Getting musically re-established in a new place feels, oddly, a little like dating. I’m coming from some long-term, if not monogamous, musical relationships. My roots band The Buskers has been around since 1993; I’ve worked with the drummer in my jazz trio for 17 years or more; and so on. Then, exactly six months ago, I arrived in Germany, musically alone and unknown.
While waiting (four weeks) for my instruments to arrive, I registered with a free online musicians’ registry. Seemed like a long shot; other profiles seemed to be mostly metal or tribute/cover band musicians, but I had nothing to lose, so I created a profile ("enjoys sunset walks and the beach" –just kidding), then forgot about it until months later I was contacted by several musicians more "my type." We’ve since met up and played; and I'm beginning to see a future with some promise.
I started going to jazz open sessions; listening to the opening bands and, usually, getting up to play. In Düsseldorf and Essen (both of which have excellent music schools, incidentally), the opening/house bands always seem to be the same or similar serious, young, earnest music school types.
After the featured band’s set, the stage opens up for the rest of the night. Musicians I’ve ended up on stage with aren’t always exactly my type (and vice versa, I’m sure). It’s like blind dating. Sometimes you get lucky, but some are bad listeners; wanting to dominate the conversation, so to speak; others don’t have much to say, or it’s pretty clear they’re saying the same things they’ve said a hundred times before; or worse, they’re copying someone else’s sound, style, phrasing; and some are just shy or inexperienced. The mostly older cats often choose the most tired and overplayed standards to jam on. I understand it’s safer to stick with familiar topics of musical conversation, but old chestnuts like “There Will Never Be Another You” and “Have You Met Miss Jones?” are numbingly popular at these things. And if I had one criticism about the jazz scene here as I’ve experienced it so far, it’s that there is no funk, no blues behind the changes–all head; no heart, no pelvis.
Still, I’ve had some fun; there have been moments… It beats staying home and I had nothing to lose. There is no cover at Düsseldorf’s Tuesday night Jazz-Schmiede session, the monthly session at Los Locos, or the Thursday JOE sessions in Essen. More importantly, over time I’ve connected with some very kind as well as talented local musicians.
So the music clicks with some of the people you jam with at an open session. You exchange contact info. You go home and check out their website, Instagram, Youtube, etc. You make a date and get together and play. There are some awkward moments, but if it actually sounds pretty good and you feel comfortable, you start making plans. You look forward to the next practice. You might even dream big about a happy future together. You hold high hopes while trying to keep expectations low.
[Editor’s note: This is the stage I am currently at. But let me extend the analogy out a little beyond:]
You’ve been meeting and playing regularly. The gigs start coming in–or seem about to. You make it official; you let the world know. You make the video or recording. You give the group a name.
Of course, you’re not practicing and performing with just one group. You are playing the field. So is everyone else. And now you’re wondering how committed the others are – or how committed you feel to this project. Are we in this for the long run? What am I getting out of this? Are they going to go back to their old –band? Are they carrying their own weight? Are there hotter prospects out there I should hold out for? And, let’s face it, certain things about them are beginning to get on your nerves. The drummer’s chronic lateness, the trumpet player’s ego…
Committed Long-term Relationship?
Will I find musical soulmates here? Or at least… (the music equivalent for friends with benefits?) I feel so old to be back at this stage of the business again, but on the other hand, it’s exciting to no longer be able to even guess what's coming next, as I hear and meet new players and develop new friendships. Stay tuned.