Monday, May 16, 2011

a sideman's blues

I love to play as a sideman. I have played guitar or bass with some wonderful performers. Currently, I play regularly with Jamie Green and really enjo playing with her and Bob Terry on cajon (Bob is an amazing drummer). I get to make wonderful music without being 100% responsible for what is happening. I put the date on my calendar, learn the music, show up, and hopefully play well.

Here's the problem... a good side man is transparent. They play exactly what is on the recording, nothing more, nothing less. Bob works in artist relations for Yamaha drums and tells lots of stories of great players not getting a gig because they cannot reproduce the exact sounds on a recording without purchasing some new something or other. And it isn't even the same rhythms we're talking about, it is the exact sound. I'm not particularly interested in being transparent.

When you move from a recording with a full band to a trio with one acoustic guitar and a cajon or a duo with one acoustic guitar, it just doesn't work to play exactly what the guitar player on the recording played. The context is too different and you end up with a live performance that is pretty anemic. Sometimes that is fine for the songwriter and sometimes it isn't as they sometimes fill in the missing parts in their head and hear something the audience doesn't hear. And two different sidemen might hear what is needed in very different ways.

Then there is the other piece of the puzzle... I'm not particularly interested in playing what was done on the recording even when it does work. I have my own aesthetic and the joke is true... "how many guitar players does it take to change a lightbulb?" "However many you have... only one to actually change the lightbulb while the rest talk about how they would have done it better." An example here is a great song of Jamie's called, "Like to Be with You." The part on the recording would work fine live and I could easily play it exactly that way... but I like the way I play it much better, using multiple capos and a bit of a Celtic feel.

Luckily, Jamie lets me play like myself for the most part although there are times when she'll ask me to play something differently. They are her songs and it is her name on the calendar so I do my best to accommodate her desires. I think that most of the time she is happy with what I do but I do get the feeling sometimes that she is dreaming of a sideman who worked with her in LA and who is transparent.

Back in the late 90's and early 00's, I played with my daughter, Alexis. It was a fun project. We wrote some very satisfying music, performed around the northeast and as far away as Des Moines, Iowa. When we started, I was doing a solo thing and had Alexis sit in with me a few times. She had a blast and it eventually became a duo. We performed as "D" and did a record that in part was a senior project for a music production major at the College of St. Rose who had heard us p Alexis has a distinctive voice and a wonderful stage presence and we quickly learned that people weren't really interested in me so we switched the name to "Alexis d." Even though we were performing under her name, it still was a partnership in terms of the music. So, I didn't have to worry about being transparent as I was the one who wrote the guitar parts from the beginning.

It has been about 5 years since we've performed together but Alexis is staying with us for two months while her husband is doing an educational program in New Jersey and we have a few gigs lined up including opening for John Batdorf at the Cambridge Drive Concert Series in June. She isn't quite as thrilled as I am since the lyrical content of some of the songs reflects a very different place in life for her... still, I'm excited that I get to play ME a few times.

You can hear some of the Alexis d material on the player in the right hand column.

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