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Monday, July 27, 2009


‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, as the saying goes. Well I’m in the middle of a period of doing absolutely no work, having secluded myself in rural France – seriously rural France – Aveyron. Aveyron is allegedly the last ‘undiscovered’ part of France and I must say from the evidence I’ve seen it deserves that moniker. There really is nobody here. Of course the people who live here permanently are here – farmers to a man, and woman – but there are almost no tourists and you can literally drive the roads for dozens of kilometres before meeting another car. The pace of life here is incredibly sedate and this is a perfect oasis of calm for me – I get to read lots of books, eat stupid amounts of great French food and drive aimlessly around the countryside stopping wherever and whenever I want, for a coffee, for a look at the beautiful scenery or to eat even more food.

In recent years, as my life has become busier and busier, I’ve found the need to do things like this more and more. The need to reconnect with the idea of guilt-free leisure time has been something I’ve been aware of for the past while, and last January I took the entire month off to do things unrelated to work – I read books, I took a French course in Paris, I took an Asian cookery course etc. etc. It was great, and it’s something I intend to do in the future – and need to do. Because there’s no doubt I have a tendency to be a workaholic and I think a lot of musicians have become workaholics. As we take control of our own destinies in this self-sufficient technology driven age, we also take responsibility for lots of areas that were formerly taken care of by publicists, recording engineers, managers and even - with the advent of Youtube – film makers! And with the portable nature of the technology (I’m writing to you from a rural farmhouse 5 Km from the nearest town), we are able to take our work with us wherever we go. And so as we service our websites, our Myspace pages, our Youtube channels, answer our emails etc. we spend huge amounts of time that would have previously been either devoted to leisure time or practice, (remember THAT concept!) working, working working. And when we’re not working there’s a low-level chatter going on in the back of our minds concerning work - ‘must send X that email’, didn’t hear from Y about that gig’, ‘must update my website’, ‘must email the guys about the rehearsal’ etc. etc. It’s a workaholics charter!

And so I came here without my bass and with a determination to do no work at all. The fact that I don’t have a cellphone in real life (no really, it’s true!), means that I’m even less contactable by phone out here then I am at home, where the landline is my only means of telephonic communication. The only leeway I’ve allowed myself in doing stuff that I do at home is in writing my blog – hence the preponderance of posts this month! Blogging is something I find quite therapeutic anyway, I find writing to be a bit of an escapist thing rather than a work thing, and I’m allowing myself the luxury of doing a fair bit of blog activity on the grounds that when I get back the work shit will hit the fan in no uncertain terms and I’ll have little or no time for blogging or other fripperies for a while.

One great thing about travelling without the instrument and being without it for a while, is that it makes me miss it! ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ (I’m big on aphorisms in this post, amn’t I?), and that’s certainly true in this case. As the fortnight of the holiday progresses my fingers start twitching in anticipation, and in a direct correlation to the speed my calluses begin to soften. I have a bunch of gigs a week after I go back and I’m really looking forward to playing again, but I’ll have to try and get my chops back to some kind of working order. So I’ve a week of practicing lined up and as the effects of the enforced bass absence takes hold here, the thought of this upcoming time with the instrument is becoming more and more attractive. One of the things I’ll be doing when I get back is playing with a group called Electric Miles which plays the music from the Bitches Brew period – music that’s rarely played and that, because it’s so loosely structured, gives the group great freedom to explore. With his band I get to play electric bass, something that’s very rare for me and enjoy very much – but those round wound strings definitely put the calluses to the test, so bring on the practice room!

Recently I’ve been involved in something which typifies the way we jazz musicians have become taken away from the actual act of playing and into other worlds. The critic Nate Chinen did a blog about the rights and wrongs of grant aiding jazz, and there was a very enthusiastic response, (including several from yours truly). It was a fascinating discussion, and one that attracted many heavy hitters in the jazz world. But though this was a subject concerning our livelihood and how the jazz world works etc., I couldn’t help thinking, as I contemplated the hours we all spent on writing back and forth, shouldn’t we all be practicing.....................?

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