The bass player
When I first went to Berklee College of Music, it was with the firm intention to learn jazz. In my family, in France, it was accepted as a noble style of music. So, I learnt jazz. It was not an easy feat, I was practicing 10 to 12 hours a day the basics then the more advanced techniques of jazz. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I loved it. My father used to listen to the greats from Louis Armstrong to Coltrane. I was familiar with the sound, at least. So, when it came time to buckle up and put the time to dig it, I was thrilled. I didn’t mind spending a year on it.
I went back to France, then to Italy, in Perugia, with my girlfriend at the time. I tried my best to sale my skills in drumming, meaning in jazz. There were some takers, but no money. Jazz didn’t pay the man, no matter how hard he tried. I was discovering that an era was gone, people now were focusing on rock and folk, soul and R and B and Hip-Hop and house music. Jazz, you say? For specialists. For a very limited crowd.
My goal was to become a professional drummer. I almost didn’t care in what style of music, I loved them all. I decided to sink my teeth into studio drumming, which meant all styles, from Latin to Rock.
But there is a place where you can play jazz and make a living, and you can do it the old fashion way. In New Orleans there are hundreds maybe even thousands of musicians that gets paid to do just that. We were there, my wife and I last Christmas. We saw a lot of different gigs. It’s not complicated, you go on Frenchman street and you enter a bar that has the sound you like. There was an upright bass player, he was tall and thin, cool and silent, just like an upright bass player should be. A thin smile on his face, totally invested in his playing, real solid, real good, a treat to watch. We noticed him, of course. First because he was standing up on a band stand that has mainly players sitting down, but also because he was doing 3/4 of all the gigs in one given evening. He must have started around 6:30 pm and finished around 2 am. That’s what, 3 gigs? I think they get a bare minimum plus tips. And, from what I witnessed, people are pretty generous with the tips if the music is good. I’d say he made $50 or $60 per gig. Time 3. We’re at $150, $180 per night. The beauty of New Orleans is that you can make that EVERY NIGHT since the music never stops. $150 time 30 days in a month, now that’s a living. It’s lot of work, but if you like it (and what’s not to like) you don’t mind it.
Hmm. Makes a guy think. Maybe I should brush up on my jazz skills.