| Jazz Gigging Penn - 1/07/02
Well, I did it. I've been
playing upright for a little over a year and I had my first
gig. Yeah, I've played the upright in the P&T show and
that's sure a professional gig, but it's different. This
was a real gig. It was a jazz duo with Jimmy McIntosh on
electric guitar and me on the upright acoustic bass. That
was it. No magic tricks, no talking, no jokes. Just my
"Real Book" and my ax. I was making a little more than a
couple orders of magnitude less than I make for P&T. We
were playing at a restaurant called Jazzed in North West
Las Vegas. I guess over the 3 hours that we played; there
were maybe 25 or 30 people there. They were eating. My
friends really came out. Chris, Kelli, Johnny, Pam, Lance,
Close, Zeke, and others. The restaurant did better
business because of us, I'm sure. Now even though I was a
bottom tier jazz musician, I still had a roadie. I'll
humiliate myself doing something I don't know how to do in
public, but it's hard to imagine something that could make
me schlep. So, a good part of my salary went to Zeke. He
brought my ax, my music stand, my very expensive chair, my
tuner, and even my bow and my little cloth. When I got to
the restaurant, he had it all set up. The owners of the
restaurant said I was the only one to have ever had a
roadie. But, schlepping and then playing would have broken
So, I showed up in my pork pie hat from Optimo, and I sat
down. Jimmy and I tuned up. No one was there. We got
ready. I realized that I hadn't counted on romantic
lighting so I couldn't see my music as well as I wanted.
Zeke came to the rescue and ran and got me a book light.
That saved the day. I had my glass of water and Jimmy had
our set list. He called the first tune. I've forgotten
now, but I think it was "All the Things You Are." Jazz
duos are really hard. Especially with just a guitar.
You're just hanging out there. Every little mistake in
intonation is clear (I'm just hoping to hear it first) and
I have to really think about the pulse all the time. On
top of that, Chris and Jonesy really push me to "dig in"
and play loud and rough and make it growl. They love that
sound and so do I, but Jimmy likes a mellower feel, so I
was trying to play lighter. It's a lot harder for me to
groove that way, and it's harder for me to really feel the
pulse. But, I did okay. Man, my world was nothing but
that page and my hands. I was sweating under the brim of
that wonderful Chicago hat from my brother, Tony. I kept
my suit jacket on, because that seemed jazz. There was NO
ONE in the restaurant except friends and staff, but it was
so hard. My stomach was all over the place and it was hard
to catch my breath. I disappeared into that place that is
pure concentration. I tried to listen to Jimmy, I tried to
stay in tune. I was aware that my playing was very stilted.
I had to loosen up. Being under pressure to loosen up, is
really tough, but I worked on it. Never mind, Jimmy's tone,
I started to dig in a little and it got better.
Friends started showing up. I was shocked to see Lance,
but he was there with his son. He's amazing. That's real
support from a friend. I didn't tell him about it, but one
of his dancers owns the restaurant. Lance was there with
his son and he was very supportive. It was really
wonderful that he came by. Close and Johnny were there
(with other friends) and they both play jazz. Johnny plays
bass harmonica, so it was really hard to play in front of
him. Man, it made me crazy, but that's why I was there.
I've played for more people at my house, but this was real
public. And even friends in real public make a difference.
It was so hard.
Now, I worked for this gig. I even played the ENTIRE GIG,
with breaks and everything with Jimmy the day before. I
have NEVER done that for P&T. We've never run a whole show.
Ever. We rarely run a whole bit. But, I have a certain
amount of skill and talent in the stuff I do with P&T.
With jazz bass, I lack both. So, I needed practice and
rehearsal like crazy.
I want to talk a little bit about why I'm playing bass.
Close's first music gig was when he was 13, Johnny was in
his teens, Chris was in his early teens. It was really
hard for them. I'm 46. 46 years old and I've been playing
a year. It's
weird to have people say you did good considering . . . .
I want P&T to just be good. Full stop. But, with bass
it'll always be " . . . . for how long you've been playing.
" Or ". . . . for an amateur." I don't know. Why do it?
I think it has to do with my Mom and Dad dying. I wanted
to pour myself into something. But, more important, as
awful as this sounds, I wanted to do something I wasn't
good at. I really needed the feeling of working on
something that wasn't easy. I'm good at being Penn. I
really am. Every thing I do with Teller is hard, and it's
always hard to keep up with him, but it's in a field that I
know something. I really felt the need to be awful at
something. One of the reasons was to feel myself getting
better. When you get to a certain point at something, you
don't feel yourself getting better. You can't. The
changes are too subtle. I'm better at being Penn in P&T
than I was even a year ago, but how do I quantify that?
