Mom always told you when you were young (and probably also when you were old enough to know better), “Play nice!” And while it was probably given to you in the context of a sandbox, or during a Transformers debate (because while everyone longs to be Optimus Prime, they yearn to rule the world with the cold hand of Megatron), it translates directly into the role of a musician, especially when it comes time to play with musicians you’ve never met or played with before, or when you walk into a situation that you’ve never been in. And that ability to “play nice with others” will provide invaluable as your musical palette expands.
There I was; playing bass duets with Chance Onody at the NS Design booth, when suddenly and without warning, Charles Yang says “Hey, we should jam!” Chance and I look over and figure, why not? In the span of a couple seconds, our humble duet becomes a sextet; three basses (Chance, myself and Michael Thurber) and 3 violin/fiddles (Edward Howe, Charles Yang and Nora Germain). We decide upon a blues, count it off and go.
Now, I’m sure you’re all thinking to yourselves, “Three basses? How can anyone play in that environment and not have it sound muddy?” or “Three fiddles? There’s too much going on to have any space!” and you’d be right. However, in that moment, the six of us proceeded to play well together without stepping on anyone else’s harmonic or rhythmic toes. How did that happen? By playing nice. And while all of us approached that with different thoughts, the end result of creating music was the forefront.“Everybody has their own bread and butter, their own home base, when they’re playing. So if you can give everyone a chance to be at his or her best even for a short time, then everybody will sound good and have a good time. You all adjust to one another. Diversify.” -Nora Germain – www.noragermain.com
From my standpoint, I took a step back and listened to what Chance and Michael were playing. Michael threw down a solid blues shuffle, while Chance grabbed a bow and started comping some tasty chords in the upper register. At that point, one may wonder how a third bassist could sit in that mix, even if you are “playing nice.” Simple. I stuck to the root, laying a heavy rhythm with some slap parts, to approximate the drumkit. It helped to support the other two, but more importantly allowed the three of us to act as a cohesive unit without stepping on anyones’ musical toes. And when everyone started soloing on top of that? Well, you did notice how many people were smiling in that picture, right?
It all starts with listening and giving each other space, musically and personally. As Nora says, “Everybody has their own bread and butter,” so give them that space to allow them to do their thing. That will allow you to also find out where you can fit into the musical equation. It’s not about the chops (because truth be told, they all had them in spades), but about creating a musical experience for the listeners as well as the musicians themselves. We pushed each other and were inspired to try new things, and if any of us wasn’t up to the task of “playing nice,” that may not have happened at all.“I set out with a positive and enthusiastic interest in meeting and working with new people and to always to engage everyone with a genuine smile.”
-Chance Onody – www.chancewilderonody.com
A very special thanks to Nora Germain (www.noragermain.com) and Chance Onody (www.chancewilderonody.com) for taking the time to provide me their thoughts and insight. No matter which way you approach it, “playing nice” with musicians you’ve never met or situations you’ve never been in can help you break the musical ice, and make some great music. And who knows? You might make some friends, and even land some gigs.