So Long, San Diego

by Joe Walker, 23 May 2011, in Performances,School

I lived in San Diego for the last three years, and a few weeks ago, I moved to Seattle. While I'm excited about returning to the region where I grew up, I'm leaving behind a lot of great people and musical experiences.

Bands

When I arrived in San Diego in 2008, I jumped on craigslist to find some rocking bands. I hooked up with Staring at Strange, a powerful female-fronted hard rock group with metal, funk, and folk influences. Kelly Strange on vocals, Dave Maciel on lead guitar, Rob Griffin on bass, and Gavin Haswell on drums are phenomenal musicians. Rehearsals and shows were a blast, and the band had a killer sound, especially when goofing off with crazy polyrhythms.

I joined another band soon after. Called Mod Squad, we focused on a decent list of covers stemming from The Cure and The Smiths. This was not my kind of music. Nothing against it, I just hadn't spent time listening to anything resembling new wave, so it was a fascinating listening, learning, and playing experience.

In August 2009, I joined Led Zeppelin tribute band Dazed and Confused. My experiences with Dazed are well documented on this site. It was probably the best cover band experience I could imagine. Zeppelin's music is some of my favorite ever. Jason Ott nailed the vocals. Andy Hinson nailed the bass. Jeff Smith nailed the drums. It was the perfect storm.

In late 2010, I had the pleasure of playing a few blues gigs with Shelle Blue, a classmate of mine at SDSU. I learned about thirty blues tunes in a week in order to take the gig, and I'm glad I did. That band was smokin'. Jodie Hill on bass and Leon Wesley on drums were extremely well informed in the blues tradition and had some crazy musical telepathy going on when we jammed.

Teachers

As I prepared to audition for the SDSU jazz program, I sought out a jazz guitar teacher to help me out. I studied with Steve Nichols and Travis Daudert at separate times, and they both did excellent work.

After I started at SDSU, I got to learn from dozens of people at the same time, between my professors and classmates. Every professor I had left a great impression on me: Dutton, Rewoldt, Thompson, Helzer, Smigel, Yeager.

SDSU provides students with a variety of options for private lessons beyond the full-time faculty. My lessons with Bob Boss and Bob Magnusson were particularly rewarding. I left each session with countless priceless insights another lifetime of material to practice.

The jazz performing combos were directed by a combination of professors and graduate students. I had the pleasure of learning from a few of my classmates in this capacity: Peter August, Nate Jarrell, and Leonard Patton.

Classmates and Co-Jammers

My classmates at SDSU were the most valuable part of my education. I learned and benefited more from playing and talking with them than I could have any other way. The performing combos were the primary area of musical interaction. During my tenure, I worked with three different combos and the rhythm section of the jazz vocal ensemble. These left me with countless valuable experiences of group performance, listening, and cooperation.

My recital group in the spring of 2011 did an amazing job of bringing my music to life. Jesse Audelo on alto and flute, Kris Korsgaden on piano and vibes, Dan Reagan on trombone, Eli Rodriguez on drums, Douglas Welcome on bass, and Tony Wong on tenor brought their best to my final school performance and made it a very special day.

A few of my classes formed a tighter bond when we recorded pieces we'd written as assignments. Recording my peers' music, having them record mine, and witnessing the whole process over and over gave me an intimate glimpse into the jazz composing process. Danny Green was the all-star during these evening marathon recording sessions, both in his own astounding compositions and the way he instantly interpreted everyone else's.

Starting in 2009, I attended the local Thursday Night Jazz Jam as often as I could. It was perfect for me, because the atmosphere was embracing of developing players while also providing a fun, creative outlet for some of the best young musicians in the city. Jay Jay Lim has been hosting for years, helped out by a rotating house band including Bob Daniels, Karin Carson, Antar Martin, Travis Daudert, Harley Magsino, and Darren Wagner. It was a delight to hear amazing players like Joshua White, Ed Kornhauser, Ian Tordella, Justin Grinnell, and Jason Robinson working their magic later in the evening.

I'll always be grateful to every one of these great people I've met in SD. I've learned immeasurable lessons from each of you, whether you know it or not. Thank you so much, and I'll miss you.