What can I say? How do I feel that improvement that I
lived for when I started juggling? When you're new to
something, it's wonderful - "I can play an F blues and I
couldn't do that last week." So, I needed to get better
fast at something. Strangely, it's the incompetence that
allows pride of improvement and humility of failure so
Is it embarrassing that I'm doing this in public? Probably.
It's probably wrong. It's a very weird kind of masochistic
self-indulgence, but I needed it. I wanted it.
The first set was over, and people were very kind. Very
kind. I think we sounded okay. I think if you were eating
and talking, you wouldn't notice that I was too repetitious,
and lacked ideas and occasionally lost the pulse. I was
too nervous to really eat, but I finished up some of
Kelli's pasta. I tried to make some jokes with Close and
Johnny, but I wasn't my usual self. All I could think
about was changes and my fingers and my bass.
The second set Chris sat in on vibes. With him driving and
blowing, it was a lot easier. I could play out and I got
the groove easier. We did "Just Friends." This was one of
my two planned tunes for a solo. All the way through Chris
and Jimmy's solos, I was trying to think of ideas. Trying
to listen to what they were laying down that I could try to
build on. I was thinking solos while keeping the pulse.
Jimmy forgot. He forgot to give me a solo. He just said
to Chris, "take it out," and we did. It really broke my
heart. I was so scared of that solo. I was hoping it
would never come, but I really wanted to do it. I was
poised and ready. But, okay. I made some jokes and the
crowd laughed and I felt I was cheating. They were happy
Penn was making jokes, they weren't just hearing music.
We played some more without Chris and ended with "Scotch
and Soda." This was my second planned solo, and I also
like to sing just a little, really quiet, at the end. But,
I'd screwed myself. The talk about the solo, made Jimmy
say this tune would feature me. I lost confidence in my
intonation. I was afraid of the neck. My solo came and I
wasn't nutty. I didn't hit it and a few of the notes
weren't where I wanted. I got timid on ideas and just
outlined the chords. It wasn't good. And I crashed and
burned on the vocal too. It didn't have the easy love of
the song that it had in practice. That ended the set.
I sat down with Johnny and joked about missing the solo.
Johnny said, "Well, it's good to work on getting the time
and the changes before you solo anyway" and I realized that
Johnny didn't think I was doing well. I really crashed
hard. I think it was really only "Scotch and Soda" and
only that I had shot myself in the foot. It really crashed
me. I wanted to work hard on this bass thing and get all
these feelings and I was getting them. Man. But, even
with that, I was doing okay.
Right before out third set some strangers came up to us.
Some just commented on me being "very talented." They were
just happy to see a magician do something else. That
didn't mean much to me. But, one guy talked about our
sound and my tone. That made me very happy. We played
the last set. Lance, Johnny, Close and their gang had left
and it was down to Zeke, Kelli, Chris and a few others. I
played through the set, but I was pretty spacey. I didn't
really get the groove. I tried to get a hold of it, but it
was hard. We finished up. I think management was happy
that we'd brought in so many people and they thought the
music was okay, I guess. I really wanted to have a few
ideas. I really wanted to have a sound. The having to
play soft hurt me, and well . . . lack of talent and skill
didn't help. It was very emotional, very humbling. I
Morrie is an amazing teacher. In one year, he got me here.
I mean, if you just walked in and didn't know anything, I
think it would have just been some schmuck on bass. I
think I wouldn't have been noticed. And that's the first
goal, not to be noticed. The second goal is to be noticed
for the right reasons.
I think it was exactly what I wanted. If you're middle-
aged and want to feel young again, try jazz. Not because
it'll fill you with joy, but because you'll feel how little
you know and how hard art is. I really think I did okay.
I really think I'm proud of what I did. I really think I'm
proud that I'm willing to try something new. I think I
played okay a few times. I have a lot of ideas. I have
some ideas of how I want to sound. I want to dig in and
growl. I have some ideas of what I have to work on. I
want to play in this situation with Chris and/or Jonesy.
The pulse and the intonation will be easier for me, and
because I play with them more, I'll have more confidence
and their style gives me a little more help.
I also want to think about what sounds I really want. I
want to start getting ideas. I think I can get good enough
that I can express myself in this form. I think I have
something in me that can't be said in words, and I want to
learn to say it with music. I'm getting feelings and ideas.
I'm working on this. I want to thank everyone who's
helping me with this. It means the world.
I played a jazz gig. A real jazz gig. Zeke loaded out
everything and I walked out into the Vegas night to let the
cold evaporate the sweat under my hat and suit coat. I
played a jazz gig. I did.