Active engagement in the world. It’s often one of the hardest things for me to accomplish. In a hermetic sort of manner, I like quiet time at home. Perhaps it’s a reaction to thirty years of playing in bars, mostly on banjo, and, come to think of it, thirty years of playing percussion in a variety of symphony orchestras. Perhaps the idea of staying home, sipping something and reading is the balance that an element in my psyche is seeking.
And yet, and yet, I almost never regret active engagement out there. Playing gigs (and the paycheck that produces) and sitting in with musicians are often inspiring and energizing to my musical creation. And showing up is one of the main keys of success. There is an interesting paragraph in George Lewis’s large tome: “A Power Stronger Than Itself,” describing how the 25-year-old saxophonist Chico Freeman stopped off for what was to have been a visit of a few days in New York in 1976.
For three days I stayed . . . to see what New York was like. Henry [Threadgill] was playing at the Tin Palace with Jeanne Lee. For some reason he had to go back to Chicago, so he asked me to take his place that weekend. So my three days turned into a week. At the end of the week I said, I’ll go back, but at the Tin Palace, they had such a good turnout for Jeanne Lee that they asked her back for the next weekend. She liked me, and so she asked me to do the gig again. So now that week’s turning into another week.
You may see where this is going: Freeman kept getting gigs as the sphere of his acquaintances kept expanding and he ended up getting an apartment instead of returning home, ultimately playing regularly with drummer Elvin Jones at the Village Vanguard.
Tell the Truth
Don’t worry about the end results.
So, I’m off to Denver tonight to sit in with the astounding drummer Jeff Sipe, who I knew in North Carolina. He has had the variegated career of playing with the likes of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, Colonel Bruce Hampton, Susan Tedeschi, Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon (my first memory of him), Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, and recently recording with guitarist John McLaughlin (!).
The hermetic life will just have to wait.