An out of work actor came into the store last week and bought a pocket trumpet with the intent to get his busk on. He asked me what he should know before the great descent. Having done a tour in the subterranean caverns I told him the frank reality is that his wheelchair gives him an edge. It seemed that he really needed the chair so I explained that busking works much better when the need is real. I know a guy who walks down into the subway with his chair folded up who then opens it up, sits in it and plays trumpet. That's no different then the "blind guy" wearing shades who knows where to place his cup when you hold out that nickel. When people are truly struggling and their lives have broken them to the point where they have to beg for $ you can usually tell if it's real. A Seeing eye dog makes it real. Dogs want to work. Gotta love em'.
Down in NYC these days many of the hustlers have lost the edge. They have no game, no pep in their step. Same old routine delivery. No sense of urgency. You cant get on the uptown A train without somebody coming through asking for whatever you got. The other day 2 guys came in from opposite sides of the same car and both made their pitch at the same time. As they got to the center they tried to talk over each other. Boundary issues you dig. I'm seeing more and more of these folks. More woman down there as well.
I told my man at the store that territory is what it's all about. Other hustlers will confront you saying they own the spot your in. When they do you can fight for your right to party or bounce to a less lucrative location. If your trying to give music to people then at least your trying to reach for a positive exchange. Just don't be like Love Supreme, also known as Birdman, and tell people to pay you to STOP playing. Also, go to crowded subway platforms during rush hour. Ching ching.
Like many things in life it's all about knowing the rules so you can find creative ways to break them. It took me a long time to learn some of the laws of how music works. I'll never forget my 2 weeks in the William Patterson Jazz program that I had before they found out I was broke. I was in an ensemble with the great bassist Rufus Reid who called Billie's Bounce. On the 5 chord I played a ridiculous chromatic excursion into the beyond out of nowhere. Rufus stopped the band cold and asked me a blunt question that made me bristle.
Yesterday at the second Roy Campbell memorial I got into a discussion with the great bassist Ken Filiano after we had launched into a microtonal spiritual. Rufus Reid came up again in conversation. Ken told me that Rufus explained the challenge in playing the same material over and over again as Rufus had played Green Dolphin Street with Dexter Gordan countless times. Rufus explained that every time Dexter played that tune he played it like it was the FIRST time. We also know Dexter practiced drunk, but I'm not going there. Bob Feldman told me a great story about riding the elevator with Dexter at Manhattan Plaza. The door opened up and a little girl looked up astonished at long tall Dexter standing before her.
"Well hello there little lady!" Dexter proclaimed as he looked down, putting her at ease.
Music wise it all started to coalesce in a Bern Nix quartet rehearsal a couple of days ago. All though we work on new material we always play through the book of Bern's tunes. The last few sessions I have witnessed the tunes and our group language that only we can speak together reach an entire other level. On several tunes I finally figured out how to really play them, after playing them for over 3 years! Playing a song for 3 years to unlock it's secrets reminded me of how you can spend 3 years trying to reach maximum expression of difficult Yoga poses. Yoga has had major impact on my trumpet playing. Sonny Rollins does Yoga, so the company I keep cant get any higher than that. The Bern Nix quartet is the greatest and most important band experience I have ever had to date. We have reached a place where we take chances constantly and they ALL work. We are at the point where we can improvise from one tune to the next like the great Miles quintet.
In short, we have all spent many years learning the rules.
Now we take great joy in breaking them.
There's no rule that says you cant play trumpet and Bass Clarinet, but it sure seemed that way when I did it. Like OC I went somewhere else. Blog on the OC trumpet and violin in the dome. When I switched to alto clarinet one of the reasons was OC had a rule that said I needed an Eb horn. Years later I'm dealing with Sabir's urging to push for a real clarinet sound. Russell Procope has ALL the wood. There's something to writing your own musical laws.
Roy Campbell would approve of both writing and breaking. I saw him sitting down next to my future wife in the front row yesterday as we were about to take off at the Launch Pad in a barrio going through a major transition in Brooklyn. Roy had on that smile that said so much. He knew that I could see him, and that it meant we had to take care of business music wise. I played William Parker's song Ascent into Heaven for him.
We reached the top of Brooklyn mountain about 40 minutes later.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
To Be Continued here. Bern Nix quartet and Charles Gayle trio. March 11th.
Happy Birthday to Grandmaster OC who once informed me he was indeed the MOON. A positive thing about Facebook is seeing that he has touched so many of us out here. Everything I've ever done or tried bears the stamp of innovation by this true Pisces. We can all thank OC for making rule breaking a tradition! (Hey...that means JALC is not following...uh..not going there)