Manifesto for a New Year, 5768

As we’re fast approaching the Jewish New Year and as is our custom, it’s time to take stock of the follow year’s events and then see how we can learn from our mistakes and hopefully better ourselves and relations to those around us in the upcoming new year.

Miscommunication seems to me my biggest personal foible of the last year. And when my agenda runs contrary to those I work with regularly, feelings tend to get hurt and no good can come of that. (My own selfishness and insensitivity rank up there high on that list as well, and these are all issues I have to deal with as well.)

With that in mind, here’s a window into my thought processes, so that everybody around me will better understand my decision making process, in regards to music making locally here in Austin.

If you see my onstage in my own hometown, then you are looking at someone practicing for a gig somewhere else. I have established a working reputation as a first call tuba player and string bassist, so I need to keep my performance chops up and sharp as I will be playing nationally and internationally with some pretty heavy cats on a regular basis. Austin is a great town to be from, but it’s not where a professional plys his trade. The places where my labors are rewarded are very far from here in fact. “A prophet is without honor in his own hometown” to paraphrase the Christian bible. The famed Taraf de Haidouks, having toured the world for nearly a decade, played their very first concert in their native Romania only last year. My own Bad Livers were a headlining draw in Toronto and Chicago before we got our first press clipping in the Austin Chronicle. Ultimately, being from Austin has far more value than being in Austin, as any touring musician can attest.

Ridgetop Syncopators
If you see me with anything other than a bass or a tuba in my hands, then you are looking at someone basically pursuing a hobby. I will share with you a little secret that I've never told anyone. Many years ago, when I was touring with Bad Livers as a duo, my partner Danny Barnes become unable to sing. Up to that point I had learned how to sing back up and how to talk to an audience, but I didn’t have the skills to lead a show by myself. I was deeply humiliated by the experience, which had happened on more than one occasion and in different musical settings. I vowed that I would never be in that position again, and set about to start my own ban which eventually became the Ridgetop Syncopators. Here it is years later and all my stated goals have been achieved. I can front any gig that comes my way playing a variety of instruments. I’ve since been hired to front other peoples bands, play banjo in Veracruz, and most surprising of all, take the Syncopators to the Kennedy Center, and the Calgary and Winnepeg Folk Festivals. Pretty darn amazing achievements given the original context of the project. For the record, as its mission as been accomplished, I have literally no plans that group. I am taking the dates as they come to me however.

Any gig out of town beats any gig in Austin. This should be obvious. Not getting a crowd in town? That’s because this market is over saturated. I’d rather play a gig in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, or hell even La Grange, than at any of the “hip” Austin venues as it creates actual traction and gets your project down the road. Additionally, if someone doesn’t want to tour, they are telling you essentially that they are not interested in music making as a career, which is fine for someone who just wants to kick around town playing music as way to blow off steam and have a little fun. Austin is filled to brim with these people in fact. However you’d do well to avoid them if you wish to prosper in music making. Truth is, there’s more than one bandleader I know who pays great money and is coming up on the industry radar simply by never playing in Austin, and concentrating only playing where people actually pay money for music.

All bets are off when it comes to friends. There’s a maxim among the jazz musicians I work with in NYC use when deciding if they’ll take a gig or not. They call it the Gig Triangle. (It was even written about in Bass Player magazine recently.) On any date offered you have three major factors: the quality of the music being made, the amount of money being paid and then what we call the “hang;” best described as the joy one has with being around one’s friends. The theory is that you got to have at least 2 factors in the positive to do any gig. Therefore, if the music is inspiring and the folks are great but the pay is light, that’s just fine. But no amount of money will get me onstage playing crappy tunes with people I have no respect for.

All bets are off when it comes to culture. Music is a vital aspect of many cultures, some I’ve even a member of. When a member of my community calls me up to ask if I can play a simcha, I’ll do everything I can to make the date. Not for free mind you, as your own people should be made to understand the real value of your service. But if you wish to count yourself as a member of your own community, you really should work to fulfill the role in which your music was meant to be played. This is also why you’ll see me singing Czech polkas at the Kolach Festival in Caldwell, or playing Polish dances at the Wiesczonski’s anniversary party in Tomball as well.

And when I tell you “Your band sucks.” I mean it with love. Seriously, I wouldn’t have told you anything if I didn’t admire you and think highly of you. I just don’t posses a gentle, or even diplomatic, nature try though I might.

Hopefully with my intentions displayed as transparently as I can, my actions will not be misunderstood or misconstrued in any way. That is my humble prayer.

As humans, we’ve all been designed as incredibly complex creatures capable of both the greatest goods as well as the foulest of evils and I’m as capable of both ends of that spectrum as any other. Hopefully with the kindness of my friends, my family and the charitable nature of my compatriots and co workers, we will all enter into a New Year filled with only happiness and prosperity, baruch Hashem.