A beautiful mind once asked me, “Do you still get scared when you perform?”
I tried answering with the wisdom of my elders and personal experiences. The question took me back to my first gig as a band leader. In 1998, with the encouragement from peers and elders, I booked my first gig as a band leader at a place known as “One Step Down.” I was young and inexperience but determined. After selecting a group of gifted musicians, promoting and preparing the music, the night came. March 12, 1998.
I still remember the room like it was yesterday. The aroma, the vibration, the fear, the weather (it was five degrees outside) and the people. Before the gig started I wondered if my grass roots promotional skills will pan out. Did I create a buzz? Will we pack the house? Will the music be cool? Will they have us back?
In December 1997, I did my first gig in DC with Kenny Rittenhouse at “One Step Down” and now I had my first leader gig months later. We did not pack the house but I appreciated the support from musicians and a few listeners that came out.
That evening I had no idea my past and my future would be in the same room. That evening I had no idea I would be terrified of failing. That evening I had not developed my ritual.
After that night, life changed over the years and so did my playing. The more I experienced, the more relaxed I became on the bandstand. I eventually developed a routine that kept my mind ripe for creativity. There were moments where I let uncomfortability get the best of me but each troubled experience provided an opportunity for growth. In some instances, my pride needed an ego adjustment.
Opening nights are always interesting to me. They provide the most discomfort but sometimes spark an energy that can light up a city. When all things fall into place, magic can happen on the bandstand on the unique opening night.
After the first set, what is going on behind the scenes usually inspires the music of the next set. Sometimes the energy is positive, negative, balanced, chaotic or bland. Whatever the vibe, the music responds.
I strive for a sincere vibration. Before I perform, I drink some green tea and black tea. I look around the room and open my spirit to the vibration of the musicians and the listeners. Once the room settles, I await the announcement from the establishment saying “Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome to the stage…” At that point, the journey begins.
For the rest of the night love, peace, joy, pain, truth, perfection, imperfection and humility flow through me. I meditate as I perform. What happens next takes on a life of its own and something is released into the atmosphere, the music, the hearts and the minds of everyone present.
Do I still get scared when I perform? Well, these days its no longer about me. Its only about being the vehicle for something greater.