s always going to be a “GO time” where you’ve got to deliver.
I don’t know. That’s all I’ve got for now and it’s time for me to tap out of this SMNP.
(above photo by xxayemelissaxx)