Watch Your Step #8: The Creed
Updated: Apr 1
There are no explicit rules for the working musician. You learn as you go what works and what doesn't. Some things you learn the hard way, others by example. In other words, you wing it. There are principles most are aware of, but nothing is written. As a public service I embarked on a quest for the musician's creed.
I found it useful to use a system that already exists as a template. I discovered such a model in The Boy Scouts of America. Most musicians are far from Boy Scouts. Nevertheless, let's see how the motto and laws apply to today’s jazz musician.
Be Prepared: Be ready for anything, for it will happen. You will have equipment failures, so keep a van full of duplicate gear at every gig parked just outside the stage door. Carry a taser or baseball bat for unruly audience members and employers who try to stiff you. Always pack a birth control device. You'll probably never need it, but it will give you confidence. Be prepared to field ridiculous requests like “Play some John Denver” – a sedative can come in handy here. Above all, always take extra talcum powder.
Trustworthy: Oops. Never mind., we can skip this one.
Loyal: Always treat your band leader like a god. If he/she calls you for a gig and you're already busy, cancel the other job immediately, even if it pays less. This will insure the leader's loyalty to you. You'll never work for anyone else again, but at least you can count on regular work for less pay. Leaders are exempt.
Helpful: Never hesitate to lend a hand when schlepping equipment, even though it may cause your back to go out. Always offer your assistance in breaking down after the gig. You may get home later, but you'll feel better about yourself afterwards. Take extra sheet music for another musician may forget his/hers.
Friendly: Smile constantly. A friendly face will work wonders in assuring that any musical transgression will go unnoticed. Pretend that you actually like everyone, even if it hurts. There's nothing like cheerfulness to win over the public and your band mates. It will also make you sound better and lead to an expansion of your financial prosperity.
Courteous: Wait patiently for your check and always act like you don't need the money. Let other players solo first and longer. Putting yourself in their shoes will teach you to be a giving person and allow you to become the most revered of all entities, a martyr. Declaring that you don't want to solo on a given tune is the ultimate sacrifice. For this Heaven awaits. Inquiries regarding your musicianship will yield, "He's such a nice guy", the kind of praise usually reserved for saints and Gandhi.
Kind: Has anyone noticed how many of these laws are shades of the same thing? Dang. Anyway, be patient with players who lose the form and come in at the wrong place. Additionally, show kindness towards a busy rhythm section that leaves no space for the soloist, it will endear you to them forever, if they notice.
Obedient: Play whatever tune the leader calls with enthusiasm, no matter how inappropriate the tune is. If the leader asks you to take a check that is postdated a month, do not complain. Wear a tux without question, in spite of the fact that you are playing in a warehouse. Always turn the sound down when a club owner asks. You may not actually be using a mic but reach over to the P.A. and pretend to turn down. If the employer demands continuous music with no breaks for five hours, comply. Think of all the starving kids somewhere without a one-nighter.
Cheerful: Damn, Isn't this the same as friendly? Maybe twelve laws were reaching a bit. Laugh at the most tragic of events. A good chuckle relieves the tension when someone’s sax gets knocked over or a valve gets stuck in the middle of a phrase. Your compatriots will thank you later if they don't kill you first.
Thrifty: Ah, my favorite. Never allow overhead on your gigs. Don't pay for parking, even if you will have to park half a mile from the job. Don't tip the server or bartender. If you do, you will lose their respect. Try to get customers to buy you drinks. Simply sit at their table, stare at their drink, and say, "Boy, am I thirsty!" Save on gig apparel by shopping at your local thrift store. A pair of snappy bell bottoms will say that you really care about your appearance.
Brave: Merely getting on stage takes guts. Some may even call you a hero. Do not shy away from this kind of praise. Puff your chest out and explain that you volunteered for this duty, that it was your honor to contribute despite the pain and humiliation.
Clean: This is a tough one. After all, we are talking about musicians. We don't always have time for a shower before the job. We may not possess a bar of soap or even deodorant. Remember thrifty? Our best bet is to always—stand at least ten feet from anyone. If this is not practical, douse yourself with a pint of Patchouli. No one will come near you and it will cover up the stench resulting from your nonexistent grooming habits.
Reverent: The stage is a sacred place. Confess your sins after each tune, absolving yourself of any responsibility. Blame everything on the drummer. Remember that God is everywhere, always watching. God knows the difference between a major and minor seventh. Don't kid yourself, He/she can tell when your solo went one chorus too long.
That about wraps it up. Any questions? Next issue, musician merit badges. See you around the campfire. Bring a fake book.
By Stanton Kessler