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Interviews

Jeff Ballard: Paid Dues

By Published: October 11, 2013
JB: Okay, so I got to play with Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
's trio with Massimo Biolcati
Massimo Biolcati
Massimo Biolcati
b.1972
bass
, and we played his music and rehearsed it and then went to the gig, played the gig. And the tunes were not easy to digest, you know? So at a certain moment, whoops, I'm like, "Where are we?" because they're really stretching it out. And then I realized that, actually, it didn't matter. He didn't mind being lost. He was digging it. And when I realized that, I played what I heard without worry, 'cause he wanted it. So it felt like a wash, a big shower, because I used to play a lot of that music where you play what comes to you, and I enjoy that a lot. And to have it so immediate, every reaction connected to what was going on, that it could go anywhere. It was going somewhere. Once I got to play with another guitarist, Jeff Parker
Jeff Parker
Jeff Parker

guitar
. He plays with Josh Abrams—great bassist. I call up Jeff, he came from Chicago, both of them came from Chicago and I said "Do you want to get together, run through some stuff before we hit? I'm open." He says, "Nah man, let's just go and play." So we go there and it was literally that, from the first note to the last note nothing was predetermined. And it was truly—I went through like a car cleaner, you know, I went through this thing... I ended up getting from the drums and walking and stamping my feet, and just pulling out shit that I hadn't gotten to in a minute. "What else can I do to make a sound or an emotion?" And it never got tired; we were playing for an hour straight. A couple of things stopped, but maybe three episodes of just open music. And I felt so refreshed afterwards. So those are memorable moments, memorable gigs. There are others that are in time, and high moments of playing on top of form, and playing that way as well. But this was special to me because I felt cleansed afterwards. Others are like "Wow," this was powerful and great, and I'm proud in a way that it happened and worked, or amazed at the magic of it, where it takes you. It all worked really well, the music's talking to you. In this way, when it's free, it's new, it's something new and moving, so those are memorable.

GC: Would you say that basically now you do the gigs that you want to do?

JB: Basically I get to do the gigs that I want to do, I can choose. And what's the best, what's the blessing for me is that I'm asked to do what I do. I'm not asked to come in to do like somebody else. They ask me to come in and do what I do. And I can't ask for any more than that.

GC: How would you advise a student to make it through the gigs that are not necessarily a "spiritual experience"?

JB: Pick elements in the music that you can work on. Like if it's a dance beat or something, make it the most exact, baddest, super funkiest backbeat that you can, with the best intention of playing that way. If you're playing "Have You Met Miss Jones," and they're playing in a very straight way, don't try your stuff. Make that tune, the way it's being played, as best as you can, as you feel it to be in that way. You can learn from that. If you always try to put your own spin on it, I think it's- -I don't know. I don't agree with that. The music's not really asking for it in this situation that we're talking about. If you know that that's the way these guys play, you must make the music like that. If you don't then you're outside of the music and you're in your own band, it's like you're a different band up there. It's very often that I hear young groups of four or five people and it sounds like four or five different bands up there. Everybody's got their own agenda, or everyone's worried about making sure they get their agenda taken care of, when really it's all together. It should be altogether. Like eighth notes, when they're swinging their eighth notes, that could be very close to being the same. And horn players, you've got to leave room for the rhythm section to comment on what you're playing. That will give you ideas. If you're playing a solo and you want to be solo, okay, well we'll stop playing. You'll be "solo," you'll be alone. There's your solo. You're not alone. So don't forget that. I don't care what you're playing.

GC: So when you get onstage, you have no agenda?


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