Mailing List

Subscribe to my highly unannoying monthly mailing list:

Matt Roberts' Music Blog

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perez/Patitucci/Blade Workshop: Perseverance toward light beyond any darkness

The Wayne Shorter Quartet after their concert Sat night.
I recently attended a free workshop at Koerner Hall, the beautiful concert hall inside the new RCM building here in Toronto. The workshop was sponsored by the music programs of both U of T and Humber, as well as Yamaha Music Canada. Tim Ries helped to facilitate it happening.

The workshop was given by the rhythm section for Wayne Shorter's current quartet, Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums).  It was the most moving and inspiring clinic that I can recall attending. Everyone I spoke with afterwards seemed very moved; at times Danilo, John, and Brian seemed to get emotional themselves. Many inspiring ideas and concepts were presented. I think I will be returning to it in the future when I am in need of inspiration. I may also be writing further blog posts about it!

Each of the three musicians brought a unique gift to the workshop.  Danilo was very entertaining with his humorous, self-effacing stories of challenges that Wayne posed to him. His was very warm and open.  Brian was very reverent and unafraid to express profound insights.  I found it inspiring to hear John talk about how he felt insecure as a younger player, and how he has grown and learned to deal with this.  Of course we all deal with insecurities, not only as musicians, but as human beings as well.

Generally what I found most inspiring about the clinic was how they talked about developing as a person and developing as a musician as going hand in hand.  That's inspiring to me, because obviously I want to do both, and I want all aspects of my life to feed into one another so that everything is mutually enriched.  Seeing music as a human journey seems more meaningful from the perspective of both the musician and listener.

I saw the concert with Wayne later that night, and I really enjoyed it.  However, I have to admit that at times it seemed so abstract that I found it difficult to latch onto.  Re-listening to the clinic, I noticed that several times they mention that they feel "not everyone is sensitive" to what they're putting out, but that if you can "tune into the frequency" then it is very intense.  Maybe I have to do some more work tuning in that frequency.

Here is an audio recording of the clinic (thanks to Tom Flemming for hooking me up with it). I contacted the management of Perez, Patitucci, and Blade and asked them for permission to post it to my website. The management for Blade and Patitucci said it was okay. (John even thanked me for my kind words and expressed how moved he was by the response to the concert last Saturday.) I didn't hear back from the management for Perez. If I do hear back from them that he doesn't want this recording up here, I'll take it down.

If you don't have time to listen to the entire recording, I have included below a written transcription of some of my favorite parts, which include time references in case you find a bit you really like and want to hear them actually say it. I also included some notes on the actions on stage, in case you are listening to the audio without having attended the clinic.  You can also download an mp3 by clicking on the down arrow in the widget.

Perez-Patitucci-Blade Workshop Koerner Hall Toronto Ontario Feb 12 2011

13:21 JP: We are friends on a deep level, and have shared a lot of experiences in life and music together. So that empathy, and joy, and communication that we share in the music is really an outgrowth of what we share when we have to go through days like today, where we take two flights and get up at 5 o'clock in the morning.

18:02 BB: When John talks about empathy or commitment when it comes to playing music together it really comes down to that trust, to be able to take a chance. Obviously we all have to have that conviction inside to be able to embrace the time with your own hands and with your own body. But to be able to share that, then I think freedom comes from that commitment. I feel like I can do anything and they will wrap it in a bow. Hopefully they feel like they can do anything and there will be a response, someone to look and give an agreement to it.

21:09 DP: I am still scared. This is a situation of really truly not knowing what's going to happen. The only instruction you have is "flying" and "go to galaxy".

21:40 Danilo talks about his first experience with Wayne, during the recording session for Alegria, and trying to put "water" into chords.

25:57 BB: That cumulative time spent together, and having all those unspoken things develop... I hope everyone has at least one other person that they have some relationship with where they can make music... to have that reflection and for someone to just give you a look, and maybe you're dragging a little.

