Once again I was invited to perform with Paquito D’Rivera and help him run the jam sessions at the 2nd Jazz en la Patagonia in Frutillar, Chile.
My first task was to play a guitar feature with Paquito’s group – an arrangement of Las Abejas by Agustin Barrios, one of the hardest pieces in classical guitar literature; sort of Barrios’ answer to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.
Few people realize what it means to work hard in the music biz. Whether its Prince or Freddie Mercury or Julian Bream or Bob Marley, the pursuit of excellence and originality, or perfection is a passion that demands hours, days, weeks and months of work.
I had to start to work on this piece a few months ago, and decided to prepare an entire Barrios program just so I’d be ready for Chile. SO, I had indeed been working on this piece for over 4 months.
And by now, I thought I had it down. …. then I get the call from Paquito telling me he is sending me the music and a mp3 file of the entire arrangement…oh and BTW…we are playing it in Em not the original Dm. WHAT!? AAAAAAAAAHHHHH…..no! no! noooo!…All my preparation down the tubes. But politely I respond, “OK no problem.”
As my world dissolves into chaos it turns out it was not all that bad, but still bad enough…After 15 hours traveling I arrived at concert hall for the first night’s jam session, and Paquito wants to rehearse the Barrios. Of course the music is in my hotel room since we weren’t scheduled to run it till next day. And I don’t have my special EQ and pedal for the electric classical guitar, and…and…and… But we got thru the mini rehearsal. While being slightly embarrassed, screwing up here and there…SO that night I felt a faint feeling of nervousness and humiliation, mixed with my nerves pushing me to perform well. Without fail, I am up all night practicing practicing, and the next day practicing practicing.
We’ve added a solo feature Cadenza where I improvise, and I want to have everything in order so I can concentrate on the music. I get to the rehearsal early and realize right away that somehow the wall wart ac adapter that I need is back at the Hotel…so I rush back there, “How is this possible”? Why does this always happen to me?? OK, Crisis averted. I’m back at rehearsal and the 28 tech crew guys are all over the stage [It’s a gorgeous theatre BTW] and I’m waiting for AC power to plug in my classical guitar and get to work on the sound. NOW keep in mind, I have to play a piece of incredible difficulty, and the touch and response of the guitar will determine how much control I have…or don’t have. I need to spend 10 minutes adjusting the tone on my pedals etc to get the sound right. I wish I could just play my real fine hand made Spanish guitar, but at these volumes it’s not really possible. SO, finally the tech guys get to me and look at my wall wart adaptor and look at their Chilean style AC plugs…and ask me if I HAVE AN ADAPTER. This major facility, with every thing you can imagine at your fingertips…and NO ADAPTER. Seriously? OF course I HAVE AN ADAPTER back at the hotel. Every country I have gone to play, even in AFRICA, they have the adapters and transformers needed. So we are waiting and waiting and I feel my confidence and calm dissolving. Finally I relent and we rehearse without my pedals and processing, and its OK, not great just OK, but we get thru it. As soon as rehearsal is done…VOILA, “We have the adapter!’ Gee thanks. But no time to do a sound check…2 minutes and its off the stage. Where I continue to get more and more nervous and frustrated. Gotta calm down, calm down. I got this , I really do, gotta calm down…and I’ll just have to roll with the sound, and hopefully it’ll be ok, and ill be able to hear myself and the sound will be good and touch responsive enough and I won’t have to play too hard, and won’t rush or get lost…
I dunno If the reason it all went well is cuz I was nervous or in spite of it…however I’ll never know cuz the sound on stage was HORRIBLE and distorted and thin and I just had to power thru.
Apparently it was OK, cuz the audience seemed to respond really well, but was my performance magical?? Well no I don’t think so…the guys in the band seemed to think it was good. WHO KNOWS? I certainly don’t.
But on to my real job…hosting the jam sessions. Here it is MY JOB to create the magic. That’s really what I’m getting paid to do. To have fun, to make sure everyone gets to play and is respected, supported. So I’ve got to make sure we all know some tunes together and at the very least this rhythm section of musicians I have just met…Carlomango Araya on Drums, Milton Russel on Bass, Walter Flores on Piano has a good vibe, some camaraderie, so that we can work together to achieve that all- important SWANG.
Little things, like that adapter, make all the difference. IN this case it was the bass amp. The crew had set the bass amp on the floor not up as usual at ear level. This kind of shit still happens in the best and worst venues in the world. AS FAR AS I KNOW, humans still have not evolved EARS in their KNEES. And if the huge amp is pointed at the bass player’s knees…well he can’t hear it…and turns up and turns up..until the bass is rock n roll volume, or louder still : SALSA Band volume!!
SO it took a bit to get that detail under control, but finally we have magic. Good sounds, good people, good audience [every night the jam session was sold out].
In order to sneakily do a bit of teaching to the Chilean classical music audience that knows little about jazz – I did the unthinkable – I SANG! Since I speak Spanish well enough I asked everyone to sing along with me to a song that everyone in South America knows…BESAME MUCHO by Consuelo Velazquez…Except we did a switcheroo and we played this bolero in a swinging jazz style, everyone clapping on 2 and 4…and me scatting. WHEE. I don’t mind playing the fool if it’s for the good of the music.
….and even Paquito asked me…”…who was that singing just now?? Sounded pretty good” … well that’s enough for me. We played a few ballads, and swing tunes, and had many guests: Paquito of course, The great Dave Samuels, rising JAZZ Steel Pan virtuoso Victor Provost, bassist extraordinaire of the classical jam group Tf3 Ranaan Meyer, Singer/guitarist Camila Meza and members of Paquito’s group Diego Urcola, Mark Walker, Alex Brown and Oscar Stagnaro. and even some Chileans off the street…who they wouldn’t let in cuz they dint have any pesos, so we musicians ended up paying for them…
I realized that night sitting in a late night Chilean restaurant eating and drinking with some of the musicians…I guess I am indeed carrying the torch now for Vonsky. I came up through Von Freeman’s Jam Sessions. Relaxed, loving, accepting and supportive…teaching the real swing that is jazz thru example and ensemble. Not that I am so bold as to compare myself musically, not ever would I do that. But that’s not really the point. He showed me the way, and now it’s my turn to try to do the same.
THANKS Chile and Frutillar for keeping the flame of the real true jazz experience alive .
After a couple of great hits with Tony Monaco and Greg Fundis, I am back on the road – and in that crazeee RV. Yes with the help of my friend’s body shop, we got in there and fixed her right up. THANK YOU guys. Incredible work.
…And so here we are again, wobbling on down the road to FRISCO, COLORADO for our first hit with MATHGAMES.
Hopefully, I’ve got all the details right this time….