I first heard of Eddie Lee almost 14 years ago. When I mentioned to my piano teacher in music college that I was from Sligo, he told me I had to meet him. ‘What a bass player’ were his words.
Less than 14 days ago a colleague asked me who was going to be on bass for an upcoming gig we’re doing. When I mentioned it was Eddie, his face lit up and he expressed his delight saying ‘if Eddie Lee can’t play it, it’s not worth playing’!
Eddie Lee is getting a lot of love and praise at the moment, and rightly so. Last week was another hugely successful Sligo Jazz Festival, the details of which have been covered extensively in these pages and elsewhere. He has created something significant, something lasting, and something that makes our town a better place in which to live.
However for the other 51 weeks of the year Eddie is a bass player, and a damn good one.
I was lucky to play with him in my first ever band in Sligo, and on a regular basis since, the most recent being last night (see pic above)! Through his actions and words, I have learned many lessons from him over the years…and I feel it’s worth repeating them today.
It’s possible to make a living as a musician without being a star.
Good music is good music – don’t worry too much what the genre is.
Play what’s best for the song, not for you.
Work is work. Respect it.
Compared to many other parts of the world, we are starved of sun in Sligo. Hence when it does come out, especially for the first time each year, everyone rushes to the coastal villages of Strandhill, Enniscrone and Rosses Point to laze on the beaches, swim in the sea, and generally hang out to soak up the summer vibes.
Of course the businesses in each village love when the sun comes out, as the footfall increases hugely, people are in spending form, and business booms as a result.
However it can be all too fleeting, especially in sun-starved Sligo, and hence it’s worth the time of these businesses to work hard in order attract people all year around, not just when the sun comes out.
It’s better to be someone known for reliability, good service, consistent excellence, and to be sought out all year round, rather than waiting for the few weeks each year where circumstances bring people to you.
This week I learned about detail, manners, excellency and lots of harmony.
I’ll talk about all that again, but for now here’s goodbye to Sligo Jazz 2018 with Liane Carroll and the Sligo Jazz Big Band performing Donald Fagen’s The Goodbye Look.
One of the great things about hanging around musicians and music students all week is that you get to have all sorts of interesting conversations and as a result can see things from new perspectives. Below are some examples.
One was with a father whose son wants to go to jazz school, trying to figure out if it was the right move for him.
One was about a guitarist who has been to jazz school, some of the best in fact. He has done everything ‘right’ – practiced hard, and knows his craft really well. He is an introvert, quite shy, and is currently struggling to get gigs that challenge and satisfy him creatively.
And one was about a teacher I had who told me that you would get more gigs if you were a good musician and easy to get along with than if you were an amazing musician but lacked in social skills.
The guitarist has done what many would consider to be the hard part, but is facing his biggest challenge now. He is living proof of my teacher’s tip to me.
It’s not always about getting more gigs however, sometimes it’s about getting the right gigs, or making the right gigs happen so you can play them.
The right gigs for you may not be the right gigs for me – so it’s up to each of us to figure out what they are for ourselves.
And so I said to the concerned father that if his son wants to be a musician, he should get the best education he can, practice as hard as he can for the next few years, but the hard bit comes after that, and last I heard they don’t train you for it in jazz school.
It’s the most important bit though.
It’s great to be writing for the second Friday in a row about winning.
Last night I was in the band for Malcolm Edmonstone‘s big band arrangement of Donald Fagen’s 1982 album The Nightfly.
It was Thursday night’s feature in this week’s Sligo Jazz Festival, and Eddie Lee, the chief, went all out to fill the stage with an amazing collection of musicians. Drums, percussion, 3 bass players (!), guitar, piano, keyboards, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxophones, 4 singers. People who had played and recorded with household names. People who are household names in the jazz world themselves.
From the moment the crowd applauded on hearing the opening horn riff on I.G.Y. you knew it was going to be one of those nights. They knew they were in for an exceptional evening, and so did we. There were smiles everywhere, on and off stage, people sharing in the feeling of being part of something special.
And so we all left with that winning feeling – the band, the audience, the staff of the theatre, all thankful to Malcolm (above, left) for putting this arrangement together and getting the band into shape, and to Eddie (above, right) and SJP for bringing this to Sligo.
And the best part about last night’s win was that unlike last week, no-one had to lose.
A friend of mine once gave me some candid advice when I started to consider working in the music industry as a career. He told me (as only a friend can) that I didn’t have the requisite star quality to make it. ‘Look at Beyonce’, he said. ‘She has star quality. You – you’re too normal’.
Star quality. It’s a strange phrase. One person’s star may be another person’s regular Joe. What makes someone have star quality?
I believe I saw it up close yesterday. Joe Dart was in town at the Sligo Jazz Festival for a bass masterclass and for a gig with one of his bands – The Olllam. I had seen him gig before when he was ‘one of the band’, but here for the first time, he was out front and centre.
Now this guy doesn’t have a website, a recording in his own name, or even a dedicated Wikipedia page, but there’s no doubt in my mind – he is a star.
Let me try and define why…well it started with his stage presence, his grin, his deep voice, his certainty in everything he said, did and played, his sunglasses, his leadership on stage. He even came across as a nice guy, and I thoroughly enjoyed the hour in his company.
There are many ways in which to make music and to make a career in the industry. Some require star quality, thankfully many don’t.
I wrote about ego here before. How Rufus Reid told us 11 years ago to ‘leave it on the shelf’, and about the widely-held belief that the true masters have no ego.
This week I’m in the presence of people who are living proof of this.
Pictured above are (l-r) Henrik Linder, Liane Carroll and Federico Malaman, all world jazz superstars, all leading by example in making the Sligo Jazz Festival a fun and learning experience for students, other musicians and audiences alike.
Liane was part of last night’s gig, and lived up to Linley Hamilton’s description of her as the world’s best vocalist when she sang and accompanied herself on the piano for a version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Ol’ Man River.
However what stood out on the gig for me (apart from the amazing musicianship) was the teamwork. There were 8 top class musicians on stage, each seemingly committed to making the gig as good as it could be by working with each other and doing what was best for the music, not themselves.
Let me give you some examples…
- The way they used their bodies, faces and stage position to show respect and admiration for the other performers.
- The way that the trombonist – Shannon – lived every note of the solos played by the other musicians.
- The piano player – Malcolm – choosing to sit out of a couple of numbers to highlight the contribution of other players.
- The rhythm section’s sensibility to each other and the soloist.
- The way that the musicians visibly complimented others on their solos/playing.
- The last song, when the three vocalists – Liane, Sarah, Emilia – took their solo together, instead of individually. It meant a shorter finale (see below also), and sounded great!
- The choice of not doing an encore – so that students could get to the jam session and have a chance to play.
Leave it on the shelf. You don’t have to be a master to do so.