This past Wednesday, I did something I was always interested in trying but never had the opportunity to do before. After hearing Keith Jarrett's many improvised performances from The Köln Concert to more recent records like Creation, I had always wanted to perform an entire set in a similar fashion. No sheet music, no lead sheets, no traditional preparations. You go to the venue and make up everything as you play it, rolling with any "mistakes" made and creating entirely new, original music on the spot that can only live in that one point in time, never to be played the same way again.
A couple weeks ago, I put my name in to volunteer at a local senior living center as an entertainer. I didn't hear back from them at all after a week and assumed they didn't have time, had found someone before I got my message in, or they just weren't interested. Well, on Monday afternoon, they get back to me about performing just two days later on Wednesday for 90-minutes at noon. I had no time to prepare a full set list as I wasn't expecting to hear back from them, or to have the gig so quickly (had I been given at least four days notice, then yes, I could have run through a couple set lists and had a ton of prepared music with improvised solos ready to go). I decided that this was the opportunity I had been looking for to try performing a fully improvised concert.
It was a private setting, so it was a safe place to experiment with this sort of thing versus being on stage and having the attention fully on me, and they provided a baby grand piano so that saved me a lot of aggravation with carting around my Nord and a sound system for it. As soon as I sat down at the keys, I was glad this was the direction I had chosen to go in; this piano was in rough shape. Many of they keys were sagging and either didn't produce any sounds, or required heavy accenting for the faintest of tones. They were also slow to return to the attack position which meant repeating a note in succession was extremely difficult to do accurately with such loose action. Almost all of sagging/non-working keys were in the (out of tune) upper register, forcing me to rely more on the tenor and alto register of the piano as the keys worked better and were in tune there. The bass end was also poor in response and it wasn't uncommon for me to strike a key and get nothing out of it without a few repeated hits to get the hammer working right, the sound was also rather tinny in this register. The sustain pedal didn't work right and often got stuck in the downwards position, which required me to use my foot to push it upwards to get the damper back down, and the sostenuto pedal didn't work at all. The soft pedal shifted the keyboard as it should, but the difference in tone was almost unnoticeable. Using the soft pedal also resulted in many upper register keys failing completely and getting stuck in their downwards position, making them completely unplayable.
I started off by playing the introduction to Philip Glass' Metamorphosis to get a feel for the instrument and quickly wound up improvising over the ostinato in the left hand, and gradually moved on to other themes over ii-V progressions and some familiar changes like the chords to "Blue Bossa" and "Maiden Voyage". I played about 30 minutes with no interruptions before ending my little medley and starting a new improvisation, the successors being shorter and changing styles from a ballad feel over a ii-I vamp to a gospel/rock fusion sort of sound over the same chords before moving along the progressions and into new keys.
The gig actually flew by and it went over incredibly well. I've been dealing with a lot of personal issues lately and this helped me express them in ways that I couldn't do in any other way and the residents at the home enjoyed the performance (and were able to get their blood pressure checked, which is why I played the extra half hour, it was a ploy by the facility to get the residents in one location so they could take and treat them as many were forgetting or ignoring their meds).
Had I prepared a traditional set list ahead of time, many of the pieces wouldn't have come out at all as the notes required the use of the dead keys or pedals that didn't work, which would have made them sound incomplete or worse, poorly played. This is definitely something I want to do more of in the future (with better instruments of course!) but not something I would recommend anyone do without a lot of practice in improvising, especially in two hands. Just playing chords in your left hand and soloing over them is fine in a band, but on your own, in a fully improvised concert, you need to have grooves, countermelody and much more support coming from the left side than you would normally need. It's okay to start a set like this using a simpler approach like that, and it lets you get a feel for the instrument so you can settle into it, but as the set moves on, you need to keep it interesting and moving in ways that speak to you and the audience, you can't bore them, especially over extended vamps!
This was one of my first major solo performances in nearly five years (have been doing a ton of band work in the last half decade) and it feels good to get out there on my own again, but I'm just hoping that next time I have more than 36 hours to get ready!
