Building Instruments: A Business Experiment in Tucson

I’ve always been interested in guitars, and later that interest grew to include basses, and then a variety of stringed instruments. When we lived in Delaware, in the late 90s and into the early 00s, I worked at a music store, Mid-Atlantic Music where my boss, Nick Bucci, did repair work and was also beginning to build his own instruments. Nick was, and still is, both an excellent guitarist and luthier. Even his earlier instruments were formidable. I used to love watching Nick work on instruments, whether he was repairing something or building something from scratch. Watching Nick, led to learning basic repairs, set up techniques and wiring tips from Nick. I had some issues with not rushing things, which led to a fair share of mistakes, but by the time we left Delaware I was more than competent at doing setups and various other small repairs. I also had the bug, and was starting to move toward building.

My first attempt at assembling an instrument was a FrankenStrat I put together in Delaware from a Warmoth body and a reissue Fender Strat neck that I purchased from Tommy Alderson, another of Nick’s employees and currently one of Steve Morse’s guitar techs. Nick painted the body for me and I did all of the assembly. It was a decent strat in the end which went up for sale before we moved to Tucson. From there I bought an A style mandolin kit from Stewart-MacDonald, along with some tools and scrapers. It was an expensive mistake, and ended up being unplayable, but that didn’t stop me from buying an F style mandolin kit when we hit Tucson. It was more difficult than the A style, but it is still playable some fourteen years later and is currently hanging on my studio wall in Oak Park. From there I was determined to start making some functional instruments.

I came into a small inheritance at the time which financed tooling up and purchasing building supplies. My father generously let me use a back room in his art studio in Tucson to set up shop and I started designing and building electric guitars and basses. Honestly I loved the whole process. Working with the wood to carve necks and create bodies was a tactile joy. I loved the feel of the wood giving in to take shape under my hands, and the smell of the sawdust. Quite frankly it was one of the happiest periods in my life, out there in that shop creating something out of nothing. It wasn’t easy, to say the least, but it was very gratifying despite the intense learning curve. My time with Nick had given me a basic understanding of what I needed to do, but I hadn’t done any actual woodworking since middle school shop so many years ago.

I had to learn how to use the router effectively, and I found that it was a difficult tool to master. There was quite a good deal of torque involved which was quite tiring physically for my forearms and hands. The neck shaping was also quite physical because the roughing out was done with rasps and draw knives. I used a radial sander for smoothing and shaping as well, both on the necks and bodies. There were many blisters from the draw knives and a sore spot where I braced the necks against my chest during the process that would ache for days. There were always piles of wood shavings and sawdust everywhere. How it didn’t get into my dad’s painting studio still amazes me. I did keep the door shut between his area and mine, and then while I was running the sanders, band saw or router I always kept the windows and outside door open to push the sawdust outside as much as possible.

I read books about building, watched Stew-mac instructional videos and bought a compendium of wiring diagrams to learn from. While I had watched Nick refret instruments, I had never done it myself so that was a massive learning experience in itself. After close to a year in the shop I started building instruments that actually worked, played well and sounded good. Ironically enough my successes were primarily bass guitars, one of which I still own and play upon occasion, although it is quite heavy. It was at about this time that my daughter was born and I found myself going over to the shop less and less. My mother was more than willing to look after Phoebe while I was in there, but money concerns were building as well so I went into teaching part time at Pima County Community College. Soon thereafter I closed the door on my shop, focusing on playing as much as could, teaching and raising my daughter.

I still have the equipment to build, and finished a bass last August using a neck I’d built in Tucson. Most of the time, though, my shop in Oak Park is gathering dust and cobwebs. One of the things I learned was that building is an expensive process even after you have the required tools. The raw materials, particularly good ones worthy of building with, are inherently expensive, as well as the hardware and electronics. I do miss the feeling of the wood taking shape in my hands and the smell of sawdust from the various woods used. I also will value the experience of pursuing something that was a passion for that year or so, even if it didn’t lead to a profitable business in the end. Who knows, perhaps I will return to it someday in the future.

