United We Stand

Kendra Shank, me and Katie Bull

I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately. Inspired partly by my thinking about a lunch I had three years ago with my one of my exes exes (it’s complicated!). That day we discovered we had a lot more in common than we’d realized when we were wary, peripheral “friends” — introduced (and kept apart) by our mutual ex. She made the wedding rings, by the way (check her jewelry out here). But as we sat down at the table, and before our bums had even hit the seats, she leaned forward and said: “I’ve been dying to have this lunch with you for twenty years!” Lunch? Schmunch! We laughed. We cried. We confided. Ohmygoodnessweconfided! Did we ever! We understood. We finished that lunch real friends. In Platonic love. But, the other thing, the main thing, is that we left that table stronger.

In my meandering mind (stick with me, because this is related), I’ve been thinking about community versus competition in my profession and … dare I say it? … singers seem to be so much more competitive of each other than instrumentalists. My boyfriend, Billy, who is himself an amazing drummer (and is always saying: “Music is not a competition!”) absolutely LOVES other drummers. If you go to a gig to see a great drummer (I don’t mean just famous, but peers), trust me, there will be at least ten or more other drummers in the crowd with blissed out expressions on their faces. And on the break they rush the bandstand to compare sticks, and rivets on the cymbals (what is it with rivets?), and other drum geekery. Same with guitarists. The point being that they celebrate and support each other’s talent. I rarely hear them talk about someone’s failings. Blimey!

But singers … Well, is it because we are mostly women and women are encouraged by society to compete with each other? For whatever reason, singers do.  Of COURSE I am not talking about all singers. And I certainly don’t mean YOU, dear reader. But the question bears thinking about because, true or not (and come on, you know which it is), singers have that reputation in the jazz community.

So it was particularly wonderful that at my 55 Bar gig last night there was a bunch of singers, GREAT singers, in the crowd. I’d known a couple of them were coming and had actually said a little prayer on the train on my way down there that I would be able to focus on being “real” rather than get all tangled up in having to be “good”, because I was playing with an out-of-town guitar player I had never even met and, well, you never know, do you! And I don’t care what anybody says, praying WORKS. Because the out-of-town guitarist, who I shall call John Stowell (because it was indeed he), got stuck in traffic on his way back from a gig in CT and was 40 minutes (count them!) late.

What to do, with a room full of restless people there to hear music (not the stand up I would have had to resort to)? Well, use the resources around me — namely the wonderful and amazing Katie Bull, Kendra Shank (that’s our picture in the break at the top) and my “New York Mum” Connie MacNamee, who all functioned as my vocal rhythm section. I wish I’d managed to get all the singers in the crowd to join us. I certainly would have if John hadn’t made it. And when John turned up he said he didn’t even feel like he was needed which, of course he was. But so was his lateness (on this occasion), because it allowed my “sisters in song,” who were there for me (in every way), to demonstrate so beautifully what I also learned from that lunch three years ago …United we stand!