Playing for Free (Re: A Request for Action and Change)

by Joe Walker, 2 May 2011, in Performances,Thoughts

A few days ago, I was directed to a Craigslist post containing the following thoughts, written by New York jazz saxophonist and drummer Adam Niewood. Craigslist posts expire, so I got Adam's permission to reprint them here with my own thoughts in response.

Title: A Request for Action and Change
Date: 2011-04-28, 2:44PM PDT

Adam is a friend of mine and posted this on his facebook:

Hello - Adam Niewood writing.

I'm writing in this space to EVERYONE who plays music - If you play music this is to YOU.

After recently "working" in a local NYC venue - I found the total overall experience to be the proverbial Straw That Broke The Camels Back.

I'm talking about a sickness plaguing our City's music scene - it's us...

OK the big secret is out - Musicians like to play. So much so - that we'll do it for free.

We all talk about how the music scene is so flawed - but it's been going on this way for decades now. And complacency and inaction isn't going to signal the changes we all want.

I truly think it is time for all musicians to:

#1 - respect ourselves and each other
#2 - Start thinking about placing a value on what we do
#3 - Stop playing in venues that charge the artist for the space, and don't pay.

I know the argument that there are not enough venues to allow all the talent to perform.

But check it out. As a student of Berklee, William Paterson, Manhattan School of Music, and the Juilliard School. I do believe that music school taught me a lot of things - but one integral, key aspect missing from the curriculum at all Jazz programs: Don't play for zero pay, or for "free drinks"...

I think part of the Jazz curriculum in our schools needs to focus on training the future of Jazz - to place a value on the art, and not work for less than the minimum wage.

I know - this is what the Union used to do for us.

In this economic climate - going after young players to pay-up and Join a Union with dues and fees... All the jazz musicians joining the 802 Union (or Musicians Union in their area) - paying dues... I don't think it would happen (sorry to say) and It is not the automatic fix.

Social Etiquette: You don't sneeze into your hand, then directly go to shake hands with someone. It's rude.
What if the musician's social etiquette was that it was disrespectful to all - to take a gig for under the agreed Minimum-Wage... and/or undercut another musicians' pay to get a gig ???

People fear how they are perceived in the public eye.

If all the successful musicians - People of Influence on the younger generations spoke up - and told all the young musicians that this is important.

What if: All Jazz musicians agreed to boycott any of the clubs that profiteer on musicians without paying. I'm talking about playing for free, folks. I'm talking about using email / Facebook / and on-line resources to start a discussion - a petition - whatever is going to get everybody talking and thinking about our collective future.

There would be a period where there would not be as many shows in town... And I truly think that eventually - if there was no musician to be found, who would agree to work for under $50 or $75 bucks... just to shout out a number... If no one in New York would work for less than $50or$75 - what would eventually happen? Just imagine....

For the students who get a Bachelors / then Masters degree / then complete a DMA program (exit school with loans/debt) what life or career is there going to be for them when they graduate?

I think the problem is truly the musicians ... and the Younger generation (my age or younger) does not have the self respect to say NO.

If the bully hits you and takes your money every day - and you do nothing - who's fault is it? Inaction cures nothing.

Please forward this to anyone you think would possibly find it interesting...

Simply imagine if everyone just banded-together - and decided to change our music scene???

Sincerely,

Adam Niewood

First, I have a ton of respect for anyone like Adam who has found a way to make a living with music and love it. They've achieved what I long to. But I've heard the sentiments expressed above from a variety of sources lately (I seem to hear it from jazz players more frequently, as in this thread on rec.music.makers.jazz), and I find that my philosophy fundamentally departs from what I typically hear from fellow musicians.

OK the big secret is out - Musicians like to play. So much so - that we'll do it for free.

This is no big secret. This has been the case since the beginning of music. No one starts learning an instrument because they think it's a wise financial investment. People learn music because they love it. The rest of the world is jealous of our trade because we love it so much.

Start thinking about placing a value on what we do

In order to get paid for what you do, other people need to value it. You could be the greatest musician on the planet, but until someone else values your abilities more than their money, you won't get paid a dime.

Case in point: I had a guitar teacher (a superb player) who griped about another musician who was a mediocre player leading a mediocre band and "stealing" gigs from the better players by undercutting their rates. I see nothing wrong with that. If it makes no difference to the promoter whether he hires great musicians or crummy musicians, why shouldn't he pay less? He'll have that extra money available to put toward things he values more.