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Reviewing the Past Year with Eyes on the Next

After being gone for close to a week I find myself back in Oak Park, Illinois and back to the good old Midwestern gray skies once again.  It was nice to see blue skies out in Tucson, Arizona, and to enjoy a short hike in the desert without burning up in the process.  My family and I arrived home yesterday evening and picked up our dog, George, from Spike’s Boutique Hotel for Dogs shortly thereafter.  This morning I had a rehearsal with one of the blues-rock bands I’m playing with, The Blu Wavs, and tomorrow night I have a gig with them in Palos Heights.  I’m off this New Year’s Eve, which is a plus because I can spend it with my family as well as avoiding the inevitably impaired drivers that come with that particular holiday.  On the negative side it’s usually one of the better payouts of the year, so I’m missing that.  Saturday is New Year’s Eve, and my wife likes to set aside some time to review the passing year, making note of good things that happened, places visited and experiences accrued, as well as some time to consider the incoming year and set some benchmarks for it.

This past year has had some interesting turns, particularly toward the end, assisted somewhat by taking both the summer and fall semesters off from teaching college.  This past summer I did teach three weeks at the Dominican Gifted and Talented Camp, one week of Creative Writing, one week of Star Wars Fan Fiction writing, and then one week of American Literature focusing on Ernest Hemingway.  It was fun for the kids and for me as well and it was two more weeks than I taught the summer before.  I had two weeks scheduled for the previous summer, but only one flew.  This summer I was scheduled for two and picked up the third due to a scheduling conflict with the originally slotted instructor.  I managed to acquire the third through a combination of networking, social media, and luck.

The summer was slow in terms of gigs because I was officially band-less.  I did a couple of pickup gigs for local block parties, which were fun, and I also performed with a group that was assembled for an original music block that was also fun.  Through these gigs I added contacts and now have some increasingly reliable folks with skills to draw from for similar situations.  Starting in August I started increasing my musical commitments to what I have right now, four groups, two of which are actively performing and two of which are in the process of building up to it.  This is a welcome shift in the tides as well, as I was not working nearly as much from a year ago in August to last June.

I’ve also landed a part-time gig teaching English Composition for this Spring Semester at Moraine Valley Community College.  I have two classes stacked around mid-day on Tuesday and Thursday.  The pay is much better than where I was teaching last year, and it only requires that I’m there two days a week versus the four I was at the old position.  I’ll still need to plan preparation time, grading time and allow for a longer commute, but the result is I will still have a good amount of time for my writing and musical projects, two distinct plusses.  MVCC is south of Oak Park, and is very close to a large natural area with many acres under the auspices of the Cook County Forest Preserves that are quite nice.

With everything that has come along during the past six months or so, I’m finding myself developing a strong desire to clarify my musical direction, especially the overall arc of where I want to go with it.  I’ve piled on the projects, hoping that they will start to generate income, and a couple have started to bring in some funds, at least in bits and pieces.  It’s definitely not a living as of yet, but it’s a start.  However, I do think that I need something more from it all, as well as a good deal more cash coming in from it.  I’m coming to the conclusion that I really need a solid direction that is under my control and that excites me.  I’m a fairly steady guy; not much really gets me excited.  I look forward to things, but in so far as getting a real charge out of pretty much anything, it really doesn’t happen all that often.  So this is something that I really need to do something about in the next year.  I think that it is truly vital that I do this in the very near future.  After all, another year has passed and so has another birthday.  It looks like one thing is certain, I’ve done some preparation for tomorrow’s time with my wife and daughter!

