Sunday, June 18, 2006

Stuff from Da

My upbringing wasn't any kind of Beaver Cleaver stuff. Me Da was an Irish jazz musician. Most of the lessons I learned from him were about how to survive in the music industry. Yeah, he loved his kids, but he was also a drunk who got mean. So I mostly wiped that stuff off the slate, give him his props for who he was and moved on myself. My own kids have told me that my biggest strength as a parent is that I don't think I'm very good at it so I check with them (they usually have the best take on situations involving them, go figure) and other people. I rarely trust my best instincts. But, this isn't about me.

Da wasn't a wild man on the bass. He was steady. He was an anchor or foundation that other musicians could build upon. Harry the Hipster told me that something he loved about the way Da played was that he could get as out there as he wanted to on solos and improvisations, take a breath, listen to the bass for a few beats and know exactly where in the phrase he was. That counts for a lot. One of the things I inherited from Da was a solid sense of rythym and phrase. You can't teach that, it's a DNA thing. I stop that! this isn't about you asshole Da kept it simple. He boiled music down to the essentials, concentrating the flavors like a beautiful reduction sauce. Something he taught me that I still hold close:

There's only two songs in the whole world;
The blues, and "Zippity Doo Dah."
He's right. That's even true in classical music. Mozart's sublime Requiem is blues. Sad and beautiful. "Eine Kliene Nachtmusic" is zippity. Like blues and zippity all music has a structure and a style. Most songs break down into one or the other. At least, they do in my experience.
One of the hardest lessons from Da came because he started taking me with him on gigs early. He figured since I was an early sprout, being able to play, first the cello (which we tuned like a bass and I stood next to Da), and could sing on pitch, I might as well be the novelty part of the show and bring a few extra bucks for the family bank. Thing was I was a kid and wanted to do kid stuff at times when there was grown up money to be made. So Da had to explain the situation to me. He said:
Those people paid good money for those seats and
they don't give a tinker's damn what you want.
That ticket they're holding means that this night
is about what they want.
Any performer at any level would do well to remember that at all time. We as musicians (or any performing artist) exist only because there's an audience that approves of our performance. If we fail the audience we've failed our art. It was a harsh lesson for a kid to learn, but it was necessary, and a fundamental concept. Ever since then, I have always remembered that the show isn't about me, it's about the audience. Retribution for forgetting that one is swift and merciless.
The best, and therefore the one in the coveted blowoff position, is this:
Jazz, when you do it right comes from
The top of your head and
The bottom of your heart
At the same time.
If you need words of explaination for that one, you'd never understand anyway.
For those lessons, Thanks Da.
For everything else, well the good stuff was great, the other stuff didn't really matter in the end.
I wish my kids had been given a chance to know me Da. I miss him most of the time.

2 Comments:

Blogger litbrit said...

*wipes tears*

Beautiful. I'm sure Da is smiling, through you.

What lucky kids you have.

8:26 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

Da had a megawat, totally irish charm the scales off a dragon smile. i think i miss that the most.

8:35 AM  

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