Friday, February 24, 2012

The joy of working with superlative musicians

I had a moment of joyful clarity last Tuesday evening. Sitting behind my keyboard in the music room at Rearden Hall (the home of Lucas Hall and Stacie Rearden Hall, my friends and landlords), I looked at the singers with whom I was working and said, "It's just amazing to work with superlative musicians."

Most of my band-leading experience has been with enthusiastic amateurs. I say this with nothing but affection; my work has called me into a lot of church praise bands, youth bands, and actor/musician groups, and I love the role of coaching up less-experienced musicians to create something bigger than what they thought themselves capable. The rare occasions when I have been gifted to collaborate with highly skilled, dedicated musicians have always filled me with wonder. It's just so much easier.

The rehearsals for the March 11 Joe Jackson's Night and Day Preview Concert are working like a concentrated microcosm of the eventual JJND rehearsal process. Good artists are busy artists, so it's a juggling act to make a rehearsal schedule work, but I'm willing to make my personal schedule somewhat chaotic in order to ensure the best musicians for a project. This week alone, I worked with singers Stacie and Liz Blake White on Tuesday evening and percussionist Jake Allard on Thursday. Tonight, Joe Hamm is driving up from Norfolk after work while bassist Philip Hamm meets us in Richmond, coming down from the DC area.

(I should digress here for a moment to talk about all these Hamms. I come from a very large, very artistic family. I have five brothers and two sisters, and all of us play at least one instrument. Most play several, like me. Phil is my older brother, and he's the one responsible for introducing me to Joe's music in the first place; in 1995 he gave me his old turntable and dozens of LPs, a collection that included Look Sharp!, Body and Soul, Big World, I'm the Man, Blaze of Glory, and most importantly Night and Day. Joe is my nephew; he and I took up the drums around the same time in the late '90s, and he outstripped me almost immediately. He plays for a fabulous rock band called Chasing Arrows. Phil and Joe are family, which makes working with them easy, but they're in the band primarily because they're excellent musicians.)

Adding Phil and Joe to a band already including Liz, Stacie, and Jake, musicians with whom I've worked dozens of times in collaboration for Richmond Shakespeare, Redeemer Lutheran Church, and other projects, brings me enormous satisfaction and peace of mind in the midst of what could otherwise be a problematic process. As it stands, the full band of six won't play all together in the same room until the afternoon of the March 11 show. It doesn't worry me a bit. Every time we start a new rehearsal session, the musicians just slide back into the easy communication we've shared so many times in the past.

I love working with musicians and theatre artists with less experience. The teaching element of direction and musical direction is a vital thread in my mission as an artist. But when the musicians don't need to be taught and barely even need to be told what to do, things blur from work to craft to art to sheer alchemy. It's simply amazing to work with artists who intuit naturally, and with musicians who listen with their hearts as much as their ears. You folks who can make the March 11th concert are in for a huge treat.


  1. Given that Joe is English I wish someone would do this here. Great project. Sad I won't be there.

  2. Find me a London theatre producer with a modest budget and I'll gladly bring the show across the pond.

  3. This sounds like one helluva project, I wish I could be involved. Many people have mistaken me for Joe when singing!