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Endurance versus Inclimate Situations - By Kim LaCoste
At first glance, you would equate the title to the weather. There's another kind of "bad weather" that occurs and it involves musical performance. Any musician on the road will tell you that it can be quite hard on you. Your body has to be in good physical shape to deal with that level of travel and performance. Then there's mental endurance. This type of endurance pertains to dealing with situations where one of the musicians you may have to work with is a jerk, snob or both. It could be that the soundman is recalcitrant or you have a less-than-desirable instrument that some promoter rented for you. On top of all that, you have to come up with a "wonderful" performance.
If you're the kind of musician who is steadily growing in your craft and has retained your humility, stay that way... From my observations over the years, the musicians who think too much of themselves don't fare well with life. The musicians who are down-to-earth always endure. I know; there are musicians who have been described as hard to deal with, yet they are very successful. But at some point, that person stops growing musically. I've met three famous musicians who all acted like jerks toward me, and presently, one of them doesn't even perform on a national/international scale anymore and as for the other two, their compositions are just revisions of old material/ideas. I don't hear anything from them that I can discern as being "new" anymore. I'm sure that you've run across a musician who was less than cordial. It may've been someone you greatly admired, or it was a musician or singer on a gig. You were stuck with him/her, unless you decided not to do the job.

From a female point of view, I can tell you that I've had to go through the infamous "proving myself" junk. I've weathered the storms. As a young female musician, you will arrive at a point in your playing where you will either quit or keep going. I chose to keep going. It was at a gig one night. I had one of the old Peavey electric-basses, the T40. It had a wide neck, but it was great for me in that I could use it to build up my left-hand's strength. Up until that night, I hadn't had any jobs that really put my skills to the test. It was different this time. I was finally getting a chance to play with some guys who could really wail! We were playing a lot of tunes up-tempo and I could feel my left hand beginning to hurt. I thought, "alright; this is it. Either you pack up and leave as soon as you have a break, or you go into the restroom, massage your hand and come out fighting the next set." I went to the restroom during the break, said "OWWWWWWWWW!!!" as I rubbed my hand - and - I stayed to finish the gig... One of the best compliments that I've ever received was when I was working in Columbus, Ohio once with a saxophonist who had hired me. He told some people that "if he hadn't turned his head, he'd never know that it was a woman on bass." If you want to be a strong female bassist, especially if you intend to play mainstream jazz, start off by playing with a bunch of unrelenting young men. Deal with their attitudes and use your musical abilities to make them change their opinion of you. I feel very fortunate in that area; they didn't make it easy for me or give me a break of any kind. If I couldn't keep up, then I had no business playing with them. Therefore, I dealt with the inclimate situations they created with tough tunes, tempo changes, etc. Those young men and male musicians later in my career all helped me to be the musician that I am today, including the ones who were the biggest jerks. The physical and mental strength that they "help" you to build will be to your benefit later.

For example, I had a gig once with a pianist who is known around town for calling tunes at fast tempos. On a particular gig, a drummer was substituting for our regular one. He spoke to everyone except me. He already had a "female musician; probably can't play" mindset. I didn't let his attitude bother me. I had already figured that he was going to change his mind about me before the gig was over. True enough, the pianist was up to his old tricks, calling tunes fast. I could feel and hear the drummer trying to pull the tempos back because the pianist was killing him. I continued to play at the tempo the pianist had set. So the drummer was forced to keep up with us! After the gig, he apologized for being a snob earlier. So you see? Endurance rules! Another time was when I was hired to play for a pianist who had been in town for two weeks. I heard that he had fired all of the bassists - all males - the first week. Firing another bassist wouldn't be a problem for him. On Sunday of the second week, I was hired. It was tentative; everything depended on how things went that night. When I met him, he didn't shake my hand. I didn't give it a second thought. I knew that he was looking at my gender only and had the thought that I probably "sound okay for a girl". I had two hours to look over the music. At one point, I was so nervous my hands were shaking! I'll never forget the pianist: I was on the stage reading the music and playing my bass. He was just walking around the club. Anyway, as he passed by, he happened to see me turn a page of one of the compositions and my hand was shaking as I turned it. He asked, "Are you nervous?" I said, "No", keeping my eyes on the music. He smiled and walked away, not out of any ridicule against me; he was smiling at my "display of bravery". With the exception of a song by Thelonius Monk, I didn't know the rest of the music. I had never heard the compositions. I would be sight-reading them. However, by the time the gig was over that night, I was hired for the rest of the week and the pianist and I got along very well. His name was Gap Mangione, brother of Chuck Mangione. Therefore, in one instance, my physical endurance helped me immensely, while in the second scenario, my mental endurance was to my advantage.

There will always be some situations less than favorable. But haven't you noticed that sometimes you have your "best stuff" when you're dealing with a bad situation? I'm not saying that I'll yield to play with anyone, just to get a paycheck. If the situation is just too ridiculous, I'll leave it. Some things are not worth the money. At the same time, you are going to come across people and/or situations that you won't like having to deal with. It will be up to your endurance to make a bad scenario enjoyable, if nothing else, at least tolerable. A lot of us don't have a million-dollar contract, so we can't just say, "I won't perform!" at the drop of a hat. Therefore, our physical and mental endurance takes care of the matter. Sometimes, the two forms of endurance are needed like the way water would be for a man on a desert! I had a job last December where I was with a quartet: trumpeter, tenor/soprano-saxophonist, drums and myself. Note that there was no pianist or guitarist. I was responsible for the harmonic flow of the tunes. I didn't mind; you can be more creative that way. It can be a little taxing because you want to have a strong sound and be creative. The rhythm has to be in-place and your note selection has to be good, whether playing singular notes, or intervals, such as thirds, fourths, fifths, etc. One of my acoustic-bass teachers is the late Paul Chambers. If there's anyone who can teach you how to play chord changes, it's him. He had a great gift for note selection. That's why he played with Miles Davis longer than any other bassist. Miles wasn't stupid!

Back to my marathon music night: it was the longest I had done of any intense acoustic-bass playing. We played a total of five hours that night, and I'm not talking about 45-minute sets. The trumpeter was in town from Paris. He brought original music, of which some had various time signature changes. We played only two jazz standards; everything else was original music. The first 2 sets were over an hour. Near the end of the night, a funny thing happened with my left hand. I had been playing hard all night and during one song, my ring finger on my left hand gave out. It looked weird, as if the finger had gone "dead". On acoustic-bass, you use the 1st, 2nd and 4th fingers to play. The third finger is not used, but it shares its musculature with the rest of the hand so it's affected by what the rest of the hand is doing. I had to shake my left hand a little to loosen it back up. The drummer was taking a solo when my finger was "out of it", so it gave me time to get it back "on-line". I didn't give up; I finished playing the rest of the night. To some, that would have been one of those "bad weather" nights. To me, it was a test that I passed. That's just a part of being a musician. You have to be ready. So, build up your endurance. That way, when one of those situations come along that will test your mettle - and those days/nights will happen if you're in the music business long enough, your physical and mental endurance will take control.

BY Kim Michele LaCoste

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