This has been an amazing year for me. With the release of the FreeSong Suite and the reaction to it, suddenly everything starts to move with a flow and momentum that I haven’t experienced before. Flowing and falling into it and somehow knowing that all is headed in the right direction. I am so grateful to all the amazing friends, family and supporters over the years who have kept me going…letting me know that I have something to keep going. That support has been and is priceless. It has meant so much that now that things feel like they are “going” I hardly know how to react other than with deep gratitude and a strange nervousness.
So I’m thinking a lot about how this has all taken shape. How some decisions I made clearly lead here and other choices felt right but couldn’t be explained. How my past has bought me to this place where I feel at home performing my own music on my own terms and getting recognition for THAT. With all this thinking, a conversation I had some years ago keeps coming up. Much of my musical life as an autodidact I’ve learned along the way, on the fly, tidbits of info chosen just for me and my little journey to wherever. Usually in the midst of conversation.
About 10 years ago, hubby and collaborator Jochem van Dijk was involved in a vocal project put on a by a Dutch vocalist Sandra Stark with 3 voices and a trio of guitar, accordion and percussion. A couple of Jochem’s pieces were involved in the project so I went to one of their concerts an hour north of Amsterdam and the percussionist of the trio dazzled me most because he was so versatile and dynamic. He had a strange drum kit to my eyes. It looked like a bunch of snare drums with one hi-hat and a small bass drum and tons of musical toys and trinkets that rattled when he used them and when he didn’t. I couldn’t take my eyes or ears off of him.
At the end of the concert a bus was organized to take us all back to Amsterdam and I had the great luck to sit next to Alan Purves, the great Scottish percussionist who I just listened to. We started talking about music, people we knew in common and he asked me what was I into and what type of singer I was. I went into this thing about how I’m a modern jazz vocalist performing some original material and standards. I said I was starting to think differently about using the voice and was getting oodles of inspiration from people like Cathy Berberian, Roberta Alexander and Jeanne Lee and besides that I mainly listened to instrumental jazz and mostly post-post bop. I went on and on about how I loved Ornette and Ayler, etc. He listened intently and said:
“Very precise. You know exactly what you like.”
“Yes I do…” I said confidently.
He said, “Sounds like you’re on a music diet. For me, I can’t get enough of music. I love all of it, I’m a music hog.”
At first I thought he was crazy…how can you love ALL of it! Then my brain fell silent and I began to feel very patronizing and realized that I must have sounded like an arrogant little snot. I also saw in technicolor that I was NOT as open as I thought I was. and BOY, I thought I was. That pissed me off. So I said to Alan…
“What do you mean? I think I have good taste and I listen to music now that I never knew existed…” He cut me off.
“Maybe…but you are so sure about it. That’s why I call it a ‘diet’. I like to be in uncomfortable situations.”
He continued, “then I like to see what I can come up with, whether it’s a simple rock
backbeat or a complicated polythrymic piece. I like playing everything and finding my own way into it.”
He got me. I was speechless again. A weird silence ensued and soon went on to talking about normal life things like where we lived, what was our fave Dutch food, Scotland and joking about cows on the countryside we were driving past. Yet the “music diet” conversation never left me and made me see how closed I was and how tunneled my vision was for what I wanted to do. Alan revealed a way of looking at things that had eluded me…and he made it sound so easy. I heard it in his playing.
After that day and some serious soul searching I began feeling freer to just “try” things. To let things happen and control my music less and less once I’m actually in the moment of making it. It’s a hard thing for a vocalist to let go of because we do need others musicians as a reference point many times. Alan made me see this differently and I am eternally grateful because I KNOW this conversation directly impacted my musical direction to the point where today..I’m not afraid to step into any musical situation and give it my all…without fear and I usually find my own way in.