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.