Music is a Gift
When I was younger I remember those moments when a hit song became old. I mean, God help you if you were caught listening to this old song. In my mind, good music is always good music. That would include the music that my parents listened to, which I also loved. I grew up with Latin Jazz (Tito Puente & Rene Touzet), Chicano Rock (Santana, Malo, El Chicano, War), R & B (Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang), Motown, popular music from The Doobie Brothers, Chicago and so much more. And I still love that music!
This is important to share because you can see what kind of music I did not grow up listening to, with Classical and Jazz being the top two on that list (more on that later). If you look at the big picture, this also means that there would be a lot of great music to discover in my lifetime . However, that was not going to happen for some time because I spent my youth listening to my favorite Rock music
It didn't take long for me to realize that I had been thrown into the deep end of the ocean. I had enrolled at El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA with the intention of studying music in order to support my then Rock star dreams. After years of private drum lessons I wanted to become even more of a musician as I had been inspired by some of my favorite drummers who were also songwriters.
I was also inspired by some of my peers that I jammed with in both bands and jam sessions who understood a lot of what I was doing even though they were not drummers. I wanted to be just like them so I started messing around with the guitar during my junior year of high and would later use what I learned in my musical studies to increase my musical knowledge.
The music theory classes were great as the lessons on harmony and voice leading were invaluable. However, as we listened to a lot of the music that we analyzed I would at times feel out of place as I was not familiar with them. The only Classical music I could recall from my childhood were from excerpts I heard on television or in movies. The same was true for Jazz as the closest I came to that were Tito Puente's Latin Jazz arrangements of standards. In other words, while I could see what was happening on paper I was not familiar with what it sounded like the same way many of my peers were.
Honestly, there were moments when I not only felt lost but also frustrated with musical genres that felt more like homework than something to enjoy. I had nothing against my teachers or the curriculum because that had nothing to do with the lack of Classical of Jazz in my upbringing. But still, it was really hard to get into it the music because it was never something I discovered on my own but more like an assignment that was thrown in front of me.
Of course there were pieces of music that I learned to love thanks to my many of the amazing people I met during this time of my life. I was exposed to African music, Eastern European music, Fusion, and many other types of popular American music. I think the back beat was the common denominator that allowed me to gravitate more towards these styles of music because I certainly knew that growing up.
Gigs and Sessions
The objective of musical studies is to be equipped with the tools to go out there and work. This led to many different phases of my musical life. When I was young and chasing the big dream I worked in original bands, at times even contributing to our musical catalog. As time went on and I settled more into family life I began to focus more on working as a musician, so I was learning songs both for working gigs or recording sessions.
In each case I met musicians and had the chance to get to know some of them personally. That meant that we were able to learn about each other's musical journeys while sharing some of our favorite music with each other.
Some of my favorite memories were actually when I was hired to drum on someone's songs. As a working pro you simply learn the songs and deliver the goods but it is a truly gift when your work allows you to encounter a great song. Some of my favorite memories were those moments when I got to sit down with another songwriter and tell them how much I like one of their songs. Then, the journey really began when I asked them to show me how they wrote it. That and if there was a back story to what I could hear was a very personal journey.
Working gigs also allowed me to learn songs that I had never heard before or barely remember from years ago. Those periods of discovery or rediscovery were always exciting as it was another chance to add more great music to my personal playlist.
Back in Time
I recently had a period of burnout that coincided with me having to deal with some major personal issues. Both of those experiences led me to leave the stages that I had been performing on for years. There was a part of me that wanted to handle these challenges without distraction with me also feeling like I needed to move on from the things I had been doing for a long time. Yes, it's nice to be a working musician but there is more to life than playing cover songs.
At that time I was not completely absent from working with other musicians. I continued to do session work, would do an occasional small gig so long as it was earlier what I was used to and played at my church. Aside from that, I made time to work on my music as well as my drumming. This period of focusing on my own music felt like a homecoming as it reminded me as to why I studied music to begin with.
