The following is an extract from The Secret Diaries of Freddie 'Fingers' Finlayson, an obscure but incredibly important jazz pianist working somewhere in the world today...
I've been working on something different in my practicing recently. I have been trying to play a lot less left-hand (LH) when soloing in order to free up the other. With my right-hand lines, I'm trying to get away from the tyranny of swung-eights and the slavery of outlining chord changes to give me more freedom in my phrasing. If you imagine a Monk-ish rhythmic approach crossed with bits of Brad Mehldau vocabulary you'll have an idea.
I've been working on this for a month or so now. It's slow work and it's hard to keep the LH out the way. Nevertheless I have moments where I think I've cracked it before it disappears and I'm struggling again. It feels like it's coming though so I'm pretty optimistic.
Rehearsal with the new band. We're working on some original compositions and I'm feeling really good about it. I think the band is starting to develop a unique ensemble sound and that's hugely exciting. It's great to be working on stuff that we're all really up for playing and I walk home after the rehearsal with a spring in my step and Clifford Brown blowing up a storm on my iPod. I am very, very glad I'm a jazz musician.
I AM A JAZZ GOD! I have an awesome practice session this afternoon where I really nail my new approach. I'm soloing over backing tracks and coming out with stuff I didn't even know I could play! I am full of ideas and innovation and am not relying on any of my clichés or stock phrases.
It seems like I could do anything whenever I want. I feel powerful, I have time to make decisions and am totally in control. In the middle of one tune, I am almost laughing out loud with joy as I think – 'this is what it must be like to be Herbie or Chick'. I just can't wait for the next gig to try this new approach live.
When I have exhausted my creative genius, I put Keith Jarrett on the stereo and lie on the sofa, mentally preparing the interviews I'll have to give when people hear the new approach in action and the jazz press starts beating the door down.
The DownBeat interview is particularly impressive as I astonish the interviewer by doing a perfect 'blindfold test'. Not only do I recognise every artist he plays, but I am able to supply the track and album name, the names of the sidemen, the producer's name, the recording location and the year of release.
I have already mentally spent the money from the huge record deal I am sure to receive.
I've been concentrating on this new soloing approach so much that I haven't really thought about the solo gig I've got tomorrow. It's only background music at a function in a hotel but I haven't done one of these for a while and I'm not sure I have enough material ready.
I manage to find a couple of hours to spend reminding myself of arrangements I've not played for a while. My biggest fear in these situations is that I'll run out of stuff to play – it's kind of a paranoia I have. In order to combat this I sit and write a list of all the songs I could conceivably play and feel a bit better about it. I tell myself there's no point worrying about it anyhow as it's only a wallpaper gig and nobody will really be listening to what I'm playing anyway.
The solo gig sucks like a starving piglet. The organiser told me I didn't need to bring amplification as the hotel had a house PA. I put the digital piano through that and they give me a tiny little guitar amp to use as a monitor. It probably sounds OK in the room but, to me, the piano sounds like a 1982 bottom-of-the-range Bontempi organ played through a megaphone.
I play far too many notes because the tone is too horrible to sit on. I make a billion mistakes and can't wait for it to end. To make things worse, the background chatter in the room is louder than two skeletons screwing on a tin roof and it's a real struggle to concentrate. I don't think I have an original idea all night and just bang out lick after cliché after lick after stock-phrase and so on.
Fortunately, I am on a raised platform at the end of the room so I am a little protected from the drunk who keeps appearing and shouting for 'Great Balls Of Fire' whilst I'm trying to play 'Moonlight in Vermont' and 'My Funny Valentine'. I want to shake his nerves and rattle his brains...
At the end of the second set, to stop him accosting me when I come off stage, I play a chorus of it, complete with thumb slides down the piano and ludicrous blues licks. For some reason, this gets a big cheer from the crowd. Once again, the 'play something we know quite loud' rule is again proven as being the only thing that draws a reaction. Don't know why I bother sometimes.
A couple of people come up to me while I'm packing up and tell me they really enjoyed the music. I smile politely and thank them (deaf bastards), it's kind of them to say but I know it was shit and just can't wait to get out of there.
Scratch quartet gig. The new soloing approach clearly isn't ready yet as I can't get it going on stage tonight. I have moments in the first couple of tunes where I feel it might happen. I'm certainly playing less with my left hand to start with. However, in the third tune I attempt a cool a-rhythmic phrase that stretches and compresses a couple of chord changes creating an ultra-hip, in-out-in-again line.
It sounds like a salamander has just sprinted across the keyboard in the middle of my solo. It had sounded awesome in practice but tonight it just sounds like I'm in the wrong key and can't count. I try again a couple of bars later. By the middle eight of the tune I am worried the audience will wonder if I'm trying to play whilst wearing boxing gloves or having some kind of seizure so I give it up as a bad idea and revert to my usual playing. It may not be Herbie or Chick but it gets me through the gig and and lets me do the job I'm being paid for.
Afterwards, I try to console myself that I was playing with some very mainstream players and it was probably the wrong situation to try that approach anyhow. I try not to be too disheartened but I really thought I had it in the week. Bollocks.
Scratch trio gig. Good God what a shocker! I have been booked by the bass player who isn't a bad player but I haven't played with this drummer before. He is terrible. No, he is worse than terrible. He is awfully, arse-clenchingly, mind-numbingly, head-bangingly, teeth-grindingly bad.
I don't think he's very good.
He either speeds up or slows down in every single tune - and sometimes he manages to do both. The swing tunes don't and trying to solo on his 'latin' grooves is like trying to roller-skate through rice pudding. He probably thinks 'clave' is a kind of liquor.
If the bass or drums are wrong in a trio gig there's nothing you can do. Within the first eight bars of the first tune my heart is sinking as it's immediately obvious this guy is about as much use as tits on a bull.
I give up all hope of making any music for the rest of the night and just try to be professional and get through it. Nobody dies but it's not fun – particularly as the drummer keeps trying to get my attention to trade 'fives' and 'three and a halfs' on numerous tunes.
During the final tune, he takes a solo that sounds like he has just thrown his drum kit down the stairs. The crowd loves it. I realise why so many jazz musicians are alcoholics and am grateful that there is a bottle of vodka in the freezer at home.
On the way out of the door, I shake his hand and say 'thanks for an interesting night, see you later'. I can't bring myself to say 'it was nice playing with you' because it wasn't. Frankly, I'd rather be disembowelled with a Norah Jones album whilst sucking cow snot through a straw than play with that guy again.
When I've loaded the car I get in and lean heavily on the steering wheel. Three crap gigs in a row – why do I bother doing this? I think listening to what a decent trio should sound like on the way home might help so I put Bill Evans on the stereo and pull away. It doesn't. At the first set of lights, I turn the music off and drive home in silence.