January was an interesting month. Compared to my productivity and practice in December it was almost a lost month. I know that’s a bit of an over statement but sometimes it can be hard to overcome my inertia and sit down behind the music stand, plug in and get things done.
There were several performances to prepare for including rehearsals with Rant Maggie Rant, 5PGB, Rob Larose & Friends and Emm Gryner. If there’s one thing I’m grateful for it’s the diversity of music and artists I get to work for. As with last month the preparation involved listening and playing along with tracks as well as reading charts and improvising over chord changes. Damian Erskine’s book did not appear on the music stand this month but I’m still working on scales in 4th, 5th, 6th etc. I’m also taking a closer look at melodic minor and it’s associated chords. That has led me to experiment with different substitutions when I improvise. Very much a work in progress.
Rant Maggie Rant played two concerts with the International Symphony Orchestra. There really is nothing like playing music with a full orchestra behind you. The lesson I learned from those two shows is to bring the right tools for the job. I left the double bass at home for the first night due to space limitations and played electric bass for all of RMR’s tunes. I usually play a mix of double bass and electric with this band. Some of the tunes just didn’t sit well or sound right on electric. I made some mistakes that I’ve never made before so the result was I was a bit dissatisfied with my performance that night. So the next night I brought the double bass along and the bass sound was right for each tune. As a result I felt comfortable and played a better show. The other issue I’m dealing with is how my basses sound in the front of house system. There are times when the bass sounds very pointy and bright in sound check. To my ears it’s a distracting tone that needs fixing Of course you have to point that out politely but in the end the sound person and I end up on the same page.
5PGB (Five Piece Groove Band) had a show at the end of January. The band started of as a rehearsal band a couple of years ago but last year we began to play some shows. The music and reading are a challenge. The group pushes me out of my comfort zone. There are several developments in my playing that I’m excited about with 5PGB. There are some tunes like Joshua which is a quick swing tune that moves between 4/4 and 3/4. When we started running that tune we all felt the challenge of playing the tune. Initially we were just getting through it. Or at least I was! Now it’s getting to the point where I barely need the chart on that tune and a few others and I can really focus more on getting inside the tune and see where it goes.
My improvising over changes will always be a work in progress but on the night of the 5PGB gig there were a couple of solos where I may have made a somewhat coherent musical statement. My practice routine leading up to the show was to work through the chord changes and build up my tempos to play 1/8 notes over the quick tempos. I didn’t focus on playing like that on the gig but hopefully I will get to a point where I can do that. The other side of that will be to work on leaving more space over quick tempos and making interesting note choices.
My goal for February is to bring more structure to the practice routine. I’ll work on trying to divide my available practice time into several parts. Reading, improvising, listening/ear training as well as a mix of double bass and electric bass. Damien Erskine’s book will be back on the music stand too. I also got some good news over the weekend about a gig in the fall which will involve double bass and electric so that will help focus me since there is a clear goal to aim for.