Archive for July, 2012

Am I Too Old To Play Gypsy Jazz?

Posted in Playing with tags , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2012 by theguitarcave

Somebody used this question as a search term to get to this site last week. Really scary that I can know these things isn’t it? There’s that old saying that goes…”if you gotta ask…”, but I don’t think it applies in this case. This style of music is really daunting and I’m sure there are people in their twenties who ask themselves this question once in awhile. I know I have and I haven’t been twenty in a long time. But given that I’ve been playing for a little while now, maybe I can dispense some advice and some funny asides to help with the perspective. If you’re like most guitarists, you see one of the greats on Youtube or live and think “I Wanna Do That!” Have at it, but there are some things to keep in mind, no matter your age.

Be realistic. Any level of instrumental virtuosity requires LOTSA time invested and I’m not talking weeks and months, but years. People dedicate their lives to an instrument or a form of music like jazz. If you are under any illusions that you are going to sound like Stochelo Rosenberg (or your favorite player) in a year, it’s probably better to find something else to do. The goal is not to be Stochelo Rosenberg (or your favorite player) anyhow. It’s to be a better YOU. Once you make the commitment, it should be a daily one, even if you only have an hour or a half hour. Find the time, don’t try to cram a week’s worth of practice into 1 five-hour day. Here’s a video that gives a really good plan for practicing. Yakov from Gypsy Jazz School has a whole lot of really good advice and he also has a bunch of free videos on Youtube. That’s the great thing about learning today. You can get a whole lot of advice and direction for free!

Use a Metronome. Don’t play without it…especially in the beginnig. Practice playing all types of subdivisions of the beat (whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eight notes, triplets) and really make sure you are hitting it on time. If you do this daily, even for an hour, you will notice improvement very quickly. Play-alongs are fine, but you should really be able to sit with the metronome and lock in on anything and mix up the above list of subdivisions effortlessly. I relied on play-alongs until recently. I started my own personal program with the metronome at the beginning of June and I have only missed two days. I can get through all of the major, minor and dominant arps I started with now in about a half hour. I have another half hour block where I’m playing a group of 10 licks that I use over and over so they will be totally integrated. Since the group I’m in has a weekly gig, I can feel how this is really making a difference. Later on in the month I’ll put up a vid or two of what I do, but you can forage around the web, come up with some things to get you started and then just commit the time. Start slow and once you can do it efficiently, add more. If you need a refresher course on how the brain learns music read THIS. It’s important to know that if you learn wrong or practice wrong you will always play wrong. This is something everyone has to go through…I’m certainly not the best example of a disciplined student!

Watch Your Posture. Some veterans advise a mirror to check how you’re sitting and holding the guitar…whatever you gotta do, make sure you aren’t slouching or playing from a bad spot. There are countless examples of the RIGHT way to do it online. If you are an older person, this is very important. Bad posture, not warming up, trying to do too much too soon or a combination of the three could lead to a sidelining-type injury. This ain’t the kind of music you can play leaning back on your couch after ingesting Bath Salts. (ReallY!) Recently, after watching a video I can’t find now, I integrated a strap into my set-up, even though I play sitting down. Wes Montgomery always played like this too and I like what it’s doing for me. This might not be the right choice for you, but if you are a person of taller or larger size, you might have to think outside the box a bit to find a position you are comfortable with. Try everything and lose anything that causes stress or ineffective position or motion.

Cut Yourself A Break. After a gig about a month or two ago as the band was breaking down I bemoaned that I had played like sh*t and should’ve changed strings beforehand. The drummer of the group said, “really? I thought you played well today.” As it turns out a friend had recorded some of the performance and later in the evening I watched it and realized that I HAD played okay. My sound and tone wasn’t as good as I usually want it to be, so I let that define the rest of the gig for me…BIG MISTAKE. Someone in the audience would’ve probably wondered what my problem was had they been able to read my thoughts. This is really important and Stephane Wrembel talks about this in THIS video I put up a few months ago. You have to get the ego out of your playing and just do it. We all would like ideal conditions and there are plenty of steps one can take to make sure everything can be heard well, is balanced and has good tone, but that isn’t always possible, even when practicing. As players, we must do as Stephane says…”Let it all go.” Make music…Have fun. No one is ever too old to do that! Here’s a funny tale that illustrates this point: About 3 weeks ago the group had a gig playing a function for The Brooklyn Public Library. It was on the last day of the first heat wave of the summer, the place didn’t have a functioning air conditioner (that day) and the room was full of hot and aggravated (because they were hot and we were late) elderly people. On the way to the gig, which was in Midwood, 3 of the people in the band, myself included, got lost because we were relying on GPS to get us there. It sent us to Bay Ridge instead. Bay Ridge is not Midwood and it was the middle of the day so there was traffic and general confusion about whether to follow the GPS or just wing it. Since I had only had about 2 hours of sleep I had slammed about 3 large caffeine drinks before we left thinking it was going to take a half hour (which is all it should take) to get there. It turned into an almost two-hour trip and by the time we arrived, the only thing I cared about was taking a leak. I did and it lasted like 15 minutes. Three people came in and used the other john while I was in there in the time it took to finish. Then we set up and started playing and nobody liked it much. This guy came up and complained that we were playing teenager music, even though the first three songs (Honeysuckle Rose, Coquette and something else I can’t remember) are all really old songs. I wasn’t sweating it or how I was playing because for the first time in over an hour I wasn’t holding in a ginormous piss. Believe it or not, NO BUSINESS ESTABLISHMENTS between Bay Ridge and Midwood have a toilet for public use. I know, I checked. You go in and ask and they look at you funny and pretend English is some kind of space gibberish. Anyhow, the point is, because that had been the focus of my brain for the hour leading up to the gig (along with actually getting there) I had no stress about actually doing the gig or how it was going. We played a vocal version of Night and Day followed by Dark Eyes and suddenly everyone loved us. People got up and were dancing and carrying on, nevermind the heat. The same guy who had come up to the stage ten minutes before to tell us we were basically f*ckin’ up was now my best buddy telling me that his district representative could get us gigs. We closed with I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You even though I have never played that song before in my life. I was watching the other guitarist (who was watching the bass player) for chord shapes and I still took a solo! Badass! The point of this story: You see how relative it all is?

So I’m off to warm-up and have some food before the gig tonight. The final moral of the post is practice and practice and then don’t be a pain in the ass to yourself or to other people. It will be what it will be and either way it will be entertaining to someone. The music biz is always evolving and if you are going to stay in the game, humor and the right perspective are what’s going to get you over. Once you are comfortable enough to play in front an audience, a regular thing is really cool. We get paid in money AND wine…not a bad deal, especially if you’re old (haha).