When I reflect on the many people I’ve shared musical experiences with over those many years certain ones stand out. Most of those experiences were wonderful, some not so much but all were memorable and influential on where I think I am as a musician at this time.
So what do we hope for in the people we play with? Here is my ranking system, with number 1 being the least important attribute and 5 being the most important.
Musical interests: This is important to the extent that it just doesn’t make sense wasting time on a style of music that doesn’t bring me joy. Now, remember – I’m an old guy! I think a younger player should probably keep a more open mind because his or her musical life is mostly ahead of them. I’ve said many times before that we can learn something from just about any kind of music, even if we don’t like it. But when you reach my age you have most likely taken what you can from many styles and digested it. The trick is to still keep an open mind and an open ear. I LOVE being surprised. Finding someone with your exact tastes in music is a rare thing. So I have to say, matching musical interests rates about a solid 3 on my scale.
Chops: Not nearly as important to me as it once was. As long as someone can keep a beat and make the changes at the right time, and is willing to practice to get better, I don’t really care how hot a player they are or aren’t. That one I will give a 2.
Musical knowledge and respect: This probably bookends with musical interests but in order to play well with others we need to have a basis of knowledge of the music. I was watching the wonderful show “Daryl’s House” on Palladia the other night, in which Daryl Hall has various musicians come to his home in upper New York State for a day of music making in his home studio. On this episode he had the legendary Smokey Robinson. At the end of show he was just about in tears while talking about what Smokey’s music had meant to him over the years and the respect and admiration was a big factor in fantastic music they made together. Playing with someone who knows and loves the music you do makes a huge difference in the final result. I give that part of the musical partnership a big 4.
Equipment: Another thing that doesn’t mean as much to me as it once did. There was a time when I automatically judged a musician by how fancy and expensive his gear might be. Wow, was that a mistake. I’ve heard mediocre players using $5000 guitars and incredible players doing unbelievable things with $300 beaters. Yes, when I get together with someone to play I hope they’ll be able to stay in tune and not have to fight with their instrument but the name on the headstock isn’t nearly as important as what the player can make that instrument do. I’ll give that a 1. OK, maybe a 2…. Old habits die hard!
And finally….. Relationships: You can learn to get along with someone in a musical setting who will never be your best friend. I’ve had plenty of those experiences. But what I won’t put up with are ego issues. Give and take, knowing how to listen, knowing when to lead and when to follow. Giving a musical partner room to grow and not dismissing ideas out of hand without giving them a chance. And most of all, the ability to have a laugh when it’s appropriate but a smile most all the time. That’s what I look for. I give this one 5.
Peace & good music,