Friday, June 3, 2011

What a total gas...

Last night was our last public gig until we head off in 10 days for Istanbul.  It was a total gas: we played tight, fast, hot - sometimes loose and raunchy, too!  It was a blistering set of classic jazz, jams, rock and soul with some fascinating improvisations mixed into the night.  The local Irish-American club turned out so we did an ethnic medley:  The Irish Washer Woman into Beer Barrel Polka that got the ladies up and dancing!  How much fun was that?

+ Dianne did a smoldering "Summertime" with a slow jazz-funk behind her that had a Miles meets Herbie Hanncock feel.

+ Our buddy Dave come up for an impromptu "Zoot Suit Riot."  Another guest, Mary, did a totally naughty blues, "Love Me Like a Man" and Carol did a sweet "Angel from Montgomery."

+ Andy announced at the start of the set:  "Ok, mates, we're going to play a ton of things we've never done before..." and with that launched into "Cherokee" - a song that has terrified me as it is usually played so damn fast - but we did it with panache and I got over my fear!

We added two wildass poems, too:  Rumi's "Love Dogs" - Bennie and I created a funky Turkish groove, Dianne proclaimed it with true Beat styling and then Charlie came in the end with the wailing of the dogs on his clarinet. It rocked.  And Johnny and I did a crazy version of Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey on the Moon." It perplexed the house - fast, syncopated drums with these lyrics over the top - probably the only bewildering moment of the night as people tried to figure out WHAT the hell was going on...

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey's on the moon)
I can't pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey's on the moon)
Ten years from now I'll be payin' still.
(while Whitey's on the moon)
The man jus' upped my rent las' night.
('cause Whitey's on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey's on the moon)
I wonder why he's uppi' me?
('cause Whitey's on the moon?)
I wuz already payin' 'im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin' my whole damn check,
Junkies makin' me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin' up,
An' as if all that shit wuzn't enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an' arm began to swell.
(but Whitey's on the moon)
Was all that money I made las' year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain't no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey's on the moon)
Y'know I jus' 'bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I'll sen' these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

We played an extra 90 minutes cuz it was just too much fun.  Got some local babes up to dance to Chuck Berry, kept people up way past their bedtimes and just had ourselves a blast.  So, one more practice and then Istanbul here we come!

Two Sabbath type thoughts for me about playing in this band:  it has taught me in a whole new way the relationship between practice, hard work and the fun of improvisation.  If any of us are going to cut loose - and these cats REALLY cut loose - then it is essential to have a deep and intuitive sense of your instrument or else a train wreck is right around the corner. Practicing  in private - wood shedding as it were - is the only prelude to being out there in the groove.  Same is often true in my commitment to be prayerful and compassionate: if I haven't spent real time in quiet and honest communion with God, there is no way I can consistently deliver in the daily grind.  God is more gracious than the bandstand - and gives me many more tries to get closer to the mark - and for this I am blessed.  But still... to freely improvise and make it a joyful and beautiful thing requires a LOT of time in quiet preparation.

The other thing I am noticing is that being ready to play ANYTHING - and I mean anything - opens up so many doors.  Last night it was vocalists who joined us - two young guitarists, too - so the journey went from Bossa Nova to Dizzy Gillespie's, "Night in Tunisa" - veered to the left for an unexpected trip down "Mack the Knife" land - and then wound back with funk and soul and "Superstition," "After Midnight" and "Play That Funky Music White Boy!"  I still have a little angst when it comes to the jazz tunes I don't know in my soul, but when I'm open to the spirit (and get the opening key right really helps) then there is more fun in the surprises than almost anything I've ever experienced.  And if that is true in Pittsfield, what's going to happen in Turkey?!?

I can't wait to find out!


Black Pete said...

Neither can we, James. Keep us posted!

RJ said...

You bet, my man!

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