Making a living playing your instrument is a pretty great way to pay the bills, to be sure. But how many of us end up taking gigs that we are not particularly fond of just because rent is due? For many years, I did just that. I said yes to everything. I played as often as I could, no matter whether I liked the music or not. And I think, as a young, developing musician, this was good for me. I learned how to play many different styles of music - I learned about professionalism and how to work as a team. I also learned alot of songs that I'll probably never play again. But, just in case, most of those charts are in a box in my office, neatly organized in file folders, ready to come to the rescue if I ever need them.
Eventually, after a few years of this, I burnt out. It was becoming harder and harder to get through these gigs without cracks in my veneer of professionalism showing through. I had spent many years doing exactly what others required of me, and I was losing touch with who I was, musically speaking. Jazz is my favourite style to play, yet jazz gigs were occupying less than half of the shows I was performing. I decided if I truly was a 'jazz' musician, then I could rely on those types of gigs to make my living. No more Madonna tunes, no more smiling while I played Mustang Sally for the thousandth time. I was going to become Jay Reed - Jazz Guitarist instead of Jay Reed - Chameleon For Hire. The problem was, I had become quite good at imitating different genres, and I had a reputation as a guy who could 'do it all'. But I didn't want to do it all - I wanted to do one thing, really well. So, I started saying no.
Saying no is a wonderful feeling - you should try it. It's quite liberating; it gives you a sense of power and control over your destiny. Of course, for awhile at least, my bank account took a hit from not gigging as much as I used to. But I was definitely happier. I set about to market myself as Jay Reed - Jazz Guitarist: I updated my website. I reacquainted with friends who play jazz (better than me). And I started going to the local jazz jam as often as I could. For awhile I wasn't into the social aspect of it - 'the hang'. But even if, like me, you're not really comfortable showing up at a bar with your instrument and hoping to play, the hang is necessary. To get gigs, people have to know you exist. And that you can play. Open mic-type jams give you the opportunity to showcase your talent. As I became more relaxed I started making new friends and, lo and behold, gigs started to fall in my lap. Good gigs - jazz gigs. Exactly what I wanted.
Now, I still play the occasional gig that isn't quite within my comfort zone - although living in Casper, Wyoming I rarely have a chance to play at all. For a short while after we moved here I took every gig I could (which wasn't many). But I quickly came up against that same feeling I had all those years ago. I wasn't enjoying myself. I dreaded going to the gig. I was putting a ton of time into learning songs that didn't resonate with me. So I stopped. I started saying 'no' again. And I found work elsewhere. I've realized that it's OK to do something other than play your instrument to help pay the bills. At first I thought I was a failure - I should be able to make my living doing what I do best. But it's not quite that simple. I actually love my weekend job. I would much rather be hanging out at the ice rink than playing a bunch of songs I don't like for a bunch of people getting trashed on Moscow Mules. And the gigs I do play are ones that I want to play. I've been lucky enough to connect with a handful of amazing musicians here in Wyoming and, even though I'm not playing every week, the gigs that I do perform have much more weight to them. I was spoiled back home in Niagara - there are so many great musicians there. But I'm happy playing less gigs with a small group of talented people. My other job affords me that. And driving a Zamboni on the weekends is pretty cool too.