Wayne, he wants you to take off, and fly. Which is scary, like Danilo says, but liberating too.

32:10 Danilo is miming Wayne leaning on the piano and looking sort of bored or disinterested.

47:35 BB: You're always trying to get to that next plateu, and then you reach that, and it's never enough. You always want to see what's higher. So the only way to do that is to make it a daily devotion.

50:25 DP: Music is supposed to bring us together, music is supposed to heal, music is supposed to play such a role. I really reconnected with this. I think it is important you reconnect with what brought you all the way to where you are. To really think about why you are doing music.

51:45 DP: Gratitude and respect. When you have a great teacher, and someone who is helping you, always stay with gratitude. Every time you have those values, instead of thinking "Oh I'm going to play what I practised!" you think "Oh my teacher was such a nice man, and he showed me this chord..." and you go "Wow!"

52:24 DP: Just remember, it's the human part. When we do this on and on, on an on, on and on, we are actually working [on ourselves?]: "Am I greedy?" "Do I want to just play alone - I don't want to play with people!" All this stuff comes out about you. "Am I egocentric? Am I just blowing on top of these people? Or are we playing with each other? Am I relating? Am I saying 'hi' to people?"  You learn if you take the opportunity to play with people as a human development, you learn a lot, and you know what to practise. It's about humanity, don't forget that.

53:43 JP: We're humbled by the fact that everyone here has gifts. If you're honest with yourself, playing music - I don't care where you get to - is very humbling, because there is always something else to work on. Being around these guys I learn a lot, and being around Wayne we all learn a tremendous amount, with his humility. And he's a genius. I can actually say this: "I'm not a genius, he is." and it doesn't bother me. I know when I was younger that used to bother me, when I heard somebody play something that was a lot better than me I would get all angry and everything. Except that would force me into the shed, and then later on I realized "Yeah, if you hear something great, just go back in the shed and work. And find out who you are and what you do."

55:57 Question: In a few words, what have you learned from playing with Wayne?
BB: [long pause] I guess I've learned about perseverance toward light beyond any darkness that might come into your life. Beyond anything that might want to make you quit. Quit life. That your fire remains burning and you keep putting another note on the page, you keep lifting that horn. Seeing him do that every night, hearing that sound, one note, hearing that sound - one note, it's over. It's like "God, thank you for this man."

57:37 JP: Wayne disarmed me at an early age. One time we were playing at the Bluenote and he played this amazing solo that would take you to another place, and then drop you off, and then he looked at me and said "Want some?" and I was like "No!" I had been playing with a lot of people - you know Chick, etc - and I just thought "I can't even say one word after that." And it made me reanalyze what it was about [a great solo that makes it great?].

59:58 DP: My life as a bachelor stopped. And Wayne was a big influence together with John, getting on my case. Because I had met the woman of my life and I was suavisito, not committed. And Wayne would drop things like "You know those kind of things creep in the music man, you know, you got to watch for them." And he would call me at 2 o'clock and be like "How are you doing? How's your wife?" Because he knew from the beginning that I was like "Oh yeah maybe, but she's got a temper." And he was like "Yeah that's what you need, someone to confront you!" "Oh I don't know about that..." "You just want it easy! That's courage. Courage, when you're willing to invest with somebody all of your life and go through the ups and downs that it takes. That's the practise that you bring into the band stand." The one lesson that really stuck with me is that we are used to having a band leader who only tell us about music. Wayne never talks about that. He talks about life all the time. He is probably the greatest leader I've ever worked with because he made me a better leader. I notice that with my band. I am not upset anymore; if someone makes a mistake, I try to make something of that. With my band I bring that kind of peacefulness that it takes for people to invest spiritually in the music. He taught us that. The only time we would see him upset is when we don't try hard enough and when we don't take chances. That's a sign of a great leader - to inspire leadership in other people.

