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January 1991 - Nightflying Column (Ampside Chat) - Growth
by Lee Tomboulian

Howdy folks. I want to talk about musical growth. First, it's a mysterious thing, as you know, just like any other process. You can struggle for weeks or months on some aspect of music, like your sense of time (many of the musicians I know have trouble getting anywhere on time) or certain kinds of chords, or whatever. Suddenly, after you've stopped struggling, you notice it's just part of you, a part of your vocabulary. Or to put it another way, the subconcious has chewed on it, broken it down enough for you to use.

The process, of course, needs regular feeding, to stretch this metaphor all the way out. James Williams, the jazz pianist, tells his students that it's important to do something for your musical growth everyday. Oliver Lake, the reggae-jazz alto saxist, suggests for musicians to touch their instruments, at least, once a day. I guess if you do that, you're more likely to want to play some.

And, to prevent ruts from forming, you know you can always step of your safest musical style once in a while, regularly. Outside of the sheer refreshment of it, it can rejuvenate your home style, throw a new slant on it. Of course, in my case, that's led to Floyd Cramer's piano smiling out at odd times on one of my jazz gigs, but I learned eventually to not let certain styles collide so violently during the same song (John Zorn has made a career out of it, but let's move on).

I feel that any musical experience you have helps you tell your story. I have sometimes wondered, for instance, what a country waltz by Chris Maxwell would sound like. I'm sure it would be cool, but maybe I'd just better try to write one myself and tend my own garden.

Of course, the process never stops, unless you uproot it. Jeff Barnes and I went out to the Holiday Inn West to hear Charles Thomas play piano, magnificently, as anyone who's ever heard him will agree. Charles came over and remarked, with characteristic modesty, how the piano still represents a big challenge to him, even after decades of playing. As we were leaving, I complained to Jeff: "How can he say that after playing so well?"

He said, " We're all kinda chipping away at the mountain of our own incompetence, it's just that some of us have a bigger pile of chips than others."

Happy chipping to us all, until next time.

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