I think part of the Jazz curriculum in our schools needs to focus on training the future of Jazz - to place a value on the art, and not work for less than the minimum wage.

It would be great to see more career training in music schools; I didn't see much outside the "music industry" degree paths when I was shopping for a spot to learn. And there hasn't been a single formal mention of it in the SDSU jazz program. But refusing to work for the going rate, regardless of whether it's above or below someone's idea of a minimum wage, amounts to voluntarily putting oneself out of work. I consider that poor career advice.

In this economic climate - going after young players to pay-up and Join a Union with dues and fees... All the jazz musicians joining the 802 Union (or Musicians Union in their area) - paying dues... I don't think it would happen (sorry to say) and It is not the automatic fix.

This reminds me, I'd like to learn about the history of musicians' unions. I've dreaded the day when I'd be forced to join one, but they don't seem to have the authority I expected to find when I was younger. In fact, no union issue has ever come up in my professional experience in music.

My general appraisal of unions is that they amount to labor cartels. They can only derive power through force, either through seeking government privilege or threats of violence against individuals who would circumvent them. A union that doesn't employ force is okay in my book, but I'd expect it to be powerless.

Social Etiquette: You don't sneeze into your hand, then directly go to shake hands with someone. It's rude.
What if the musician's social etiquette was that it was disrespectful to all - to take a gig for under the agreed Minimum-Wage... and/or undercut another musicians' pay to get a gig ???

People fear how they are perceived in the public eye.

I found this bit fascinating. It's tough to imagine what I'd do in this environment. But it's also tough to imagine it developing, as I can't think of another industry with a parallel standard. It's not considered rude for a gas station to charge the lowest price they can to compete with the gas station across the street. Nor for an engineering student to take a low-paying internship doing work that someone else might have done for a higher wage. Nor for YouTube to allow anyone with an Internet connection to view all of their videos for free in order to attract more viewers to their advertisements. On the contrary, all of these are considered good business practice. Corresponding behavior in the music world would be charging the lowest price you can for your time and efforts in order to fill your schedule with gigs and maximize your overall earnings, which is what people already do.

I truly think that eventually - if there was no musician to be found, who would agree to work for under $50 or $75 bucks... just to shout out a number... If no one in New York would work for less than $50or$75 - what would eventually happen? Just imagine....

Wages don't rise by workers simply demanding to be paid more. Supply and demand determine wages just as they do prices. Continuing your scenario, if every musician in a city suddenly decided to turn down all gigs paying less than $X, the first thing you will find, as you identified, is fewer gigs; some venues can't afford it, and that's why they don't already pay more. But the next thing you'll find is a growing willingness among musicians, stemming from their desire to eat, to work for less than $X in order to get any gigs at all. Soon enough, barring changes in the supply of musicians or demand for musicians, you will end up right back where you started.

For the students who get a Bachelors / then Masters degree / then complete a DMA program (exit school with loans/debt) what life or career is there going to be for them when they graduate?

One shouldn't discount the possibility of poor investment. The fact that you've studied something doesn't give you the right to earn money with it. If a janitor spends years learning how to spin plates on his head and juggle while he mops the floor, he's no more likely to receive a pay increase. I'm finishing a Master's in jazz studies myself, but I don't expect the paychecks to start rolling in with the degree; I have to go earn those separately.

I think the problem is truly the musicians ... and the Younger generation (my age or younger) does not have the self respect to say NO.

If the bully hits you and takes your money every day - and you do nothing - who's fault is it?

Who's the bully, and who's stealing money? If I agree to play a gig, no matter the price, it's because I've decided that it will make me better off. That might be through monetary compensation or drinks and a meal or "exposure" or networking or the pleasure of performing for friends. Whatever the reasons, they're my reasons, and it was my decision to take the gig. When a person voluntarily enters an agreement, they're not getting mugged by a bully. It means they expect to benefit.

Psychological issues may appear on an individual basis, but I think this has nothing to do with self respect. I consider it respectful of my fellow humans to assume until contradictory evidence arises that each of them is in full control of his or her decisions, and that their actions are purposeful. By this I mean that they seek their own ends, and with every motion, word, and agreement of their lives, they are pursuing that which makes them happy.

