Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back to terra firma

My Cruise Ship X experience is behind me, and it has been populated by a spectrum of events that span from sheer misery to pure ecstacy. The last couple of weeks of my contract left me rather ambivalent about my departure - we had some personnel changes that raised the calibre of the band rather drastically, and I wish I was given more than two weeks to work with these colleagues.

Instead of discrediting the entire journey, I will say it has illuminated what I need out of music. I cannot abide by anything musical becoming merely a paycheque or a "job" - I'd rather take a day job and work on my personal endeavours on the side. I need to know who I'm performing with, especially when it's a nightly gig, and the unfortunate reality of pick-up bands is that the mystery is only revealed upon embarkation - which is a little late to back out. I have been spoiled by the music school opportunities of having colleagues consistently interested and capable of performing new music. And I have learned what it is to be a mentor to people, which was a very strange transition for me. I've always been the mentoree, the kid receiving and gleaning advice from my peers. To accept that I am now out of school and possibly have valid information to disseminate to other musicians is a very new concept to me.

Despite the realization of what I want out of music, I'm now staring down the crossroads of exactly how I wish to achieve it. Jazz is my primary love and the lens through which I view all other music (even those that I discovered before jazz), yet jamming out the R&B and funk with one of the mid-lounge bands was as thrilling as improvised music for me. And while I could never totally leave playing behind, composition is increasingly moving to the foreground of my interests. I don't believe I could follow all these paths and do each of them justice - there's just not enough hours in the day - so a choice must soon be made.

My last port before sign-off was Jamaica, and eleven of us made the pilgrimage out to Bob Marley's house in St. Ann. I'm not a rabid Marley devotee, but I felt very strongly that his house is vital to the history of music and of Jamaican culture and I would never forgive myself if I had missed the opportunity to pay respect. The drive was roughly an hour, through the hills of Jamaica, filled with both some gorgeous scenery and harrowing snapshots of the unfortunate reality of the Caribbean regions that are not the beneficiaries of the tourist dollar. Living in North America, we are often sheltered from the extreme economic stratifications that affect most of the planet. The excess of luxury vacation, and the sheer luck of being able to have any sort of decent employment (never mind whether it's what one loves to do) stood in stark contrast.

The first room one enters in the Marley complex is an open and bare one, with only a plaque commemorating the Legend compilation hanging from the wall, and his Witameyer upright piano sitting against another wall. My roommate had taken video on his first visit to Marley's place, and one clip showed a tourist plinking on the piano. I was unsure of whether I actually wanted to play that day, but between my own irresistible urge and the egging on of my friends, I sat down and played "Redemption Song." The piano was seemingly guarded by two Rastafarian men, but as I started playing, they started singing along, as did some of the other tourists. After the tour was over, a bunch of us hung around the bottom of the complex and listened to a guy playing "Three Little Birds" on banjo. I heard more piano tinkling from that same room, and went back to see what was going on. Those same two Rastas were still there, and they asked me to play again. After muddling through a little bit of "Lively Up Yourself," I started into "No Woman, No Cry." I immediately had goosebumps as everyone started singing along. The last time I had a similar experience was playing tunes at Banff that had any association with my friend Chris. As cheesy as this sounds, one can still feel Marley's energy emanating from that room.

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