 

Being Mindful in Life and Music

It’s under two days until Christmas and the gift shopping was just completed this morning.  For us that’s truly squeaking it in; we like to be done at least a week before hand but the past couple of years have been quite last minute.  I guess that this is at least in part due to being busy people.  My wife works full time in a demanding position at the University of Chicago, and spends close to three hours a day commuting.  She gets up super early so she get her mileage in running before work, so she ends up going to bed at the same time as our twelve year old daughter.  I’m usually filling my time chasing my three careers (writing, teaching, and music making) around in circles, so it’s not unusual to have a gig, two or three evening rehearsals, a day-time rehearsal and various other aspects eating up time.  We are the multi-tasking task force between the two of us, and then my daughter has her  after school activities as well.  I have more time to simply be than my wife does, but when I do it’s usually at the expense of something I should have been occupied with.

I’m working my way toward adopting an eastern religion, Buddhism, and I’m fairly certain that I’ll end up there, but some things have to change in order for me to get there.  One of these is mindfulness.  I’m struggling with the Buddhist concept of the mind; it’s not super difficult but it’s also not exactly straightforward, so the mindfulness I’m attempting at this point is being aware of what I’m doing or not doing.  This might seem like a simple matter, but I can just about guarantee that most people aren’t fully aware of what they’re doing when they’re doing it.  For example, when I practiced scales a long time ago I was painfully aware of what I was trying to do with my fingers, but once I had the pattern locked in it became an automated process, and still is to this day.  I think this is how most of us really run scales, by rote and in a programmed sequence.  We don’t think about where the whole or half steps are, or even what the key signature is because we’ve linked our entire concentration on one aspect of the process:  where our fingers go.

Once we have locked in the physical process and can run up and down at varying speeds, our focus, if we have one, is perfecting our accuracy and increasing our speed.  We might reach a point where we figure we have mastered the process, and run these lines up and down with fluidity, but we’ve also, more often than naught, gone onto autopilot, particularly guitarists because for us the patterns are often either the same or a simple variation thereof.  Once we have the patterns a key change is just a matter of shifting the pattern to a higher or lower point on the neck, so we don’t really have to think about it.  While we think we’ve gained mastery we’ve actually missed a huge part of the train, the actual notes that construct the scale and the actual music that a scale can be.  If we are truly mindful, then we are turning our awareness toward the construction of the scale, we are taking the time to be aware of the note names and relationships as we move through them, and we are being aware of our physical state of existence in this moment of the note, where we’re carrying tension, how we’re breathing, our bodies’ relationship with the physical process and the emotional tension and release we are invoking in the entire process.  The entire practice of scales becomes exercise of the complete physical process paired with the theoretical relationships and then crowned by the emotional expression of the music itself.  Now we are being mindful, as well as growing into a better understanding of what we are doing in those moments.

An aspect of mindfulness that I find very appealing is that it is aimed at being in the moment.  This means that your focus is locked into what you are doing, thinking or what ever it is right now and you are giving this moment in your life your full attention.  You are being the best you that you can be in that moment and giving your best to that moment.  For instance, if I have a performance and I walk out on stage with my guitar, then that is where I need to be mentally, physically and emotionally.  Lives are complicated; I know mine is.  I spend a good deal of time worrying about things, some of which I have the power to change but most of which I don’t.  Most of the things I’m worried about aren’t going to change during the time I’m performing and worrying about them isn’t going to change the outcome either way.  The worry is a distraction from actually living.  The performance is part of really living and is something I have the power to prepare for and execute.  This is where mindfulness comes into play as well, because we are living right now.  We can make plans for our futures, and should, but what really makes the difference is what we do in the moment.

Mindfulness is something that doesn’t come easily to me.  Part of this is due to my ADD causing a certain amount of mental flitting around.  It’s difficult to sit and run scales even without going into the deeper aspects of what I’m actually learning and doing.  My brain has a tendency to ricochet and ping pong around even when I am maintaining a guise of being focused which is one of the reasons that I’ve been writing essays for the past two years, to help train myself to maintain a focused train of thought and chase it to a logical conclusion.  The essay format helps me enter a somewhat mindful state, as did the five paragraph operations order in the military.  Through mindfulness I hope to start finding my path, and to elevate my awareness of who I am through what I do.  I hope to become a better person through it, a more focused person, a more empathetic person and a better musician as I work my way along.

