This is a guest post: by Guy Gardner. Gifted jazz pianist and author, Guy's début recording as a leader is 'Emma's Dream' with Bassist Jeff Clyne and Drummer Trevor Tomkins, featuring original material. ‘New Directions’ will be available later on this year. You can find more about him @ www.GuyGardner.co.uk
It’s a cold November morning, and we’ve been driving since 6 am. We get to the studio which is called Red Gables, and located in south east London. Richard the bass player isn’t there yet and so we bang on the door which is answered by Dick Hamett, the engineer and owner of Red Gables.
We start shifting the drum kit in whilst Dick puts the kettle on. I see this particular studio for the first time in seven years, since I did my last trio album. The piano (a beautiful Steinway loved my many pianists both classical and jazz) crouches sulkily behind a partition covered in blankets looking like a large unmade bed.
I feel doubt set in. It seems like an impossible task at times; in a few moments I’m going to be sitting at that piano with a pair of cans on and I am going to try to play like myself and get something down which will, after all, be around for a very, very long time.
I was incredibly nervous on the first album recorded there Emma’s Dream (available from Cd baby). But I used that I suppose the way an actor might, and made the album about the presentation of the compositions which were all mine apart from two standards. I knew it wouldn’t be a roof raiser in that sense, so I concentrated on creating a world of sound, light and shade.
Listening to it now I think it worked well, but that kind of thing is a one trick pony, you need to be able to do more than that the second time around or what was interesting becomes merely tedious.
In the intervening years between then and now I worked in a lot of different situations which I think is what built my playing up. I did everything from concerts with musicians who far surpassed me in musical intellect and ability to really play, to pop gigs and anything and everything else.
When you play enough you begin to get comfortable in your own musical skin. You learn the standards, and you begin to get an overview of how and more important when to play. I found that just learning to play with, and listen to other people to an enormous amount of practice.
‘Time, said pianist John Horler, my teacher throughout the time I studied music at Dartington College of Arts, is everyone’s biggest problem.’ I think it is the single most true statement I’ve heard. So I worked on my time, not just the metronome beat but the pulse which runs through all good music.
So, aspiring musicians you get all this stuff together. What next? You are ready to take on the world, but actually the world isn’t much interested.
That’s the truth; there are many people who can play beautifully, and they all deserve their place in the sun. I didn’t know this really when I recorded the first album, if I had I might have approached it differently, so perhaps then it was a good thing. Ignorance is bliss they say.
I spent a lot of time promoting the first album and I got a good review from the late Ian Carr and about 11 really nice gigs…eventually. It was very hard, I mean really hard. You have to get on that phone and pester people who don’t know who you are and have a lot of other stuff to do. To them you are a massive pain in the backside, but if you pester them enough they might relent or they might not.
But you have to go on. Try everything. That’s my advice. Get a recording together, which is the highest quality you can make it, with the best musicians you can. Put your heart in it and believe it is a true statement of your artistic soul.
Done that? Good. Now view it as a product. That’s what you are selling after all. Your brand, your unique selling point.
Look at the images of Miles Davis. He was a product and he knew it and used it as a vehicle to speak the truth through his music.
As a musician especially a jazz musician. You have to expect disappointment. The musical market isn’t geared for us and it hardly makes any money. If you get a record deal you are doing extremely well, and if you earn enough money to buy a sofa from it you are in the elite few.
You can’t blame the record companies. They are in the business of selling products and jazz is a bit like some amazing brand of crisps that a few people love, but well, they’re not Walker’s crisps are they?
So why then bother trying it at all? I went into the studio knowing all this, feeling about 50 years older in musical experience, knowing our next cd will be a hard slog (a trio album is even harder to sell by the way). I know there will be a lot of difficulty and we will find it hard to make our money back and get gigs.
As Richard calmly puts rosin on his bow and Simon experimentally plays a few licks on the snare (one of 5 he brought to the session). I know the reason and it’s simple.
We all belong here. We make music and that’s the truth of it.
‘New Directions’ will be available in the new year.
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Listen to my last album on Spotify