Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jazz School Rave.

Man, jazz school. What a ride it’s been. What a long time it seems I’ve been in Canberra. I’ve been through a lot of changes whilst at jazz school and I’ve explored many different avenues of music making or I guess attitudes towards music rather than processes of making music. It’s been kind of rough I guess. I’ve had a lot of fun with the other people doing the course. I’d say the best thing about the whole experience has been meeting and hanging out with the other musicians that are around. I’ve met some really hairy cats whilst at jazz school and I hope I’m friends with them for the rest of my life. There are some really strong bonds between me and some of the people at jazz school and I really cherish that. I’ve met some really good improvisers and really good players. I’ve figured out a few things about music that I can say for certain now. But dropping out has really put my confidence at a low. I have obviously had some struggles academically but I think over all it’s been really fun and a really worth while experience. I guess I am pretty cynical about jazz school and all and that will come across in the paragraphs to follow. But yea. It’s been good.

When I first started going to ANU Jazz School I was really disappointed with the music that was being played by the students at the Uni and in general in Canberra. The older musicians weren’t doing anything interesting or exciting at all and it scared me because everyone was like man this is it. Plus the drummers were using brushes on the cymbals and clicking their high-hat foot real fast like that’s what makes a good drummer yeah man really fast lefty brushes cymbals what? I’d never seen that until I moved to Canberra and I’m not into it. Plus most people’s idea of ‘free jazz’ was really off the mark if you asked me. It’s kind of look down on by a lot of people there which is a shame because I think it’s a big part of the jazz tradition. When I first moved there I was getting ready to knuckle down and practice 10 hours a day and learn some jazz standards. It took some time to adjust to a new city and living out of home in a share house with random freaks and not knowing anyone except Feddie. Finding practice rooms was tough and I didn’t have a keyboard so I didn’t get into a routine for a while. So on my first day I walk up to my personal teacher (the guy that does one on one piano lessons with me) and I said: “Hey man, I’m Jono Lake, I’m your new student, you better watch out for me, I’m coming to get you.” And he actually looked kind of scared even though I was just joking and all and just trying to make a first impression. I guess it’s safe to say I was pretty out from the get go.

So at the start of the first concert practice thing one of the teachers stands up and is all like “Ok boys and girls, perform like you’re on a gig and it’s your music and it’s your band and original and all that yea like you want to play and how you play when you play in your band and when I played with Freddie Hubbard and yea” and 2 hours later he stopped talking and we had concert practice. I was pretty keen on that attitude towards concert practice, of like doing something creative. But it turned out that’s not really what they’re after. I’ve had some really good concert prac performances before. I’ve done some things that’s had the place in an uproar. But those are the ones that I seemed to only just pass. The ones I got a better mark on were the ones that were jazz and straight and were really actually quite shit. I have had some shit ones though. I have eaten some big shit in concert practice before. Especially when playing on other peoples ones. They would get their marks back and the comments would be about my shit playing and it’s their fucking assessment. But most other people were fucking boring as hell man. It’s called concert practice, like you have a practice at doing a concert and fuck man, I wouldn’t go to these things if I was paid. It was just so lifeless and boring and so low in energy. Every now and then someone would do something cool, but sometimes I would be afraid that I was starting to lower my standard and become like the older cats were when I arrived. I went to a lot of gigs too when I first arrived in Canberra. Hippo bar once a week, Trinity bar, the Front once a week or so, the shows at the jazz school. I saw locals playing that were at the so called ‘top’ of the Canberra jazz scene and there was a scene in Canberra, but it didn’t have really heavy cats. The heaviest cats on the scene were the teachers at the jazz school and they didn’t do much outside of straight jazz. Now I respect the teachers from jazz school they are amazing musicians. But in terms of ‘the shit’ kind of thing they don’t do much for me. By the 2nd year I had figured out what was worth going to and what wasn’t so didn’t see as many live gigs. The best gigs were always of out of town bands from Sydney or Melbourne.

