An excruciating iterative process

One of the main reasons for setting up this blog was to give me a space to reflect on the process of creating and performing music. I’d like to document the various techniques I’ve tried over the years, the mistakes I’ve made and how I’ve overcome certain neuroses. Therapy for me and hopefully interesting and useful to others. Or it could be irrepressibly drab and awful, in which case I apologise for boring you.

To set the scene, I’m 33 years old and have been playing piano since I was around six or seven. I’ve been writing music for about as long. For many years I had ambitions of becoming a highly accomplished and successful musician, up there with the likes of Brad Mehldau or Jason Moran. That didn’t happen, or at least hasn’t happened yet. Probably, any sensible person would have given up on that dream long ago. But since I’ve always made progress — slow progress, but progress nonetheless — I’ve kept going, hoping that one day I’ll have the chops and good taste to produce quality work.

I hope that the very fact that my aptitude for music is, at its core, fairly limited may help encourage anyone else who’d like to pursue music as a pastime or career but isn’t immediately Bud Powell reborn. I’m writing this as someone who struggles with music consistently; not as an accomplished pro. Creating music is a worthwhile endeavour, as long as you don’t let the frustration get to you.

My journey towards becoming a half-decent musician has been a long, excruciating one. I spent a number of years in the beginning learning classical music, which I absolutely hated, but which did sort out some major flaws in my keyboard technique. The transition from classical music to being able to play jazz then took years. I still struggle with what you might call typical jazz gigs (showing up and playing jazz standards with a “scratch” ensemble), so much so that I gave up doing it a few years ago (there are reasons unrelated to just ineptitude, which I’ll go into in a later post).

I’ve seen others struggle with the transition from playing classical music to jazz, and I’ll address that subject in a future post.

What has kept me going early on is that every so often I was able to create something that sounded OK. First it was a single phrase I’d find in a recording I’d made which sounded kind of cool. This happened on at least two occasions between 2001 and 2006, once while jamming over Someday My Prince Will Come and then during a solo recording of Someone To Watch Over Me a couple of years later. The rest of the respective recordings sucked, but the fact that there was a good phrase in there was encouraging. If I could do it once, I could in theory do it again. I eventually managed to record three minutes of music (a whole song!) that was good enough to post online (a free improvisation, in 2007). A few years later still, 2014 in fact, I was able to record five tracks and put out an EP which got some good reviews and even a play on BBC radio.

Of course, truly talented musicians have likely put out a few critically acclaimed albums by this point, but I’m happy with the modest progress I’ve made, despite often sounding monumentally shite in the process. I very much look forward to documenting my rise to mediocrity through posting on this site.