 

Band Biz: The Value of Well Conducted Meetings

Bands are made up of people, and in most cases they tend to be democratic units where everyone has a say in how things are run. Sometimes this is not the case, mostly situations where a leader has hired musicians to fulfill his or her project’s needs. In these cases money is usually involved even to rehearse. However, most bands function outside of the full on pro level and so adopt a majority rules approach. You might have a semi official leader, someone who runs rehearsals, and a division of labor among the group members, but all of this is usually decided by the group as a whole. In order for things to run smoothly, and various jobs to be agreed upon, it is usually necessary to hold periodic meetings, often short ones before or after rehearsals. Sometimes longer meetings are held either in lieu of or in addition to scheduled rehearsals, but these are primarily on an as needed basis. In order for the group to get the most out of its short, or long, scheduled meetings each member must know in advance that the meeting is going to take place, there should be an actual written agenda for the meeting, someone needs to document the proceedings and any decisions made, and everyone must be comfortable with a majority rules decision making process.

Meetings must have a purpose and if they’re going to be conducted successfully should have a plan laid out in the form of an agenda. The agenda should include the topics that need to be discussed and can follow a template decided on by the group. Some things discussed will of course need more time than others, such as new material proposals. One of the benefits of an agenda is that it can be sent to the band members before the meeting so they can think about the topics before hand and come up with ideas. Proposing new material is one of the areas that each member should do some prep work on before the meeting so they are coming to the meeting with a potential list of suggestions in place. This can also include emailing or texting suggestions to whomever is going to run the meeting so he or she can make up a master list for discussion and decision making at the meeting. This kind of pre-meeting planning and preparation can save quite a bit of time for everyone and help to keep things focused.

When the meeting takes place, someone needs to document what has been discussed, what decisions have been made, and then what needs to be carried over to the next meeting either due to running out of time or needing additional time to think about, prep responses to, or do the work required. Without documentation all too often the time ends up being wasted. People will forget what they decided, who said yes to what, what needed to be done before the next meeting/rehearsal, which songs were supposed to be next on the list to work on, and all of the other various aspects that were covered. Whoever takes notes for the meeting should within a reasonable amount of time transcribe what was covered, what decisions were made, and what needs to be addressed on the next agenda, then send it to the other members/make it available. This ensures that people remain on track and that everyone knows what his or her responsibilities are in relation to those decisions.

Bands run best when everyone is satisfied with how things are being decided, and feel like they really have a say in where things are headed and what is being done. It is very important that everyone feels like they have a voice that is heard and taken into consideration. That being said, when a band is run as a democracy everyone needs to be able to handle that when decisions are made, the majority rules. There should be boundaries, of course, and if someone totally despises a piece of music, or finds something intolerable then that MUST be taken into account. While it is a democracy it still needs to be reasonable, otherwise people will leave. If you’ve got a good team player who is being consistently shorted, then you’ll probably end up having conflict, so bear in mind that everyone needs to get his or her way sometimes. Keeping things on equal footing helps immensely.

Bands that are successful are so for many reasons, but one thing they have in common, particularly the ones that are together for extended runs, is that their people work well together for a common goal. This takes effort, even if everyone gets along well. Organization can make a huge difference in being able to maintain that solid relationship as the band moves along, grows and meets with new challenges. A key to creating that organization is open communication and one of the only ways that is going to happen is through dedicated meetings. These meetings must be planned with advance notice, have agendas, and need to have written documentation of what was decided and discussed in order to ensure that everyone is still on the same page the following week, rehearsal or performance. This can and will make a huge difference in both the productivity of the band, and the relationships between the band members.

