Monday, June 28, 2010

Spinning Vinyl

It’s just soooo good. It’s an activity that reminds me every time of the difference between doing what genuinely makes me happy, and everything else. It’s just that clear, that enjoyable.

I get a chance to spin vinyl again this weekend. I’ll be doing a late night gig at the Dominion on Queen, Saturday and Sunday, from about Midnight to 3. It’s a side venue to the Toronto Jazz Festival. There’ll be live music throughout the evening, and I come on with the vinyl dessert, for an “after hours” set especially sanctioned for the festival.

I’m at the bottom of the roster, which is just right. Not only am I not a musician, I don’t even do anything fancy with the turntables. There’ll be no scratching and no mixing during my set. All I do is put the records on, and play them. If the music isn’t good, then I can’t be. Nothing fancy about it.

And yet, I delight in bringing an added dimension. That dimension is FLOW. It matters in what order tracks are played. A tune can have its beauties highlighted or dulled, depending on what tune precedes it. And a mediocre tune, with one or two strong qualities, can become a gem in the context of a flowing set. It comes down to reading and feeding the energy of the room, matching accents and instrumentation and rhythm.

It’s analogous to how language works. A letter is merely a letter. But depending on how it’s combined with other letters, it can form an infinite variety of words. The letters , individually, have little or no meaning. But combined into words, they ascend to a different level. And again, those words can remain pedestrian, or they can soar, depending on how they are combined with other words. And the best sentences are made up of mostly ordinary words, with perhaps one – rarely two – exceptional words to set them off. A great sentence doesn’t require great words.

And so it is with music. Great performances often lack any single performer who is great. And most songs contain no notes that are exceptional in their own right. But a note can be made exceptional by its placement among others. And it’s very much the same with a deejay and his milk crate of tunes. Depending on how they are combined and played, the tunes may make for a very ordinary set, or for an extraordinary one, which not only elevates every tune in it, but also creates an experience that can touch an audience to the marrow.

This type of transcendent set doesn’t always come about, but it’s what I’m so excited about attempting on Friday and Saturday night. My advantage over the live artists of course, is that I have the world’s greatest artists and greatest recorded performances to work with. And as I put together a set, I don’t aim to stay between any set of lines. I don’t plan the set at all, except that I often have a tune that invades my thoughts in the preceeding days, and that becomes my opener. After that, it all depends on which 5-10% of my collection I’ve opted to bring along. And that choice will depend a lot on impulse and intuition. But the selection will be diverse.

It will have jazz as its foundation, but will also contain rock and R&B, blues and soul, some funk, lots of fusion, a dash of poppy disco, a country tune or three, and even something classical. I’ll spin Miles Davis alongside Joni Mitchell, and King Crimson with Keith Jarrett. I’ll sample Taj Mahal, Duke Ellington, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dianne Reeves and Ornette Coleman; the Supremes, Weather Report, George Benson, Milton Nascimento and Cleo Laine. I’ll throw in some Sweet Honey in the Rock, right on top of some Mahavishnu Orchestra, then flavour it with Earth, Wind & Fire, Flora Purim and The Manhattan Transfer. And Anita O’Day will lead into Herbie Hancock, while Otis Redding meets Steely Dan, Masekela and Horace Silver.

It will flow. Guests will make requests and spin us off into other directions. I’ll end up never getting to cuts I thought I’d play for sure, while tunes I’ve not listened to in a decade will find their way into the airstream. It will be magic woven of music. And I’ll be having so much Fun!

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