Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Right Place: Right Time...

Just about every musician I've ever spoken to has agreed that a great deal of an individual's chances of success in the music business relies on them being in that mythical right place at the right time. But I think there's a lot more to it than that. I think you've got to be in the right place at the right time – but with the right attitude.

To illustrate what I mean, I'll give you a few examples. 

I once knew a bass player who was really, really good. He was a joy to play with in that he could find the exact groove necessary for whatever we were playing and deliver it in spades for as long as you needed him to. It was just a matter of time before he got head-hunted and sure enough, he received a phone call from a name musician asking if he would do a European tour. Despite the fact that it meant we were suddenly minus a bass player, we were all very happy for him and wished him well. The trouble was that whilst he was together in the playing stakes, from a businesslike point of view, he was nothing short of a disaster.

Doing any kind of tour isn't just a simple case of getting on the right plane on the right day, it takes planning and a lot of paperwork. Back then, you needed some sort of work permit for certain European countries and in order to get them, you had to produce documents and fill in a few forms. For some reason, the bass player in question could not (or would not) get his act together on this front and, after weeks of phone calls from the band in question with increasingly more and more desperate demands for his papers, he lost the job. The music business is like that: you generally only ever get one chance.

The next couple of contrasting scenarios feature me in the lead role... 

I was once called to do a gig where a legendary saxophone player was guesting. The band concerned was a jazz fusion outfit who occasionally drifted into funk in a sort of Miles Davis kind of way. So naturally I took a Strat, a box of effects, an amp and my jazz fusion head along. After the first half, the band leader called me over and told me that Mr Sax Legend wanted to open the second half with a duet – with me. So I went and sought him out to ask what he wanted to play. He said he wanted to play My Funny Valentine – a jazz standard. Now, it occurred to me that I had with me some entirely inappropriate gear; I'd left my archtop at home, along with the necessary mindset for playing standards. But, in the spirit of 'the show must go on' I borrowed a real book from the bass player, checked out the chart for 'Valentine' and went on stage hoping I wasn't about to end my career on a low note.

But the worst was yet to come... While we were playing the first few chorusses with me providing some pretty (and hopefully apt) changes, a thought struck me like a knife in the chest: any minute, he was going to nod me in for a solo. And when you're the only other instrument, 'solo' means solo. My mind raced from 'surely not' to 'oh, God our help in ages past...' and sure enough, Mr Legend turned round and bade me take my turn in the spotlight.

Now I have no delusions whatsoever about being Joe Pass, but I must have managed to painfully scrape something together because no-one actually laughed. But I certainly wasn't asked for my phone number that night.

Fast forward a few months and the same thing happened; same band, different sax legend. This time, though, the music remained in that funky fusion comfort zone that both my gear and I were happy with. The gig went well – and three months later I got a phone call from Sax Legend II asking me if I would be interested in joining his band...

Right time, right place, right attitude – and the right gear.

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