Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Doing what scares you

It's Halloween-month, y'all! One of my favorite times of year.

Those of you who read this blog know that lately I've been obsessing about my group's upcoming east coast tour (October 2009).

Maybe I shouldn't obsess. The IJG has toured the rightward states before -- in 2005 and 2007. The first time was sorta fun but not terribly successful, the second time was super-fun and very successful (in the sense that we had a great response, and also got a trip to Europe out of it). Maybe the 2009 tour will be even better than that.


The fact that we're touring is probably, in and of itself, not that remarkable. Except that this version of the band has 16 people in it (11 of whom are traveling from the west coast, where we're based). Also: we're attempting ten shows in as many days.

Dig: ten days on the road as an independently-funded entity, playing jazz (or, in our case, something vaguely resembling it) would not be an easy proposition for a quartet, let alone for a massive ensemble like the one I lead. Without the sort of guarantees commandeered by the "big fish" of the jazz world -- fees that this band has enjoyed from time to time, but never on a consistent enough basis -- the financial side is a crapshoot. Even if we "win" that gamble, and have a great turnout at every show, the sad truth is that cobbling together a week-and-a-half's worth of door-split type gigs, from venues that generally charge $10 and can only fit, say, 70 people -- that is not a recipe for economic success.

So I feel like I have some explaining to do. Cuz, you know: why?

Obviously, there's the "everything-for-the-music" argument. Why indeed have I done half the things I have done for music, especially when most of them have involved great sacrifice? Well, because I love it, of course. I love it for its inherent beauty, I love it for the people involved, but also because when I'm sitting at the piano (or standing in front of the band, ready to count things off), the world suddenly makes (fleeting) sense. For me, music is, as Robert Frost said about poetry, a "momentary stay against confusion." (Which is kind of humorous, if you think about it, because much of my own music is apparently a little confusing. Or at least so I'm told.)

But that alone is not a reason to take on such a risky endeavor as an east coast tour. After all, I could advocate for the intrinsic value of music from the safety of my home, right? I could blog about it, quoting Robert Frost (or whoever else) until I was blue in the face. Or I could limit myself to our west coast gigs -- or at least the Southern California ones (which in fact are slowly becoming self-sustaining). I could retire from performing altogether, and just focus on writing and recording new tunes. Any of these things would certainly be easier than going on tour 3000 miles from my home-base. They would certainly satisfy my love of music, albeit in a less spectacular way.

No, I think what I'm really after with this damned tour is something symbolic.

It's a protest, really. A piece of performance art. An existential gesture of radical self-determination. The physical evocation of an alternate reality. A demonstration that even under the worst circumstances, it's important to hold your ground.

Believe me, I'm not trying to be a hero. And I'm not so self-centered that I actually believe it's worth inconveniencing fifteen other musicians just so my stupid compositions can "live" for a set of east-coast audiences (like all artists, I'm an egomaniac, but I'm not that much of an egomaniac). But there's a broader principle at stake here: isn't it odd that it seems odd for someone to do something like this? That there's all this great independent music out there, and yet not very many opportunities for people to hear it live, except when it grows in their own backyards?

It seems to me that there is no way to escape this problem, except by finally saying: I'm going to escape this problem. And if that's a scary proposition, well, then, so be it.


[Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt.]

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Scary or not, the Industrial Jazz Group needs your help! We're having a fall fundraiser, in support of our October tour. You can find out more, and contribute to the cause (for as little as $1!), here.

Also! Contest mania! Check out the remix contest, and the IJG "The Job Song" video contest.


Jason Parker said...

And we LOVE you for it.


Anonymous said...

Can I get an "amen!"

Good for you for doing the scary thing and holding your ground! It's inspiring to the rest of us (perhaps one day my group will be touring the west coast)! And I'm absolutely looking forward to hearing you guys in a couple of weeks!

Dan said...

All artists egomaniacs? Really? At first I felt a little defensive but, after only a little thought, decided that that is probably very true. Great post in defense of the wildly impractical. I wish more people saw the value in many highly impractical activities.

Wiener Kid said...

Yeah! Do it up!
Big fan of your blog by the way.