Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2009 - Empire State of Mind

It was supposed to be "Boom Boom Pow" today, but after 5 minutes at the piano I gave it up as a poor use of my time.  Not because I don't like the song - in fact, last year when Nat and I did our kids' show, Nat and Kat's Adventures with the Time-Traveling Piano (shameless plug), I used it as a basis for the tune that got us back to 2009 (we were stuck in 1939 due to a faulty time machine, you see, and we needed a song about 2009 to help direct us back to the present).

So I really like the song.  It is not meant to be played on the piano.  I considered spending my time studying the track like I've done with some of the other recent songs that don't lend themselves well to piano.  I decided, however, that since my days as a producer are so far in the future, I am better served by choosing a song that I could actually sort of learn to play on the thing I actually sort of know how to play now, today. 

This is a huge victory in the logic department for me.  I am not known for my patience, especially with myself.   I'm always leaping ahead, in work and in life.  I have a dating condition I call Fast-Forward Brain.  It's almost universal to girls, and actually more common than you might think among guys.  It's a syndrome where, on the first date, your brain fast forwards through a lifetime with your date/potential mate.  Either a half dozen red flags are raised, or all systems are go for a second date, and possibly a wedding date.  Whoa, Nellie.  Similar thing with work - my brain leaps ahead to some nebulous place I'd like to be in five years and tries to get there now, without all the backtracking and baby steps that come in between.  That all has to change now.  My survival in both these arenas depends on me learning to slow my ass down and take the next step, instead of trying to cross to a distant shore without a bridge or canoe. 

My first taste of jazz was in college in a jazz combo directed by a great doctoral student (he is now Dr. Bob Knop), and he said something that has stuck with me, about practicing and about comparing oneself to one's musical heroes and colleagues: "Put on the blinders and get back to work."  I've realized recently that that doesn't just apply to the side (comparing yourself to colleagues) or above (despairing of ever being able to play like Brecker, or Wonder, or fill-in-the-musical-blank), but ahead as well.  I wanna be the musician I'm going to be in five years right now.  

If only I could time travel...

When I allow the Doubts to talk to me, that's the number one most frustrating thing for me as a professional musician: the inability to time travel - feeling like I am behind the curve and I'll never be good enough no matter how hard I work, because I can't change my background.  Growing up in a small town in Southwest Buttf***, New Mexico, I didn't have access to the performing arts (nearest "real" city: Phoenix, 5.5 hour drive) or teachers who knew the biz.  Combine that with the fact that I was a big fish in a small pond and accustomed to being the best at everything I tried to do, with very little effort...  Now here I am in the concrete jungle where all the big fish come to realize their dreams, and I'm gasping for air because, even when I'm trying really hard, there are hundreds of other musicians within a 5-mile radius who can wipe the floor with my ass. 

I do this because I want to.  Never forget that, Kat, never forget that.  But there are times, and a lot of times recently, when a little voice inside me goes, "Really, Kat?"  This is the voice - let's call him Cleatus Doubt - that would like more sleep, and more money, and doesn't really give a hoot about my creative success.  He says, "Don't you think if this were what you're supposed to be doing, it would come a little easier?  You don't want to waste your life doing the wrong thing, do you?  Especially if doing the right thing would lead to more sleep and maybe even a dishwasher.  What's all this hard work for if you're not really gonna make it?"

Yesterday, I was semi-watching an Alison Krauss DVD, and I caught the lyric "the next best thing to playin' and winnin' is playin' and losin'".   I stopped whatever else I was doing and backed it up to listen to the song, which is "The Lucky One".  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Sometimes life has the answers for music (as has been the case with my playing in the past year), and sometimes music has the answers for life.  One of the lyrics in the Jay-Z rap of "Empire" is "8 million stories out there and they're naked/city it's a pity half of y'all won't make it".   When I'm philosophical, which is approximately 26% of the time, I have to put myself in the making-it half - I mean, I'm making a living doing what I love.

On that note, I am going to go spend a little time on the Alicia Keys solo version of the song that I just remembered exists - more melody for me, and now I basically know what happens in the Jay-Z version enough to back up a rapper in an emergency.  And, Cleatus Doubt, you can take it and shove it where the sun don't shine. 

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