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Music We Play V.S. Music We Listen To!
By Mick Polich - 02/19/2009 - 09:12 AM EST

Music you play verses music that you listen to……

Ever notice that usually those two areas MIGHT be different?

For some people, no, they usually play and enjoy listening to the same styles of music. But what about those people who enjoy listening to a multitude of styles, and dream of actually trying to play some different styles of music for an adoring public?

No, maybe, yes, uh-huh?

It’s all good, isn’t it? I would love to have a trio like jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and a band as versatile as Los Lobos, but due to economics, time, and family commitments, it’s not possible (yet). BUT, I can channel those influences down to my solo gig, church, and duo gigs. Like my old man says, you a smart kid, use your head! Think creatively!

O.k., here’s an example – one of my favorite live recordings is Bill Frisell’s “Further East, Further West” CD sets. Besides enjoying great renditions of “Masters Of War” and “Lost Highway”, I’ve filed this CD away as a template for the aforementioned trio gig concept in some foreseeable future. I will always enjoy the recording – if the trio gig works out is another kettle of fish entirely.

Playing jazz, by and large, has you usually scrambling for work ,unfortunately (Frank Zappa said it best when stated that,” Jazz is the music of the unemployed.”).

I recorded some avant garde - like space rock/jazz CD’s at the beginning of the millennium. As stated many columns back, I received some good and fair reviews from the on-line communities, and saw a couple of CD’s go overseas for review in some Paris and London prog-rock magazines. In this case, my recordings from this time period matched the music I was listening to, in spirit and inspiration. Many times, at least for me, such is not an area. The closest I ever got to gigging out with these music styles were our Friday night experimental recording sessions at Bernie’s Groove Shack, a record/CD store in Westerville, Ohio – move the record bins back, set up recording gear and instruments, invite a few folks in with some libations, and go for it on the spot because it was all made up then and there!

I like the license for openness in my music listening habits – I can’t imagine a restrictive form where I couldn’t do this (but yet, we have societies that crack down on your act in such a hurry, it will make your head spin – cherish your freedoms, kids). But I’ve always search for new and different music – it’s like Christmas everyday you can find some exciting, new tunes to spin.

Sometimes I do hit the jackpot, and get to play, in some form, music that I listen to that I don’t normally play in public. As of late, I’ve mentioned my duo/solo gigs, which can be quite rewarding as they are challenging. A lot of musical space is freed up – meaning, you don’t always have to fill it with notes and sound every second, but it does take on your arrangement sensibilities. Plus, look at your gigs – I’ve been playing coffeehouse/small room environments for quite some time now – you’ve got to keep in mind the arrangements of the room (or business).

So…….. the death metal medley, in full band compliment, might not work for Starbucks ( maybe if they wanted to clean the room thru sonic displacement…). I’ve been more apt to take a funky turn and rearranged some song in a manner very unconventional. This is where what I listen to can meet what I play, even the spirit of re - arrangements. Ever hear of a band called the Austin Lounge Lizards? This bluegrass – based Austin group had some skewered stuff back in the 1990’s – their bluegrass take on Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” is a thing of beauty, and many hoots and kudos to their originals such as “Jesus Loves Me But He Can’t Stand You”. Now, the sterling musicianship combined with out-there humor just slays me every time. My own band back in the 1980’s, Salmon Dave, got a rep for great musical quotes in the middle of other songs, so why not head in that direction? If it works for your audience, and it works for the gig, then do it, boys and girls. If you’re funny, and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap!)!

The freedom to pick and choose what we listen to for music is optional for almost everyone – we live in an age where any sort of music is accessible in some fashion, even in societies where you need to sneak it in under the radar. I’m currently reading a great book called “Heavy Metal Islam”, by Mark Levine, which documents the underground and barely - over ground movement of metal music, concerts, and sub-culture in the Islamic world. Now, when I think of the metal culture, and how it plays out in America, I REALLY wonder about the power of the devil-horned, Cookie Monster vocal regime surviving in a world where there’s plenty of Old Testament mentality tp spread around on the infidel bunt cake, ya know? I think it’s probably more life-and-death there to try to sneak that music in that’s all encompassing: they’re playing, living, and surviving the music they love! Freedom in music, in ANYTHING, cannot be taken for granted, people….

Over the past couple of articles, my point (then I’ll shut up, and let you all talk about it) to be taken has been with forging new musical and artistic paths for yourselves, no matter what age, demographic, or gender. Automatically it seems, we place labels on people thru age, topography, and gender, so thusly, musicians need to, in some minds, ‘dance with who ya brought”. Living in Texas, what music comes to mind? Country (Willie Nelson, o’ course), blues (Stevie Ray – hey, don’t forget about Johnny Winter, Freddie King, and T – Bone Walker), and further south, Tejano.

Yeah, well, true, but it’s soooooo obvious, and sooooo generalizing. Do people listen and play anything else? Are they suppose to? Come on, peeps, git yer poop on a scoop and together!

Dallas was home to metal greats Pantera and boasts a lively nightclub scene. Austin is home to EVERYTHING (check out the South By Southwest Fest in April – home to a load of diverse music, art, and film). Denton boasts one of the best college jazz programs in the country from the University of North Texas. I love the diversity – love it, love it - and plan to explore those areas soon. So…..what I’ve meant thru my latest articles is for me, just because I’m going into my fifth decade, and people sort of expect the ‘classic rock’ from me as far as music goes, well, that ain’t the only thing that I’m trying to play, or listen to. It’s tough – you gotta create your own gigs at times, but it’s do-able!

Sometimes I find that a lot of musicians keep their listening and playing selections separate. Many reasons here – the ‘paying job’ music might be different from the ‘home/car listening’ tunes; they might be totally sick of listening to stuff that they’ve played on the job several nights per week. Or…… they would rather concentrate on one style of music or the other. So, there it is separation of church and state! But some keep it tight – “I play what I like to listen to, and I listen to what I like to play”. Cool there, no worries – just keepin’ it in the family.

Point is, whatever you choose to listen is good as long as it works for you. The odds-on-favorite is that your listening habits will probably change a bit as you get older. While it’s fun for me to go back and listen to “My ‘80’s Hair Metal Period”, when I was losing my hair, well, that’s already covered ground. There’s so much new stuff out there in music and arts there isn’t enough money for all the possible downloads, CD’s, or record crate purchases to cover the dang stuff.

Main thing is, peoples – keep on listenin’!

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