Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Playing solo

A few years back I got it into my head that I should pursue solo jazz guitar playing... just to the level of being able to play background music for parties, restaurants, gallery openings, that kind of thing, and maybe make a little coin without having to have a band and all the trappings that brings. So I spent some time learning how to make up simple arrangements of suitable tunes, and worked on being able to play bass lines and chords and melody more-or-less simultaneously. A few years ago I recorded a couple of these and put them up on my website.

After I developed a bit of a repertoire, I played a handful of gigs like that. (I did not try very hard to find gigs, so of course there were only a handful.)

Mixed in during this time period was a related effort to work on being a decent accompanist in a duo, with singers or other instrumentalists, while also taking some classes at the JazzSchool in Berkeley and the Community School of Music and Art in Mountain View.

Time passed, it was late 2006 and I started getting antsy to plug a solidbody guitar in to something with a bit of a roar and play Albert King licks again, so I started directing my energies in that direction and dimmed my focus on solo and duet playing.

So anyway, we had a potluck at my place of work (a.k.a. the day job that musicians are always advised not to quit) yesterday, so I offered to play some music. I have four arrangements of Christmas carols more or less under my belt at the moment, so I figured I'd do those and maybe a couple of other simple chord-and-melody arrangements I've been playing forever.

I then proceeded to play about as poorly as I ever have. Flubbing notes, completely forgetting what comes next, stuff like that – just horrible. And it wasn't just the first number – each song was another exercise in mental excruciation.

Made me stop and think – what is so great about playing solo? For me the attraction was always something like this:
  • no band practice to arrange, schedule, coordinate
  • no splitting of the proceeds
  • it's really cool to be able to play in this style
But each time I've played solo, there is always the unalterable fact:
  • if you make mistakes, you are naked – there is nothing to hide them behind.
In a band if you flub something you can usually cover it up without too much trouble. But alone, a nice fat mistake is just so glaringly obvious, hanging there in the air like a big sonic turd for all to audially whiff... whew...

Falling down all over in the safe environment of a party was embarrassing.

But I'm glad I did it. I haven't played solo in front of people for over a year and a half and have not kept up with it at all, really, so I shouldn't be at all surprised it was able to sink to such a level.

If I really want to pursue this kind of playing, I should just knuckle down and make sure I practice that type of playing more, and then get out there and do it more.

And also accept that there are always going to be mistakes and learn not to care that much about it... because if I worry about it, it just makes it worse when the inevitable happens. Mistakes that I clench over just beget more mistakes and lead to severe emotional distress.

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