It was nice to take out my other instruments and explore the ideas in my head. The more I played them the more ideas came. And since I had more time that I had in years I was able to track all of these ideas in a time frame that was good for me. I didn't have to look at the calendar and think that I had to get this song done before a certain date because it would be time for another run of shows. I missed those moments of being my own artist.
Then it was time to practice on my instrument. I started to listen to other musicians talk about how practicing should be moments of discomfort, when we test ourselves by trying out new things. The more we do it the better we become. Then I did the same with the other instruments, which helped me on my path to writing more music that I found to be very interesting.
The problem with being a working musician is that you are busy and when the monetary rewards come in you feel like you are on the right path. Still, there are moments when it starts to feel like work; where we lose that joy that we had when we first picked up an instrument. When it really was about the love we had for the music and our instrument(s) with our dreams being something that we'll eventually get to. I really missed that moment of innocence.
Then there was that moment of going back into music fan mode. As I made time to check out some of my favorite artists on YouTube those suggestions rolled in. For the first time in a long time I started to click on many of them. Before I knew it, I was discovering great music from all periods of history. That would also include some of the great Classical composers. I must say that it was quite interesting to listen to this stuff again when it was no longer a homework assignment. For the first time in my life I was able to enjoy this amazing music as a fan.
Now that the pandemic was all but over I was finally able to go to some live performances again. From taking my family to see the Transiberian Orchestra to seeing the Tucson Symphony to a faculty guitar recital at Pima Community College...I was out there experiencing some great music and loved every minute of it, regardless of the size of the venue or the number of people in the audience. Good music is good music and I want to hear as much of it as possible.
Finding the Stage Again
To my surprise the urge came back to hit the clubs again because I really missed playing my drums in an atmosphere that allowed me to really lay into them. Once that happened I did get some phone calls from other local musicians and I was willing to give their projects a shot. Of course, when it comes to putting a band together, everyone wants to be in a band until it's time to get to work so that more or less tells the story.
A number of circumstances brought me back into the fold of the amazing Badlands. It was great to reunite with my band members who demonstrated more than ever how much of a musical family we really were. Besides being able to play some great music with some great musicians I also had their support when it came to me being able to continue doing the things that stirred my heart during my the time I had to myself.
Aside from going back to familiar performances venues I will be creating a stage for myself. I was blessed to earn an Artist Opportunity Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts with my proposal being to purchase audio & video equipment to establish a strong online presence. My intention is to share everything from drum solos, original songs, drum covers and instructional videos. My experience both as a classroom teacher and in the Master Class setting has convinced me that I have a lot of wisdom to share that come from my years of experience. That and the reaction I received from many respected drummers when they took the time to review my drumming book.
There is music for me to perform from weekly Masses at my home parish to the stages I will be on with Badlands. There are recording sessions where I will help local artists realize their musical vision by adding drums to the songs. Then there are other gigs from the musical theater setting to the bi-annual Diaspora Showcase. And there will be even more as I continue to meet more musicians in all of these settings.
There is music that I am yet to write and record. From the excitement I feel after coming up with a cool guitar riff to the exhilaration I feel once I complete the song in my home studio. Once I have enough songs that fit a collection of songs to hat will lead to the release of my 3rd solo album, which I already have a title for: Provocation. Why this title? I am currently working on songs that are my versions of some familiar musical concepts where I take it in a whole other direction. That is not always something that is appreciated in a world that is supposed to be about free expression but it feels right to me.
Finally, there are still those moments of exploration, of discovering new music. Yes, some of that could be new music or material from 20 to 200 years old but I don't care when it was released. If it's great music I want to hear it in order to enjoy it and learn from it.
The challenging practice sessions have improved my drumming. I have learned to embrace those moments of discomfort because I will get right back to it the next day and figure it out.
The studying of all kinds of music has inspired me and given me new ideas in terms of how to write and arrange my own music.
Music is the gift that keeps on giving.