So anyways, pretty quick I started to puke from all the older and graduated musicians in their bands and doing all this boring shit and the piss weak drummers and so I started to make my own shit. I started the double drummer quartet with me on drums, John Wilton on drums, Feddie on alto and Shanghai on trumpet. It was an all improvising group that played every Friday at the art school happy hour for 2 years or so and did an album with Masso called ‘Moments at The Front’ and had some other people play in it and things and like Shanghai played drums and Callum played guitar and now we call it ‘Rainbow Kisses’ and I don’t think John likes that band because he quit. Like the drummers at ANU jazz school eat really big shit. There is no one that’s got anything interesting going on - except maybe John. Or Evan Dorian, he at least is making music. But most of the drummers I couldn’t stand. I have more chops than most of those kids. I play with more energy (especially in the double drummer group) and it was frustrating because I’m not even a drummer. But they are actually better drummers than me because they can play jazz better than me. I guess I just like really angular shit. The other project I started in retaliation to jazz school boredom was Lakeside Circus and that’s all original music that has many different emotions and styles or whatever you want to call it and I compose pretty much all the music. Its me on piano with Alec on bass a drummer (it was John for the first year) and a few horns. Bucko on tenor, Feddie and Shanghai and later we got others like Patches and other horn players and other drummers. We rehearsed once a week and did lots of gigs. Its in it’s 2nd year of existence. Did out of town gigs. But Circus band was way more exciting than most of the stuff that was happening at jazz school even if it wasn’t as technically ‘proper’ or ‘professional’ as the older bands. We didn’t really play modern jazz or anything, we just made instrumental music. Not many people actually have a band with a proper name that plays all original music with regular gigs and rehearsals. Reuben does it. Austin Buckett Trio did it. But there’s not much more than that. Which is weird because I thought that was the point of jazz school. Aren’t you meant to make music and start a band so you can experiment in a flourishing musical environment? I don’t get it. Where is the music?

The cats playing in my bands were my favorite players. They were also my closest friends. Meeting them and getting to know them was amazing and getting to know their playing was even better. Shanghai and Feddie are by far the most inventive and naturally talented improvisers in Canberra. They can make intricate music out of nothing. Shanghai doesn’t even know it but his playing shits on all those other trumpet players that can play higher and with a so called ‘better’ tone. Feddie just has this raw deep angular thing that I just really fucking love. He can only get better at music. John Wilton has got to be the most mysterious confusing and waked out guy I have ever met in my life. I honestly have no idea what the fuck to do with that guy and I don’t think I ever will. I remember when I was first getting to know John he would just laugh at me for how I would talk then I would laugh at him for laughing at me. Plus that guy makes the most killer sandwich in the world. So everyone else that I met at jazz school but didn’t really play with is cool as well like: Lilly, Butler, Smeltik, Phone Booth, Peter, A Lick, Tony Gibbs, Troy Johnston, Fuckstick, Pure, Jack, Sophia, Kimber, Pounder, Lustri, Reuben, Nick, Tye, Thomas, Skyko, Andy, Simon and too many more to mention sorry if I forgot you.

I failed jazz composition and arranging twice. This was at the very same time I wrote and arranged over 30 songs for a 6 or 7 piece band. I put a lot of time into the songs for Lakeside Circus. They are all different and they have all been carefully developed. Even after we have performed them I bring ‘em back in for developing. This was a bit of a theme for my time at jazz school. I mean – failing a class for not doing the work but outside I’m doing things that are almost just as hard. It was the same for my personal lessons. I would always go in with all this shit like stride piano or the poly rhythms or the technique exercises I wrote or the boogie-woogie I was practicing and always it was the same. My teacher just said it wasn’t his area of expertise and so I couldn’t use them to be credited as part of the course. Which is a real kick in the fucking face. Man, it wasn’t really out shit. It was jazz shit. If I could have counted all the stit I did at home to the course credits I would have done a lot better. Besides, my teacher should know better. Plus, this entire fucking course is sold on the idea that it’s tailor made for each student. It’s bullshit that they put out all this talk about creativity and originality and the importance of being yourself – and all the lectures’ in that Uni are talking about it - and then turn around and treat it like we’re on a conveyor belt and if you don’t fit the mould you’re out. It’s bullshit that they teach it like this is the real world. Jazz school jazz is not the real world. Well, I guess if the real world is a world of shit plastic cheap imitation jazz it is. But it’s not for me. For me the real world is exciting and it’s going to get deep down into your bones and in the real world musicians make the sort of music that can’t be touched by any one eyed, washed up deadbeat Uni lecturer. In the real world beautiful music is being made that is so astounding that it leaves you speechless. It doesn’t try to fit into any categories like jazz or classical or whatever and it’s not trying to tick the boxes. It’s creative music and its exciting. You can’t mess with that.

