Some years back, most of my creative energy was focused on the theatre. I had some minor success as a playwright, but for about four years I was the artistic director for a small company dedicated to helping emerging playwrights get their footing. I directed and produced most of our productions.
My philosophy as a director was 1) get a good script, 2) get a good cast, 3) don’t wreck the car. If the writing is good and the actors are good, the director should, in my view, get out of the way of the process. Keep the rehearsals on topic. Keep the notes for the playwrights clear but open. Keep the technical requirements reasonable and to expectations. Directing gave me stomach aches, but it was incredibly fulfilling; sitting in the back of the house on opening night, watching the audience.
This last weekend marked the first visit to the recording studio by guest musicians. On Sunday, Linda Swann and Sharon Palmer from the band The Boogie Knights came by to record some vocals, and then on Monday Doug Alan Wilcox recorded some harmonica, percussion, McNally Strum Stick, and vocals of his own. Zack, my co-producer/engineer, has no qualms about calling me on my less-than stellar performances when it’s just the two of, but once we are joined by others, he behaves quite differently. Yes, if there are glitched notes, he will have the musician fix them, but if the performance is technically true, he looks at me and asks, “What do you think?” And then I go into theatre director mode.
When I talk to guest musicians, as much as possible I do not bring up notes. I do not tell them how to deliver their lines. I talk about the emotion of the song. How their instrument fits into larger piece. What I hope they can help the song accomplish. And then I get out of the way and let them work.
Occasionally this is not effective. Just as there are actors that want to be told when to move and when to scratch their nose, there are musicians who want to be told what notes to play and when to breathe. This quality depressed me greatly when exhibited by an actor and I feel it again when I see it in musicians.
Jazz and jam band musicians are like sketch or improv actors: they have a place but it’s generally not working with me. However, the best musicians and actors have had exposure to jazz and improv, and can now apply what they have learned to structure, story, and song.
The new album is coming along well. Now that we are in the guest musician phase it feels real. It feels like something good.