Monday, July 29, 2013

Viewer Mail: Multi Instrumentalism

I got some questions in the mailbag recently which almost made me feel like I was being interviewed. This came from bassist Vince Guarna( yes, brother of guitarist Tom Guarna). 

How did you decide on what your main instrument would be when you were younger? I heard that you weren't 100% decided on the piano as your main instrument until college.. is that accurate?
 (I am asking because I am kinda in a similar position
between piano and bass.) Was the piano the instrument that you felt most gifted on? Did that help make the decision for you?

In a way, the piano chose me! I was getting the calls on piano. People seemed to like my piano playing. I wasn't getting the calls on trumpet. I had a dinner theater gig on trumpet that paid 25 dollars. I had 2 nights a week on piano that paid 110 dollars. (this is around 1988, 89, btw. )I weighed the evidence and went with piano and I suppose I never looked back.

I think in some ways being a jazz musician is more than about just what instrument you play. We are all dealing with the same stuff: harmony, rhythm, melody, improvisation, etc...
Some people really need to feel as though the instrument they focus on is their calling. I think if that was the case for me, I would have been a drummer!
But for me it was more practical. I needed to make rent and piano was helping me do that. Unfortunately nowadays, no instrument might help that! So in that sense, maybe you should go with
whichever instrument you feel the most affinity.

I still feel like bass is the one in terms of getting work. Everyone needs a bassist. Maybe if I had known that years ago I might have switched. I've been messing around with bass and I think it's fun.

I did kind of have a natural feel for the piano. That came from listening and trial and error, and also learning on the job. My right hand was all my trumpet licks and my left hand was drum rhythms!

My advice is maybe do both bass and piano until you decide for sure. Then maybe the decision won't be yours. The universe will decide.

Jack DeJohnette was an established pianist but he started messing with the drums. Eddie Harris told him that he thought he could really have something special on the latter instrument.

I think multi instrumentalism gets a bad rap. The thinking is: "jack of all trades, master of none." I don't think that's true. But people tend to get reputations on only one instrument, especially in cities where there are so many choice on each instrument. And I believe that professional loyalty might foster an attitude of "Well, I know that so and so plays great drums, but I really should call this guy cause he plays drums full time and he needs the work. So and so already works as a bassist enough..." Something like that.

Nick Payton plays really well on all his instruments. He could be first call on trumpet, drums, piano, bass. I heard he plays saxophone. I like his singing, despite what others seem to think.
But I think the issue in jazz is more about THE MUSIC and not THE INSTRUMENT. If you can improvise, you know tunes, and you can get a vibe, you don't need to be THE BEST on your instrument.

Sometimes whomever is THE BEST on their instrument can be THE MOST ANNOYING because they are never going to leave their virtuosity at home and just come out and play some music.

How do you define "Talent", and to what degree is "talent" a deciding factor in one's musical abilities? Do you believe talent is something people are born with?

I think there is such a thing as talent. But in music, and in life, it's vastly overrated. I do not consider myself talented at all. I'm kind of an idiot, truthfully. Well, maybe not an idiot, but at least average or just below. However, I have managed to somehow muster the strength and discipline and perseverance to eek out a little career for myself. You might be the best player on whatever instrument, but if you don't make the scene, if you don't present an image or a personality that people want to have in their band, or fronting a band, or what have you, then your talent is useless.

There are so many "talented" people who are scratching their heads as to why they aren't household names. Not only do you have to work hard, you have to work hard at being original! You have to stand out somehow. You need to give off energy-energy that folks want to be a part of.

I worked really hard and despite living in the city where young people go to retire and the homeless come for vacation, I still work pretty hard.

Did you take classical piano lessons? If so, how long?
You must have had serious legit piano training when you were younger.. right?

I had about a month's worth of piano lessons when I was 6 and I hated it and didn't practice and didn't care at all. I wasn't serious at all. I mean a month's worth of lessons- that's 4 lessons!

I started trumpet in 4th grade and didn't practice. In 6th grade, the band director was so awesome that it made me want to be a part of the concert band.

I never really had serious classical piano lessons, except from a grad student at Peabody named Fred Karpoff. He showed me the Taubman technique, which is the subject for another blog….I did
I mostly learned some classical pieces on my own. I did of course get my degree in Classical Trumpet and Music Education. But that's very different from the life of a piano student. Better parties. But quite a different lifestyle.

Do you regret at all not spending more time playing classical repertoire?

Yes. However, that's just a part of what makes me the player that I am. I'm somewhat unorthodox. There are plenty of jazz pianists who have lost of classical pieces under their fingers. I don't. But I have enough technique to do what I want to do.

Any piano books that you would recommend, both technically oriented and repertoire stuff?

The Mark Levine book-"The Jazz Piano Book." That's what you need for jazz. Essential. I never did Hanon. I did some Czerny, real easy stuff. I would recommend the Bach 2 part Inventions. I taught all of those to myself. I write out fingerings and played them very slowly. You could spend a long time perfecting those. I need to get back to them. I found it interesting that Billy Childs spent a lot of time with the Inventions also….

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