|To truly understand what it means to play an instrument, the desire to play an instrument and your love of music has to grow with you. Everything that happens to you or a loved one close to you has an impact on how you approach your music. Sometimes you can find a way to fight through bad experiences, letting your music be your anchor. Unfortunately, for some, life sometimes succeeds in destroying their musical art…
Since I’ve been writing these thoughts of mine to you, I have used my experiences as examples. So, I suppose that is the way that I should continue. I have played different instruments, but whenever I have had a tough situation to overcome (such as the loss of my mother) I have always gone to my guitar and made playing classical-guitar music my “medicine”. I never knew why for years that I would choose the guitar over the bass; but now I think it’s because it was my first instrument. At the same time, when I come home from a day at “Hell Incarnate” (my day job) and I might be really mad about something, I “attack” my acoustic-bass or my 4-stringed electric-bass. After a while, I forget about whatever it was that had me out of sorts when I got home. Music has been a part of my life for so long I can’t see myself ever being away from it. I never like to hear a person who said that he/she “stopped playing”. What that person doesn’t realize is that when you give up your music, you give up a part of yourself. There is a level in musical understanding that transcends the conscious mind. Music will help you in ways that nothing else can. I heard once that when the explorer Admiral Perry was stranded, the only way that he kept from “losing it” was by singing hymns that he remembered. Therefore he had a part of his life - a musical part – that kept his mind at peace in a very desolate and critical situation.
I must digress here for a second and offer a correction. A friend of mine in London (who read “Endurance vs. Inclimate Situations”) told me that I “must have been quite young when I met Paul Chambers”. That would have been REALLY cool, but Mr. Chambers was my teacher from an audio (albums) and visual (documentary films on jazz) perspective. So folks, I’m not 100 years old! J
Back to all of you…
I have thought about a lot since I began “talking” to all of you. Between 7 and 13 years of age, I had learned the guitar, violin and clarinet. That was a “young in mind age” but a very educational one. By the time I was 11, I knew who Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane Miles Davis, Beethoven, Bartok and Bach were, in addition to loving music that was being produced by pop artists. Then I turned 14 and learned about Jimi Hendrix! My mother used to have this image of me being this nice little lady who would someday play folks songs for audiences on a bar stool, but after learning about Hendrix? NOT! I learned rebellion with an instrument as my sword. That’s what the electric-bass was for me. I was nicknamed “Fingers” by classmates. I got the name via an accident: at my high school, we did a 2-nite show every year in the spring where the jazzband, dancers and actors performed for friends and parents. After the first night one year, I was pulling the cord out of a wall for my amplifier when a nail that I hadn’t noticed decided to “visit” my ring finger on my left hand. My finger was coming upward as the nail went downward into my finger. The cut required stitches and a tetanus shot (why do nurses who administer those shots jab the needle into you like they’re trying to kill you?). I came to the school the next night and a trombonist looked at my hand and said, “How’s it goin’, Fingers?” Men…God bless ‘em. I played the electric-bass for years for jazz and fusion or R&B gigs, but then after a while I began to need a new challenge, so in 1999 I began to play the acoustic-bass when I could borrow one off and on. I no longer liked the sound of an electric-bass playing mainstream jazz. The acoustic-bass just sounds better. There no other way to put it. In 2000, I took a 50-year-old plywood bass to a repairer and he fixed it up for me. I sold my 6-stringed electric-bass so that I’d have the money to get what I needed. The bass needed everything: strings, bridge, tail pin, et cetera. There’s only one thing that I regret taking so long to play it: my mother isn’t around to see it… But – she’s here in spirit, so I figure occasionally she’s able to leave Heaven for a few hours and come to a gig of mine! I must say that when I lost her that was one time when I really didn’t see the point in playing music anymore. I didn’t have her to share my musical experiences so what was the point? However, I realized later that my mother was also a musician and she used music to help her go through life. So, I chose to stick with it. She had given me too much musical freedom for me to quit.
For years, I could play some blues with a group and listen to the soloists wail, but I couldn’t understand what it was that they had inside to be able to emote musically like that. After I went through a few situations of my own, I learned to play them. I use my life experiences to help me compose or just play in general. Music is wonderful: you can learn how to play different feelings such as sorrow, pain or joy. When an accomplishment is attained, you are inspired to do great things musically. Conversely, when a tragic or relationship-related situation happens, you may draw yourself away from music or you’ll dive even more into your music; and when you compose something out of that experience, the song or orchestral piece is usually meaningful because pain was a part of the process.
It took me a long time to realize how some words I heard in a movie once were true. The late actor Herbert Lom once said to his diva in his version of “The Phantom of the Opera”, “You fool! You think you can become a great singer without suffering?!” It’s the suffering and going through life, just hanging on that fuels your music. Someone who has never known what it’s like to be poor can never truly be able to convey true feelings. I don’t care what anyone says. That person may be able to play all kinds of difficult passages and whatnot, but if the person never had to deal with hard emotional or financial situations, he or she will never rise to the level of art that the one who suffered will. Some may disagree with that statement, but I’ve seen all kinds of musicians. I knew an old man once who played a trumpet. He knew me all my life, as he was a friend of the family. He never struck it big, but he had a sound that was so beautiful and pure. There are only a few trumpeters that I hear today that can match the beauty of his sound. I knew a bassist once who could get all the best basses that his parents could buy, but he lacked an emotional, lifelike quality to his playing.
Music is a jealous entity. You have to give yourself to it, stripping yourself naked. I used to be shy when I played. I had a bad habit of slightly having my back to the audience. I was too self-conscious. Years later, I began to tell myself to just “be myself”, not to care what people thought. I told myself to just play my thoughts and go for it.
Music has its funny side as well: I had a gig years ago and I was wearing jeans. I also wore a ribbed tube top (I know: some of you might be saying “Tube tops?” “That must’ve been 1000 years ago!” But hell, they were comfortable!). I was trying to play but I began to feel the top trying to roll down. If that happened, I was going to provide a peep show. I could feel the audience’s anticipation. They just knew it was going to roll down and embarrass the hell out of me. At the right moment, just when it was going to come down, I pulled it up quickly and kept playing. The audience applauded! Their reaction made me laugh!
All I can say in closing is this: don’t ever give up your music. It is a part of your life and it is a medicine that will get you through more situations than you’ll ever imagine.
BY Kim Michele LaCoste
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