My goal, career-wise, is to be a successful working bassist. Now, the term "successful" is certainly relative, but, for me it is defined simply by my being able to support myself, and eventually a family, on the money I make from being a musician. This, of course, may take several forms like performing one-off gigs, or having a steady gig with a band or production company, or perhaps being an on-call studio musician. To some extent I've been successful in these terms. It is not lost on me, the fact that I am getting paid to simply play music. However, I consider myself "mildly successful" where I would like to be "wildly successful." I started to think about what it takes to be an A-list player. What are the differences between myself and players like Nathan East, Will Lee, or Tony Levin? Are the differences in the playing, or in technical proficiency. Is it a personality aspect or a certain business acumen? I started to think about what things I might need to learn, improve, or change in one or all of these areas.
So the first thing I learned was that after 15 years of playing bass, I still have only begun to scratch the surface. There is so much more I have yet to learn, but now that I can recognize what those are, I can begin taking the steps of learning.
This summer I had a unique (and serendipitous) opportunity to begin my "improvement" and start moving my career to the A-list. I decided to begin with my playing. I played in a show called "Kinetix" at Busch Gardens which was a nightly show featuring all kinds of acrobatics, dancing, lighting effects and pyrotechnics. The music that we played during this show was some of the popular music from the past year and a half, and since there was so much going on, I think it was necessarily simple, driving and repetitive. The kind of music that might make a musician bored from playing such monotony. However, I saw this as an opportunity to be a professional. I resolved to play even the most mundane parts to the best of my ability and not like a bored musician just getting through it. During rehearsals and shows I treated my part as though I were recording it for the original artist and my intention as a bass player was to lock in with whatever feel and groove the drummer was laying down. This brought me to the idea of "intentional groove." For many years I have played with a certain feel or groove or "in the pocket" because it's what I've heard in my head. I've done things out of a natural response. I think of this as a "passive groove," in which it's almost reactionary to what is happening around you. While I still firmly believe in listening and reacting to the music around you, I took that opportunity to be more intentional with my groove. I took a more active, less passive, approach to locking in with the drummer. I found myself more actively listening to all the individual parts of the drumset, and even more so, the spaces between hits, using those spaces as cues guiding me in the groove. It led me to a certain confidence in what I was playing, and confidence that I was playing the most repetitive parts in a way (along with the drums) that will move people to dance, or at the very least tap their toes. I feel that I may have accomplished that this summer, but I also need to further this concept for myself. This is something I try to incorporate now every time I play, regardless of the genre of music. I believe it is helping to move me forward.
I have been working on the other aspects that I mentioned, but I'll save those for future posts.