Welcome to our Dystopian Future

Today the Electoral College casts its votes and seals the fate of my nation. Given that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes and somehow is not the next President of the United States, I can’t help but believe that the entire concept of democracy in this country is a farce. I am not optimistic that the Electoral College will instate Clinton, in fact I sincerely doubt it, and that leaves me feeling a sense of loss not only for the future of my nation and the many people who need help here, but also for the fate of the planet as Trump has no intention of doing anything to halt global warming or the other ominous and now dooming ecological disasters. I have been watching as Trump has appointed people who know nothing about the positions they’re being appointed to, their only qualifications being that they were somewhat loyal to him, are already extremely wealthy, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the people of the United States, The Constitution of the United States, and the United States’ relationship with any other country aside from Russia which helped seal this man’s election to the highest office in the country.

The ethos of the country I served in the military during the 80s is doomed and our Constitution is no longer being defended by our leadership who has sworn to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The election was a farce, and the results have been overtly influenced by a foreign power leaving us with a friend of Russia in power who has no concept of diplomacy and is already bringing us toward possible war with China despite not even being in office yet. I, along with millions of other Americans actively served to stand in defense of the United States and Europe itself against the threat of Russian aggression, and now we have an individual entering office who has benefitted from those very same people we stood against. Yes, the CCCP is gone, however Putin was a ranking officer in the KGB and along with many of his former officers is now running Russia and attempting to expand its borders. His people interfered with our election and what has been done about it?

I have been trying to find hope in this dark tunnel that we are passing through, but every day something happens that simply makes the situation worse. Once again I am left wondering how the people who voted for the man heard something different in his speeches that led them to believe that he had their interests at heart. I listened to hate filled vitriol spill from his mouth, and lie after lie after lie, each one more blatant than the next. I read of his statement that he could shoot a man in Times Square and still win people’s votes and have concluded that this was the one truth he spoke during the entire election. I tried to watch some of his speeches but they all seemed like some bizarre amalgamation of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and the people just fell in line. It seemed like he’d read Hitler’s playbook, applied it here, and the people screamed for their messiah. The one hope that I held, tenuous as it was, was that the Electoral College would somehow stop this nightmare that no one else was stopping.

Our cabinet is being filled with crooks, liars, and people who have no understanding of the positions they are filling. Our intelligence community is being openly disparaged by the man taking office, as he does to anyone who dares to disagree with him or can bring solid facts to the table that he doesn’t want to accept. He has created a hostile environment through his twitter account alone, and refuses to separate from his business interests despite abundant conflicts of interest. He wants his daughter to have the first lady’s office in the White House. Why? She’s not part of the government; she’s a businesswoman. Why does she have access? What about his business debts to other countries? Do you really think he’s not going to try to reap in financial benefits from his position? If you think he should, you’re kissing this country goodbye. His only loyalty is to his wallet.

I am living in a waking nightmare, struggling to find hope for the future and am being confounded at every turn. I thought that we were better than this, but perhaps that was just hubris on my part. I thought that the United States stood for freedom and equality for all, and that democracy was good. I wanted to believe that my country had a collective conscience that valued people for who they are, that helped those who were in need and wanted to make the world a better place for everyone and everything that relies on it for sustenance. Now, instead, I find myself fearing the utter dissolution of the fabric that binds us together and the impending destruction of our eco system. I am wondering what our children will inherit from this period, and I am mourning already for those who will suffer. Welcome to the new dystopian world that we have made.

Making a Life in the Arts: Make the Commitment, Do the Work; Expect Payment.

A life in the arts provides its inherent challenges, not the least of which is making a living within your art. Some folks go to school, graduate, then go on to graduate school, finally landing a job teaching in their field at the college level. While this might seem like an undesirable compromise to some altruists out there, the reality is these folks are lucky. They have found a way to make a decent living in their field, have the opportunity to continue pursuing their art, and are the ones who actually stand a chance of building a retirement fund in the process, all the while having access to other benefits like health care.   Some take the route of teaching in their field in elementary, middle and high schools. For those who land full time work there, it can be a reasonable living; however, in today’s public schools the arts are one of the first fields to be cut when funding crises occur. There are other ways to make your way in your field, but they are not for the uncommitted. If you can’t commit to doing everything it takes to make a living in your particular field, then you really need to face the fact that the only way you’re going to make it is with a day job.