I didn’t fit in at Jazz school. Not really. I tried really hard to fit in. I mean in terms of the academia. You can probably read earlier blog posts where my attitude is that of complete appeasement to the jazz school. I failed the classes because I quite simply couldn’t cut it. I just wasn’t good enough because my energies were focused elsewhere. I don’t think even if I could have focused I would have done too well either. I’m not really a proficient player. The only thing I really pride myself on is creativity and that comes out in my composing more than my playing. I tried really hard and I feel really bad about failing. Marc Hannaford, Dave Goodman, Keith Jarrett, Alex Masso and Jim Black are probably some of the most important musical influences of my life and they are all people who did really well studying music at university. They all had the discipline and skill to stick out what they set out to do. They all had the focus and strength to do what it takes to finish a degree. I didn’t do well in the institution. I have a different way of thinking that simply doesn’t fit. I believe in music. I believe in creativity. I have my own ideas about music and I’m pretty confident in them. I have been severely tested by the jazz school and now that I’ve been through it all I’m that much stronger. Or so I try to tell myself to help feel better about dropping out. My ideas are pretty fucking insane though. For example, I believe that musicians make music. Now that’s just a load of bullshit if you ask the jazz school. How fucking outrageous and crazy is this guy? Where does he get these ideas? I think I’m going to pull my hair out! Musicians learn how to play an instrument and how to play music. They emulate something to make a copy because that’s the best we can hope for. Musicians learn the rules of a tradition and then stick to the rules because that’s how you make music. Fuck that shit. Fuck the jazz school if that’s what it’s all about. I’m an artist and I create music. I create music that is a thing of it’s own and you can’t mess with that. But then again, maybe I’ve just missed the whole fucking point.

I deferred a semester at the end of 2dn year to really think about music. I had also developed a serious back problem that was really stopping me from practicing. 10 hours a day my ass. That would be sweet, but in reality I have had some really low times with practice and composing and it’s pretty much always because of my saw back. At one point during my time at jazz school I couldn’t sit at the piano for more than 5 minutes without going into excruciating pain. When I had days like that I would just listen to CDs. I’ve invested a lot of time and money into learning Alexander technique since then and I’m getting better. I’m not fully better, but I hope to get there. I think there was also a lot of stress just from how I thought I should play. That was hard to deal with. There was always two ways to play for me. The way I wanted to and the way I should. I did a lot of practice during my time off and I felt really refreshed when I came back. But I quickly fell back into my old ways of rebellion. I started taking a composition class with Jim Cotter and that was really cool. He is a really cool cat. I really enjoyed getting lessons from him. He was probably the most insightful and exciting teacher in that whole place. He really is something. He is probley the only person in Canberra who actually inspired me and challenged me. He was the only one that I actually respected enough to act upon his advice. So anyways I failed and all my units were dragged out and I felt really shit about being at that place. With the deferred semester and all the classes I’d failed I’d actually only got half way through the course in the time it’s meant to be completed. I don’t feel good there anymore. I just had to quit.

I’m not the musician or the person I thought I’d be when I got to this point. I’m pretty sure I’m not following in the footsteps of my heros and I’m ok with that. Life in the real world is going to be hard I think. I’m going to have to work in other fields to pay the rent and bills. I think I’m going to work in a cafe or have jobs like that. Music is what I’m all about though. Honest music. I just don’t think I’m going to have the energy or resources to make music full time for a few years to come. I’m not a proper musician. After all, I did fail the jazz course. I’m not a qualified musician. I’m not a professional musician and I can’t see how I would ever be one. I’m going to have to do without a lot of things in order to make the music I want. I’m going to know what it’s like to be a starving artist that’s scraping by. But I think I’m ready for that. I don’t think I’ll ever really get anything in return. I may not even make good music. Well, maybe one day in the future a heavy cat might mention me to someone and say I’m doing something of interest. But that’s about all I can really hope for. Not that it really matters. I only care about music. To be perfectly honest I’m feeling really drained from being in Canberra and being through jazz school. I feel creatively drained and my confidence has been crushed. I failed to do what I set out to do and I don’t see how I could ever live that down. Jazz School has been an amazing learning experience, but in all the ways I didn’t expect. The people I’ve met whilst there are really great musicians and great people and I’ve had a lot of fun times with them. But in the end there comes a time when you have to move on and for me I think that now’s the time to move. I don’t know how moving would really be any better. But I guess that’s half my problem. I’m just lost and without direction. My path is unclear to me. What the future holds only the future can tell. Whatever that means.

Man I hate to end it off on such a negative note. I did really have a lot of fun whilst in Canberra. The only real bum was the academic shit, but that was only one small part of the thing thing. There were heaps of fun times where we all got tweaking or would have some beers. Shed times were good. Pub times were good. Biginellie times were good. Front times were good. BBQ times were good. Gig times were good. Good times.

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