I remember my first gig with Gerry Grennan. It was on a Thursday night in 2011, upstairs in Source in Sligo, and we had done no rehearsal. He had briefed me of a few songs he was likely to play, I had a quick look at some of them, and off we went.
And it was exciting, gratifying, and all of a sudden I understood interaction, and why all the jazz musicians I knew raved about it.
You see I could never get it in jazz college. Maybe because I was still learning how to play jazz. Maybe because I was playing with the wrong musicians. But all the time I was hearing about how you should be interacting with other musicians, and all the time I was feeling I couldn’t.
Until I played with Gerry. As his many students, members of his Tuesday night sessions in McLynns, and his band members all know, he is a very generous teacher and musician, always looking to get others involved. And that’s what he did with me that night. He threw me lots of solos, and then commented musically on what I did. Given this encouragement, I found that I could comment back. And then I couldn’t stop commenting. Because chatting with Gerry was so much fun.
For anyone wondering how this interaction works, let me see can I explain it. It involves answering each other melodically or rhythmically. Trying to catch little runs the other person plays. Leaving the other some space and possibly making a short musical statement when they take a breath. Working on dynamics together. Taking up the responsibility to ground the song when the other wants to let loose a bit.
Gerry was also my main partner-in-crime on the 32 counties tour we did to promote my second album in 2015. We shared many long car journeys to the likes of Knockainey Co. Limerick, Tralee Co. Kerry and Carlingford Co. Louth – on our search for a piano in each of the 32 counties. And once again his generosity shone through. It was a huge learning experience for me – travelling to these new venues all over the country, leading out on gigs with my own music for the first time.
Gerry had many years experience doing something similar, and shared stories from his time on the road, and tips that proved invaluable to me learning my craft in this way. Things like pacing a gig, planning a set, how to bring an audience with you.
These memories were brought flooding back last night when we played a really enjoyable gig together in Ballinafad Church. We were fortunate to have the wonderful Brendan Emmett (mandolin) with us too, and it was interesting to see and hear how much Gerry in turn had learned from Brendan over the years.
And so for any up-and-coming musicians, you could do a lot worse than look at Gerry as a role model. First and foremost he is great at what he does. Playing guitar mainly (but also mandolin, banjo, bouzouki to name a few), singing, leading gigs, fronting gigs, entertaining an audience – he can do it all.
After that though comes the real magic – his generosity as a musician, his willingness to put the needs of others before himself, his encouraging manner. That is the sort of stuff that people really remember, the stuff that makes a difference. It has certainly made a big difference to me.
I know there is going to be a big night in the Hawk’s Well Theatre in Sligo in early 2020 to celebrate the contribution Gerry has made to music in this area – keep an eye out for it.