1:03:04 DP: [On what Wayne said about playing with them.] This is the idea of playing with these guys. You are a little kid and you are missing the whole parade. The father is narrating the whole parade. You are like "Oh my God, I want to see it! I want to see it!" And all of the sudden, the father gets the energy, and he takes the kid and puts him on his shoulders.  And now the kid see what her father sees, and even farther away.

Back to main blog page.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rest and Play: Enjoying Getting Stuff Done

It's been a while since my last post! It's too bad because there were actually a lot of things that I wanted to write about, but I got busy with other things, and now they aren't as fresh in my mind.  I'm going to try think about doing more frequent, shorter posts in the future.

Even though my last post was over a month ago, I'm still thinking about the ideas of Brene Brown.  I wrote my last post after watching her TED talk.  I have since read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and found it interesting, inspiring, and liberating.  In particular, I want to write a bit on my reaction to the chapter "Cultivating Play and Rest - Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth."

In the chapter Dr. Brown proposes that "making the choice to rest and play is, at best, counterculture." Our society generally has been pushing to become more and more busy for many decades now. Speaking from my personal experience as a musician, I can relate to this twisted idea of "exhaustion as a status symbol" (although I think it is common to many professions). It seems that often when one musician asks another what they've been up to lately, the reply is laden with anxiety about being perceived as busy.  The anxiety seems to be that if a musician isn't extremely busy, they're boring, uninspired, disconnected from the music scene, and clearly not a person that other musicians would want to collaborate with.  Sometimes the question is simply stated as "Are you busy?" which is jazz-slang for "Do you have any gigs?" which is, in turn, jazz-slang for "Is your life worth living right now?" I recall one Facebook status update that a friend of mine made which boasted of an almost inhuman amount of music-related work that they were doing in a given amount of time.  I read the status with envy, but looking back on it now, I wonder if that is really something that is right for me to envy. Wouldn't that be incredibly stressful? Would they really be able to do their personal best at every one of those things? Sometimes when we try to do too much, this can lead to botching things up, and in the end it may have been better if we had not attempted any of it.  Speaking for myself, if the only time I feel adequate is when I'm extremely busy, then my choices are to either feel inadequate because I'm not busy enough, or to feel really stressed out - and probably inadequate as well anyway because I don't have time to do the things I'm doing properly.  My only reasonable avenue is to try to let go of this idea that I can't simultaneously have time for rest while being an inspired and talented musician. The reality is that being relaxed and rested no doubt encourages inspiration.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the tricky phenomena of identity and the snags it can lead to.  For example, when I first started playing bass (at the innocent age of 16), I spent many hours a week practicing and jamming, all relatively free from worries about how good I was or how I compared to others.  Then in 2000 I started studying music full time, and I rapidly developed some intense anxieties around these subjects. I think some of this came from a shift in my identity - I started to think of myself not just as "someone who played music", but as a "real" musician.  The attitude was "This is my profession. I have to be good at this. I can't just fool around anymore." Now, ten years later, I've experienced a similar shift in thinking of myself as a "real" composer. The problem is that "just fooling around" - i.e. playing - is essential to the creative process. Dr. Brown quotes another researcher, Dr. Stuart Brown, in her chapter:
"'The opposite of play is not work - the opposite of play is depression.' He explains, 'Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.'"
Not every idea I think of when I'm trying to compose is going to seem like solid gold right away. But I've noticed that if I just allow myself to fool around with ideas, then often ideas I thought were bad will lead to good ones - although often in ways I didn't expect at first. If I insist that every idea that comes out of me holds up to my idea of a "professional composer", then I have a sure-fire recipe for writers block.

I now have a sticky-note on my computer monitor that says "PLAY" in large friendly letters, with a happy face underneath it. I think it is helping a bit!

Have you experienced anxieties related to your identity? How did that effect you? How did you deal with that? Can you think of other ways that rest and play can (paradoxically?) help us do more and better "work"? How do you balance your need for rest with your ambitions?

Back to main blog page.