The lady who owns the dance studio my daughter goes to studied dance through the college level, danced professionally for years, and is a certified dance teacher, licensed to teach in public schools as well as privately. She is currently in her middle years and still dances as the opportunity presents itself, but most of her professional life at this point is directly linked to her school here in Oak Park, IL. She has two studios, one in Oak Park and the other in Forest Park, which is a neighboring suburb. She has a cadre of instructors who are all excellent, and she still is very active teaching. I am amazed at the amount of work she puts into the studios, with dance concerts several times a year involving full productions on excellent stages in the area. She’s a dynamo who is also currently starting a dance company as well, featuring students and local professionals, and giving the ability to experience a full on professional production for the members. She spends enormous amounts of time teaching dance and choreography, producing the shows, choreographing dances and all the while maintains a positive attitude regardless of how stressed she might be. If you’re curious about her, her name is Diane VanDerhei, and her studio is Intuit Dance Studio in Oak Park, IL.

Diane is an example of the level of commitment necessary to be successful in the often cut-throat world of the arts. Most musicians that I know who aren’t teaching in colleges full time, either don’t make a living as a musician, relying on day jobs to pay the bills, or cobble together an income from a variety of sources, usually a combination of gigging, teaching private lessons, and working in a music store, or some combination thereof. I have a friend, Erik Truelove, in Tucson, AZ who is one of the best drummers I’ve ever worked with and a wonderful gentleman to boot. Erik has always been something of an entrepreneur and has worked as a contractor doing construction as well as having his own businesses over the years. Erik started a music school in Tucson called Drum and Drummer. Originally it was started to teach percussion, both group sessions and private one on one lessons. He also sells percussion instruments through his school. He has been successful, marketing his skills very well and has been expanding the school to include guitar, piano and bass lessons as well. This is in addition to working as a drummer on a fairly regular basis. He has a cadre of instructors as well as other staff who man the desk and take care of various aspects of business. This being said, the reason the place is running so well is that Erik committed to the project and didn’t go in part way. He had a plan, worked the plan and is getting solid results.

Often people go into the arts and have a somewhat flaky assumption that inspiration is something that cannot be rushed, you just have to wait for the moment and it’ll come. Most of those folks are still waiting. In order to be successful in the arts, whether it is dance, art, writing, music, or whatever, work must be done and it must be done on a regular basis. The people who are out there on the local level and making a living at it are all committed to doing the work it takes in order to reap the rewards. It’s also important to have a concrete understanding of what you need in order to make a decent living. What is a decent living must be ascertained otherwise it is simply a vague concept. Determining what you need to make also has a hand in determining what you need to do in order to hit that target. If you’re not willing to do that, then it’s definitely time to look for a different stream of income.

Too many people approach a life in the arts with the romantic notion that artists are dreamers who keep their own schedules and can’t be troubled with worrying about money. And far too many adopt an attitude that they’re selling out if they start thinking about the money aspect, looking upon those who expect to make money with sneers of disdain. The fact is people need to eat. They need a safe place to sleep and they need to be able to take care of themselves. Expecting to be paid for your art is simply the difference between a professional and an amateur. And if you have any hopes at all of making a life for yourself in the arts, you really need to focus on both your art, and how you can make a living with it. That is actually one of the key factors in succeeding. The other two are total commitment and tons of hard dedicated work.

