Wed May 16, 2012, 08:33 AM
Scuba (39,111 posts)
Out of Water - A bus trip with the cool kids
In the fall of 2004, I was invited to join the Ropeadope New Music Seminar: twenty rock and jazz musicians, and me, on a ten-day, ten-city bus tour. Each marathon show would be a seamless arc of music, with spontaneous and varied combinations of musicians improvising their way through the evening. Frankly, they had me at “bus.”
The adrenaline was pumping for our first show in Des Moines, Iowa. At the sound check I met some of the musicians — Charlie Hunter; DJ Olive; Bobby Previte; Stephen Bernstein and his big band, Sex Mob; Critters Buggin’; and Lyrics Born. I had no repertoire in common with any of them and was terrified by the idea of improvising with no rehearsal or pre-planned musical architecture. The promoters asked me to start things off with a solo cello set and I dove into the most cutting-edge contemporary pieces I knew: David Sanford’s “7th Avenue Kaddish,” Steven Mackey’s “Rhonda Variations,” Luna Pearl Woolf ’s “Impromptu” and my arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” from Woodstock. In the middle of this last selection I started hearing some cacophonous drumming effects. I looked up and there was Bobby Previte on the electric drum kit, laughing his head off at how long it had taken me to realize there was someone else on stage.
By the time we reached Chicago, I was beginning to let my hair down, making new musical friends. Still sheepish about my improvisational chops, I found myself on stage with Stephen Bernstein and Sex Mob. In front of a thousand dancing twenty-somethings, I reminded Stephen that I don’t play jazz. He shrugged, told me to “play legato, staccato, whatever” and dove into his real-time arranging. He brought the band down to a whisper, and pointed to me.
It was a wonder to absorb rock music, improvising with the same listening skills one employs in chamber music, and seeing unexpected connections and expanded perspectives grow organically out of music’s continuum.
Unrehearsed, spontaneous music-making - is that the best kind? Welcome your thoughts.
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