(Image from The Girls in The Band.)
The ‘woodshed’. That place where jazzers go to practice. How to explain to friends, family, loved ones and significant others, (and even some fellow musicians), the sovereignty, the absolute non-negotiable sanctity of the woodshed? How to really convey this?
I spend hours and hours and hours alone, in a room with myself and my instrument (s). And I love it. I think I love it more than anything or anyone. Only the pure ecstasy of performing – of going to the other end of the scale, of extrovert, gregarious all out curtain-up showtime beats it. Very little else. Anyone who has had to fight for this sacred chunk of devoted artistic time can recognise its true value. Painters and writers know. Also nuns, monks, hermits, ascetics, celibates and renunciates.
Things I might do in the ‘woodshed’ might include the following: composition/arrangement, then drilling through and memorising guitar parts for various solo or collaborative projects. Or, maybe the world has literally DISAPPEARED because a song is coming through, coaxing, teasing or exploding its way through the veil. For me, new music comes unbidden, uninvited and with extravagant pomp and splendour. An idea grabs onto a random hook or scale that I was practising anyway, then not just one song but 4, then a surrounding concept album are suddenly THERE, all at once, demanding refinement. It’s a visceral experience of birthing something that will have its way and just HAS to come through. A feeling bothravenous and ravening. Or I might be just in a hypnotic grip of scales and arpeggios, diminished and major 7ths all up and down the fretboard. Stamina for hands and fingers. For ages. Or the geeky joy of 2 handed tapping in kind of Nu metal/classical way that is frank and pure indulgence. People might fairly observe that playing guitar or indeed anything on your own for hours is kind of wanky. Well, maybe, but we all need that too. For myself, I feel an intense kind of dialogue with music as a companion and the instrument as a partner that gives back exactly what I give out.
But yes, it’s a love affair.
The woodshed is about more than practice and preparation. (These are of course, essential, but as we know, can be overdone at the expense of spontaneity and creativity onstage, in the moment.) It’s about maintaining a bedrock of physical and technical ease. Being good to go. It’s about knowing the materialbackwards. Being able to tap into that wellspring of energy. I cannot feel good about stepping onstage, unless I know I have taken care of my practice. I have to connect with that source every day, if possible. It’s nothing less than a spiritual discipline. Even though I also do a fair bit of staring into space, dreaming and scratching my head…
I could rhapsodise further but…the woodshed calls…’bye for now.
(Trombone player, Melba Liston featured in The Girls in The Band.)
The Girls in the Band is a documentary by director Judy Chaikin. Contains glorious archive footage of the great female jazz bands of the ’40′s as well as interviews and music from contemporary musicians. Enjoy this trailer and track down the full film if you can!