You want to know what I love? Getting woken up at 5:49 in the morning on a Sunday to my phone ringing off the hook only to find out some con artist is on the other end.
The call came from New Jersey, and I have a lot of very close friends in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I didn't recognize the number and assumed that if it's calling at this hour, it has to be an emergency and could be coming from one of their friends' or relatives' phones. Nope! What I got instead was a man with a very heavy accent calling himself "Murphy Brenna" who was interested in "lessons for his dafter who is ten" (yes, dafter, he must be calling me from the 1700s) that would be three times a week for an hour each, but only for one month. He never specified any kind of lesson. Just lessons.
This was yet another Craigslist scam.
The form is identical to many emails, texts and other contacts I have gotten. A person wants lessons (and in text, it's always spelled as "Lessons" with no reasoning for capitalizing it) multiple times a week, but only for a brief time, and if you reply, they will ask for your address to mail the check to, or just blatantly ask for your account and bank routing number. Before I continue, if anyone ever asks for your bank numbers, just hang up and call the police. There is never a time outside of visiting your bank when somone asking for this information has honest intentions.
What Murphy here wanted was my physical address so he could mail me a check for the lessons in advance. But there was a catch! I had to deposit his check, then withdraw $2000 from it, send it back to him and then he would deposit that $2000 back into my account. This is a basic check scam. The con artist sends you a fraudulent check, you deposit it, do as he says, then after he has the money, the bank should be caught up and realize the check you deposited was fake. The con artist now has money that was taken out of your own account and not his check and he's nowhere to be found by the time the bank alerts you to the theft.
Now, how anyone can fall for something so obviously shady is beyond me, but gullibility is a rampant problem these days. Just how many calls do you average from Rachel at Cardholder Services to lower your interest rates, or David from Super Happy American Solar to give you a $40,000 solar panel that never comes and the phone number they called from doesn't work when you call back? I'm guessing a lot. They wouldn't call you 53 times a day if it didn't work at least a few times.
Every time I advertise my studio on Craigslist I get dozens of these calls or texts. They're all obviously fake: spelling errors on every other letter. Referring to your services as "Lessons" instead of something more realistic like "piano lessons" or a camera you're selling as "the Item for sale". Phone numbers from states hundreds of miles away that you didn't advertise in. Requests to mail what you're selling to yet another state thousands of miles away and you'll be paid after it has been delivered. Using only their escrow services or Western Union to pay for shipping. It goes on.
I hate using Craigslist for this reason, but it's a free way of posting ads in the area that would otherwise cost me hundreds to thousands of dollars in papers that few people read anymore, let alone the ads or classifieds. There is a whole demographic that you'll miss out on by not utilizing the site. And then there's the matter that for every dozen or so scams you get, you get a real customer that you never would have found if it weren't for Craigslist. And as a single man operation, all advertising options are mandatory in order to survive.
Craigslist seriously needs to figure out how to manage scams and spam, but they simply don't care. The site structure is around 20 years old but people still use it, and that's all that matters, even if they are only using it for lack of a better, equally popular, option. Putting a warning about avoiding scams seems to be the best thing they can think of instead of taking a more proactive approach to halting abuse. I mean, this is a website serial killers have used to hunt victims. And you know it's an issue when you Google "Craigslist Killer" and it asks you to specify which one (as of this writing, at least 86 murderers have been linked to using Craigslist to commit their crimes).
But really, if you're going to run a con by me, why does it have to be at 5:49 in the morning!? I work out of my studio Mondays through Fridays. I practice 4 to 6 hours a day on Monday through Saturday. Sunday is my only day off, my only day to sleep in a little and my only day to relax. Why do you have to go and ruin it with a stupid check scam that any clown could spot from miles away?
Regardless, when he asked how much it would cost for his ridiculous request I just told him $24,000 in cash. He called me a slur word and hung up. That's what I did today. And it's only noon.