As this applies to younger musicians, myself included, I expect it's just how they become professionals. When your name is worth nothing and you're still cutting your teeth as a player, you need to take low-paying gigs as a point of entry. No-pay gigs are often better than no gigs. Once a player has established himself, he'll tend to value his time more and price himself out of low-paying or otherwise undesirable gigs, freeing them up for the next young player.

In my personal experiences, sometimes I'll play for free, and sometimes I won't. I was often asked to join the house band for Thursday Night Jazz Jams in San Diego, which entailed performing for the first half hour of a three-hour jam, remaining present for the duration, and playing whenever the guitarist supply ran dry. These gigs usually paid a meal and drinks, sometimes some money, sometimes nothing. I accepted every one because I valued the experience. It was a fun jam, I met new people every time, it did wonders for my playing, and it helped me cultivate a professional reputation among local musicians. On the other hand, in my year and a half with Dazed and Confused, I had an absolute minimum payment that I'd accept. I would have done the first handful of gigs for free, but after a few repeats of the same experience, and getting paid for it, I could comfortably refuse to play for less than a certain threshold, because I knew more paying gigs were out there.

The Gratuitous Stairway Solo

by Joe Walker, 26 Jan 2011, in Videos

Last month I posted a video of The "Black Dog" Solo. The same day, I recorded the "Stairway to Heaven" solo. I thought I'd upload it. Not much to say about it. I missed a note.

If I'm diligent, I'll record more of these. In the meantime, check out my Zeppelin tribute band, Dazed and Confused.

Build Your Own Clone: Optical Compressor

by Joe Walker, 24 Jan 2011, in Gear

I assembled my own guitar pedal last week. I purchased two pedal kits from Build Your Own Clone (BYOC) a couple years ago, not thinking it would take this long to start them. I bought the Optical Compressor and Overdrive 2. Respectively, these are among the easiest and hardest builds available. Since I've done nothing like this before, I naturally began with the compressor.

I've never owned a compressor, and I've only played through one a few times. I know the effect is to limit the dynamic range of my playing, and I've often found myself wishing I had one in my signal chain. It would be nice to have a little studio squeeze in my own rig.

The whole project only took me four or five hours, pretty good for my first build I think. Plus I haven't soldered anything in four years, and even back then I was only a beginner. The documentation provided on the site is pretty extensive. Some bits were confusing, but the incredibly active BYOC community forum has answered all common concerns many times over.

When I finished, it worked. That was unexpected.

I tried the pedal (powered by my Pedal Juice) on my Roland Cube 60 practice amp with a few different settings and guitars. Controls are simple: a volume knob and a sustain knob. They mean it when they say "can't tell when it's on but miss it when it's gone" on the product page. I could only really hear the effect when turning the knobs to the extremes. With the sustain set high, I could strum a chord and hear it forever. Otherwise it was difficult to detect a difference when the pedal was on or off. I definitely felt better after playing with it for a while. Maybe it's just a fancy Dumbo feather, but it gave my fingers some extra confidence. Really looking forward to testing this out at high volumes (i.e. next Dazed and Confused gig).

Next step, Overdrive 2!

The "Black Dog" Solo

by Joe Walker, 17 Dec 2010, in Videos

I've been playing with San Diego's Led Zeppelin tribute band, Dazed and Confused, for over a year. I don't believe I've posted any videos of that material yet.

We have over 40 songs in our repertoire, although we never play them all at the same show. I learned a lot of Jimmy Page's solos note for note off the studio recordings. On other songs I improvise in a Page fashion around the original solo, and others I just take off and do my own thing. So I thought I'd upload some videos of the original Page solos that I do, just for fun.

"Black Dog" was one of the songs I played at the audition, back in August of last year. I learned the solo for that occasion, and I play it roughly the same way at every show, but it's still tough. It took me several takes in front of the camera just to get it this close. It's not perfect, but I'll take it. I played this through a solid-state practice amp (Roland Cube 30), and the tone is usually pretty good, but take note of the compelling case for tube overdrive around 0:30. I ended with some licks from the How the West Was Won solo. Here it is, all naked, just me and the metronome:

And here's the promo video the band's been using this year (check the website for show dates if you're around San Diego):