Making Music, Dinner Parties, and Ginger Baker

A big misconception about my profession, is that because I'm "doing what I love" or "following my dreams" that I must just be in bliss every second I'm singing. Well, just like anything in life, that's just not the case. For me, singing isn't a "solo" exercise. My experience singing is very intertwined with and affected by who else I'm playing with. Who the musicians are, what the music is, what songs I'm singing, how the sound system sounds, if the band is locked in etc. I meld into the swirl of sound and find where my voice will sit within it. There are so many factors that have to come together for the ease and joy to flow in the singing. It's somewhat of a team sport.

I recently watched a great movie called "Beware of Mr Baker." It's a documentary about Ginger Baker. An incredible jazz and rock drummer most known for his work in the 60's and 70's. He was the drummer for Cream and later Blind Faith. He is an incredible drummer with natural time and a natural "swing' in everything he plays. That is partially what gave Cream that undeniable sound and infectious and original grooves. In the documentary he is asked "So do you just love playing the drums?" and he snapped back quite aggressively in his sharp british accent,  "Well, it depends on who you're playing with!!" I had never heard anyone just say it as blatantly as that, but it's the way I've always felt as a singer. I don't love every moment of singing on stage or off. It depends on who I'm playing with. And it's especially challenging if I don't love the ensemble I happen to be playing with at that moment. I never have my best performances in those situations. And I can walk away feeling deflated and frustrated.

Because I make a living as a singer, I sing all kinds of material from jazz to pop to rock. I sing in many different environments with many different people. Not like on my album where I wrote the songs, I hand picked the band, and created the vibe with them from the ground up. That is the dream. That is the best place to be. It feeds my soul and brings my singing to new inspired places. Don't get me wrong, I'm VERY grateful for all of my singing jobs. I'm grateful for the work, I am constantly working my craft, and I always learn something in those environments. But sometimes those shows and gigs don't feed my soul. Or don't feel like my real authentic place.

It occurred to me that some gigs are kind of like going to dinner parties. You can have great food, a beautiful house, great wine, a beautifully set table, but all of it can be a bit spoiled if you don't get along well with the other guests. If you can feel a tangible friction with the other people there. Or if someone is just annoying. But you're there, eating dinner and drinking the wine for the duration of the evening and you just have to be patient and find the best out of the situation. You're a bit trapped with them for an evening just like being on stage with the other musicians. You can't just walk off stage if the music isn't grooving. Or the drummer's time is inconsistent or, or the piano player's chords are hard to sink into. In those situations I look for the common ground amongst us and lean on the areas that make us shine. Like finding common ground topics at a dinner party to keep the evening light and pleasant.

All of these thoughts lead me back to marveling at what an organic and mysterious process making music is. It's human. It breathes. It hiccups. It's sensitive. It listens. It transforms in process and then transforms us who are playing and those who are listening. I love making music. And I love the complexities of it. It makes it all the more special when everything aligns and we are elevated, transfixed and lifted in it's presence.


  1. Today I was working from 9am to 7pm, and during the day I was thinking about your previous post, slowly contemplating the diva / chick-singer -thing. And I thought to myself that how some people tend to strongly see everything as somekind of competition over a status hierarchy. Like, the diva is one who things that (s)he is above the others, that fame and talent make him/her better... And all too often people are putting others down, like saying "she is just the chick-singer" puts the female singer somehow below the others in an imaginary hierarchy.

    I share my living with two horses, and especially among horsepeople it seems to be very common to put emphasis on herd hierarchy and dominance. To me it seems that if people are afraid of the power, speed and the will of the horse, they guard their own safety by constantly putting the horse down. Always trying to make sure that the horse has no reason to think that the human is inferior and the horse is superior. And all this is justified by saying that this herd hierachy thing is natural to horses, and that if you aren't the leader then the horse is. OK, there is some truth in that, but still to me it seems that for horse it is far more natural to seek companionship, trust, peace, being-together, solidarity and tranquility. Only if they can't find that, they fall back to straight-forward dominance. Well, and the thing is that to create a companionship of mutual trust with a horse you'd better not put your horse down - but to offer positive feedback, patience and honest presence, cheering, support and guidance. And with that kind of connection things flow smoothly, the horse is willing to co-operate and riding together becomes a soul-refreshing experience of being-together. So, people who put too much emphasis on this above/below (diva / chick-singer) -stuff might completely miss the wonder of being-together.

    When I first discovered you as a musician I got the impression that you are very sensitive to the people you are performing with. That you create your magic by not being above nor below the others, but being with them, blending in and helping the music to grow from within.

    With these toughts I returned back home, lit a fire in the fireplace, and went to check your blog. Only to find this post about dinner parties. This is life the way I like it =)


Post a Comment

Popular Posts