By Michael Ferraraccio

Hello, jazz lovers! I know how dearly each of you has missed me since my last column, but you may all now collectively exhale, for I'm back. This month, Todd is in Germany, on tour with the group "King Kong," and, I swear, this time I'm not making this up. (As proof that Todd is indeed in Germany, one need only to look at that country's dramatic 870% increase in the sales of blood sausages and meat pies during the past month.)

Random Observations and Ramblings

Recently we (the percussion faculty at U of L) brought in Mr. Joe LaBarbera as part of our first annual "DrumFest," which is a day of percussion clinics, master classes, and concerts. Joe is probably best known for his work with Bill Evans and Tony Bennett, though he has played with many of the most notable players in jazz. Aside from his playing, which is exceptional, the most attractive quality about Joe concerns his character and attitude.

I am always amazed when a player of extremely high caliber is able to maintain a level of humility, personableness and approachability. There is something very refreshing, and inspiring, about being around a talent that is selfless and ego-less, especially since this type of personality is more often the exception rather than the rule, when it comes to musicians as a whole (if I may generalize somewhat).

Certainly, ego, self-confidence, and self-assuredness all play a vital role to the musician. Without a certain level of each, the musician's development and abilities would surely suffer. However, there is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, and the distinction is not subtle. We have all heard and seen examples of both types of player, and the differences, as expressed musically, are easy to discern.

If, then, we assume that the confident player is preferred to the arrogant player (a fair assumption?), how do we go about reflecting and carrying over that confidence to our playing? One of the things Joe addressed when I asked him just such a question was the need for musicians to realize that music is not about the individual but about (strangely enough) the music. This sounds obvious but is often overlooked. It is very easy and somewhat natural to be sidetracked by extra musical considerations — What does so-and-so think of my playing? Who is better than me? Who am I better than? Did you hear that last lick I played; pretty slick, eh? Etc. — and one's playing can really suffer because of it. If, however, one can manage to not be concerned about such things, all that is left is the music for music's sake; not devoid of personal expression, but not concerned with ego either.

Easier said than done. Musicians can sometimes be a rather insecure bunch, constantly needing positive reinforcement and accolades, and this can be true on even the highest levels of musicianship (ask Todd about the Mike Stern story). This is only human, of course. We tend to view others' comments and criticisms of our playing as somehow being relevant to our self-worth, that if "I don't make the changes on an up-tempo rhythm tune, then I am a piece of crap." It's really not about that at all. You may feel guilty or ticked-off at yourself because you didn't PRACTICE or work hard enough on making the changes, but that's a different story entirely. When one is playing to his/her ability, that is all one can do.

Realizing this, trying not to think about oneself, but about the music, not trying to impress anyone other than yourself, can all go a very long way towards improving one's playing and enhancing one's enjoyment of the music. Again, a good majority of the great players I have met and spoken with (like Joe LaBarbera) possess this attitude. Jazz can be one of the simplest things in the world and at the same time the most difficult. But it is not life-and-death. It's only music.

The Continuing Saga of Tommy No-Gigs

Many of you have written in lately wondering what's up with Tommy No-Gigs, and are there new books on the way? Well . . . I have just completed a new volume in the series, and it is due out in June (Piaggi Press, $18.95). Volume 8 has Tommy playing on a gig with the guitarist Hot Scenderson. On the first tune, Hot calls "Firm Roots" at quarter note equals 670. While Hot has no trouble deftly navigating the chord changes, Tommy is lost by the 4th bar. Hot stops the band. Laughing, he fires up a huge stogie and says to Tommy, "Son, if you want to play with the big boys, you had better practice." Tommy is sent home completely demoralized and despondent. The moral of this story is, son, if you want to play with the big boys, you had better practice.

Derby Time

Every musician's favorite time of year has arrived — Derby! YeeeeHaaaaa!!!!! I don't really have anything to say about it. I just wanted to say YeeeeeeeHaaaaaa!!! I will, however, offer one horse the kiss of death by picking him to win: Roar!!


Michael Ferraraccio teaches percussion at U of L part time, attends law school at U of L part time, and worships Todd Hildreth full time.