an addendum to my earlier post on tempo.
Let’s think about time for a moment. What is time? As defined in the dictionary:
“the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.”
We measure it by second, minutes, hours, days, weeks and years. Time is passing all the time. All we really have is the present, the past has already happened and the future has not happened yet. Most of us spend our waking time in one of these two places: either thinking about the past or dreaming about the future. As the Beastie Boys said “It’s time to get ill.”
I have to ask this question to musician’s in general and jazz musicians specifically;
“If you’re going faster than someone else in a tune that was counted at a specific (let’s say proper) tempo are you now ‘winning‘ because you’ve pushed the tempo into the red zone?” Do you want to be there first? Do you get a prize for being there first? A lot of young players have a bunch of energy and excitement. They want to play everything ‘fast, fast, fast.’ I admire their enthusiasm. It reminds me of the joke about running down as opposed to walking down the hill to a field of cows. I’ve watched this happen so many times and every one tenses up and chases after the ‘runaway train’ song. After being part of many a gig, jam session or other musical activity I would argue, NO you are not winning. The music is now losing. Music shouldn’t resemble the olympics although I’ve witnessed sessions that sound like the musical equivalent of dead lifting 300 lbs. Conversely if you’re 30 bpm slower than where you started perhaps it’s time to start getting some exercise, coffee or sleep depending on your personal variables….I wonder can we both ‘arrive’ at the same time? That’s magic when that happens.
I’ve never been a fan of the faster=better musical equation that seems to occupy the fixation of so many musicians. Yes, it is exciting when watching a virtuoso perform a difficult maneuver and technical proficiency is a worthy goal to pursue. It’s often what you see at the NAMM shows and in product videos; somebody performing some sort of musical gymnastics or a feat of dexterous virtuosity in a solo setting. Sometimes these guys will even get together in a group full of ‘chop’ masters and ‘shredders’ and perform together. I know there are fans out of there of this sort of stuff but I’m not one of them.
When I was on the road with Larry McCray we played a showcase for Gibson guitars in Nashville TN and the band before us was comprised of chop masters and product endorsers and they played technically dazzling stuff but it fell flat. Larry, along with his brother Steve on drums, Noel Neal on bass, and myself on keys gave a soulful show that got the jaded music execs off of their feat finally giving us a standing ovation after the show concluded. Have a good TIME.
One more thing about time. I don’t really like playing live or recording to or with a click track though there are moments where it is appropriate to the music I suppose. Computers don’t breathe like us humans do. They don’t push and pull against the time for dramatic tension and release. However when I practice, I do often use a metronome during my routine to work on my time. When music is being played ‘for real’ in front of an audience the musicians should agree on the tempo. It’s an active conversation. It’s a group decision though much of the responsibility falls on the drummer and bassist. Be warned, they might argue about it.
I have nothing against technique and dexterity, I’m always working on gaining more myself and I acknowledge and appreciate the time and dedication it takes to play fast tempos, passages, etc. But PLEASE don’t sacrifice emotion, feeling, expression and interaction in the pursuit of being “the baddest cat.” It’s an empty goal. Make music that moves people and gives them something they “need” even if they don’t know it. Slow down for a minute and look around you.