Facing the Buffet and Making Choices: A Musical Smorgasbord

About a year ago I went through one of my “turn the focus to classical guitar” periods.  I had been playing with a community classical guitar group for fun, and had joined a classical guitar sextet to do more challenging material as well as possibly gigging with them.  I periodically go through these phases where I want to return to “serious” music, whatever that really means I’m not certain.  I posted a list of pieces I wanted to revisit, relearn and add to my solo repertoire.  That list is still on one of the windows in my studio, poking up behind my computer monitor.  Today it’s reminding me of where I’ve been before and where I’ll visit again some time from now, or tomorrow.  In many ways music has become a buffet table laden with delights from the many different places to explore, some exotic, some complex, some simple to the point of primitive, others heavy, weepy, joyful and downright creepy.  It’s all there right in front of me and I want it all at once.  I’ve also found that when I’m faced with the buffet I have difficulties determining my identity in all of it.  The easy answer is I’m a musician, but I’m not one that necessarily falls into a convenient slot for further identification, and that’s largely due to my own broad interests.

I have performed classical music as a guitarist, a pianist, and a choir member with large and small ensembles as well as performing as a solo classical guitarist.  I’ve also performed in alternative rock bands, dance bands, funk bands, blues bands, jazz bands, folk bands, country bands, jam bands, Americana groups, R&B bands, zydeco bands, cowboy rock and roll bands, hard rock bands, light rock bands, classic rock bands, country rock bands, and I’m sure I’m missing some other genres that I’ve done as well.  I’ve enjoyed all of them, some more than others, and when it comes down to brass tacks if the other players are good I’ll consider most genres as fair game and interesting in their own way.  I often like to be in a variety of groups at one time, playing different types of music in each, because variety keeps me ticking.  Too much of the same, along with too much repetition, kills the mix for me, and most of the time it doesn’t matter to me if I’m playing bass or guitar as long as I’m playing and performing.

One of the dangers of facing the buffet is overfilling the plate, particularly if it’s a really good buffet.  One of the local restaurants that I love is called The Khyber Pass, an Indian restaurant with an absolutely killer all you can eat buffet.  I have to be careful there because I’m always tempted to stuff myself to the bursting point, and all too frequently have because it’s so good.  The musical buffet presents the same danger, particularly when it comes to projects.  Sometimes it’s difficult not to over-commit, especially when opportunities start coming in.  When you have highly eclectic interests, like I do, often in order to get the variety I crave I have to play in multiple groups.  Most groups focus on a particular genre or target, and variety bands, particularly working variety bands, tend to be pretty tightly knit as well as few and far between.  This means that variety frequently requires multiple commitments, which in turn can lead to overcrowded plates.  When the opportunities are rolling in I have difficulty not overfilling the plate and then wanting to fill it with even more.

Now I’m looking at the list of songs on the window, wondering what I could pull off working on, how much time I have available, and then thinking about the new standards type of jazz project I’ve been considering doing, the four groups I’m currently with (two startups, one fully out of the gate and one getting out), and then my solo interests.  I have a lot going on, yes, but still want more, as well as more club dates to pay the bills.  I’m truly bellied up to the buffet, but I’m starting to wonder how much of it is dessert, versus how much is what really sustains me.  If I’m running with the food analogy, I have to also take into consideration what I need to eat to keep me as healthy as possible and what will keep me running best.  I have often found that when I want more, it’s usually because I’m not getting enough of something specific; there’s some important aspect that is missing in the equation so quantity becomes a way to appease the desire that hasn’t been either attended to or even defined.

Much of my musical journey has been a search for that missing aspect that needs to be fulfilled.  I’m still searching for the ultimate “right fit” and while I find myself periodically down for the count, I still inevitably pick myself up and return to the search.  I have to do this; it’s not optional for me.  It’s really integral to my personal make up, so I return to the search and keep bringing plates back from the buffet to my booth where I dig in once again.  The classical guitar comes out with the technical exercises and complicated pieces, the bass tunes down to E flat for the classic rock band and then up again to standard for the blues rock bands, and the acoustic steel string and nylon strings come out for the other work, all the while seeking that elusive compromise that makes it all work together, and brings home the cash.  I’m still searching, and I will be probably long after I find what I’m searching for.