This summer I started seeing the flyers around Seattle for Jazz Night School and checked it out. It’s an absolute blast, and I highly recommend for anyone with even basic chops.
Our beginning combo met for 10 weeks and then gave a live performance in early December. Almost 30 bands performed over three nights.
The first time I ever performed live was a solo guitar recital at Carnegie Mellon. My hands froze up. It was an excruciatingly long five minutes. I’m sure it was even longer for the audience. I didn’t expect anything like that to happen 30 years later, but still, the episode rattles around in my mind.
And this time was different, as I had never done live improvisation before.
Just a few weeks before our performance, I read the Bob Weir interview in Guitar World in which he shares his personal experiences with stage fright:
“As far as the size of the crowd, a living room is the toughest for me. Oftentimes the larger the crowd, the way easier it is for me.
“And you could make the case that that’s what killed [Jerry], because he used those drugs to dull the stage fright, to dull the pain of it, because it physically hurt.”Guitar World, Nov. 4, 2022
If it happens with Bobby and Jerry, at least I’m in good company.
Then came the night of Thanksgiving. After dessert, we settled in with friends for a three-movie marathon† of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. The third Hallmark Channel Christmas movie featured a young woman reunited via genetic testing with her long-lost father and new family. She meets her three new sisters. The youngest sister will be performing a solo at the Christmas pageant. The little girl is worried about stage fright, and her new big sister comforts her with some excellent advice: Just take three deep breaths. And then remember that everyone just wants you to succeed, they’re all on your side.
Sure enough, it’s time for the pageant, and the little girl sings like an angel.
The advice worked, except for the fact that the filmmakers dubbed the entire performance with a better singer. The little girl was lip-synching.
So much for advice.
Ladies and gentlemen, from The Royal Room in Seattle’s Columbia City, it’s The Four O’Clocks, with the Coltrane classic, “Mr. PC.”
For the B-Side of the record, here’s a jaunty 2x sped-up version of “Autumn Leaves.” (If you’d like to hear the normal-speed version, click on the gear icon in YouTube, and then select Settings>Playback Speed, 0.5.)
The guitar is a Traveler Guitar Speedster. The tuning pegs are inside the body and the armrest comes off, which means you can pack it into a compact gig bag for maximum portability.
But I was also carrying another bag containing new gear, a Line 6 HX Effects pedal gifted by a very generous patron. I had rehearsed with it a couple times and thought I had it all worked out. I would just leave it on the stock Chorus settings during the entire set, and then put on the Red Squeeze compressor for the solo. And no matter what, don’t step on Seeker, that would be nuts.
What happened during the show made me appreciate even more the hard work of roadies. (Incidentally, for a smashing collection of true-life stories about sex, drugs, and rock & roll with Australian touring bands, check out Stuart Coupe’s Roadies.)
I hadn’t thought through all the logistics. While the emcee was giving our introduction, I was messing around with power cables and guitar cables and talking with the sound technician about an amplifier I had never seen or used before. All sorts of logistics when I should have been taking three deep breaths.
Nor did I have the opportunity to do a sound check. It sounded okay in the practice room, but when I turned on Red Squeeze during my solo for “Autumn Leaves,” there was a jarring boost to the volume level. Something else happened when I switched off the effect, perhaps I stepped on the Chorus pedal, who knows, but the effect was that the sound all but dropped out for the rest of the first song.
I got it back to normal for the second song and just left it alone, which worked much better. But about halfway through the second song, I realized that I was swinging around a giant hairball of guitar cable. Again, paying the price for being my own roadie.
Maybe I should have followed Bobby’s lead, per the headline of the Guitar World piece: “I’ve pretty much abandoned signal processing. The guitar itself has such variety to offer and it’s so much more elemental.”
Good advice I’m sure, but the electronics are so much fun.
Anyway, not bad for a first outing. I’ll be back.
† My Southern Family Christmas, Next Stop Christmas, and My Christmas Family Tree