In Process Blog 02: Reinventing a Musician

As a young musician I loved grooves. I also loved it when someone could take a familiar instrument and play it with unfamiliar ideas, like Edgar Meyer playing fiddle tunes on an upright bass, or Bela Fleck playing Bach on a banjo.

I made 2 recordings back in 2008 that used these ideas, but they were kind of “cheats”. I played them with my computer. Now don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t like the stuff I hear from “the kids these days”. I didn’t just throw a loop on a timeline and rap over it (not disparaging rap, if it is thoughtful, energetic, and well done, I love it, but I hear a lot of it that isn’t). In my case I used zero preconceived sounds (maybe a few percussion tones as exceptions), but I wrote crazy complex stuff with jazz harmony as a basis.

The whole time I was doing it I was falling more and more in love with “new acoustic music”. What I loved about this genre was:

1) it was very listenable. Unlike Jazz, people really listened to it.

2) It was interesting. Like jazz, you could play any tune simply, or take them in a very complicated format. How much you wanted to “mess with the tunes” was up to you.

3) It was quite. One of the biggest problems trying to play jazz or rock is how loud it becomes. It’s very difficult to play “wallpaper” gigs (performances where the intent is to provide fun background music at an event) when you have to peak 80 dB just to be heard over the drummer.

A few years ago, I decided to make this “new acoustic music” my direction. In order to do so, I switched instruments.

I started playing the mandolin, switching from bass.

The reasons are simple:

1) It is the time keeper in acoustic music, the way bass is in jazz.

2) It shares a lot of ground with the violin (the lead instrument in the style) and the guitar (the main accompaniment instrument in the style), therefore it is the obvious instrument for the band leader to play.

I also decided to learn to sing…more on that in a future post.

SO after a year of practice I commissioned a custom mandolin to be made by Marty Jacobson, and I was off to the races.

Part of what I am attempting to accomplish in Hong Kong is learning to be the musician I want to be.

Here are some images of Marty’s process as he built my “axe”.













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