What’s it like playing with Grammy Award winners?

Jon Silpayamanant playing with Yo-Yo Ma and Eric Edberg in Kresge Auditorium during DePauw Discourse. September 29, 2011.
Jon Silpayamanant playing with Yo-Yo Ma and Eric Edberg in Kresge Auditorium during DePauw Discourse.  September 29, 2011.

Jon Silpayamanant playing with Multi Grammy Award winner, Yo-Yo Ma, and my former cello teacher, Eric Edberg, in Kresge Auditorium during DePauw Discourse. September 29, 2011.

Sometimes it’s good just to reflect on your musical experiences.  I know I’ve said that in the grand scheme of things the Grammy Awards don’t mean much and given what I said in my previous post even a figure some of us might consider to be the elder statesmen of post WWII Anglo-American pop doesn’t seem to be known by a wide swath of younger audiences, it does still matter to some folks.

Also, I’ve been thinking about Lotka Curves, Musical Excellence, and Charles Murray lately and have been preparing a post about my thoughts.  But more on that later.

Jon Silpayamanant playing for Multi Grammy Award winner, Ray Price (in blue).  Grammy Award winner, Bobby Flores (immediately right of Mr. Price) played fiddle.  The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN.  October 1, 2009

Jon Silpayamanant playing for Multi Grammy Award winner, Ray Price (in blue). Grammy Award winner, Bobby Flores (immediately right of Mr. Price) played fiddle. The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN. October 1, 2009

All the Grammy Award winners I’ve played with are at the top of their game.  There’s  no doubt about that.  All phenomenal musicians who, even if they have pick-up bands, manage to deliver on a scale most of us can’t imagine doing much less accomplish with the same frequency.  The Grammys aren’t a perfectly objective measure of the ability of these artists–at least not in the same way that the World Cup or Superbowl are relatively objective measures of Athletes.  Whether the musicians who are award a Grammy are the most gifted musicians (or simply the most gifted performers), it’s not a stretch to say the 10,000 rule probably had some effect.

Being celebrities means they understand that it’s not just about their onstage performances.  The weekend I played with Yo-Yo Ma, he also participated in a flash mob performance at the Hub with DePauw Music Students:

As well as a free performance at one of the local retirement homes, Asbury Towers, with DePauw faculty and students (even trading cellos with the student cellist for the performance):

Ray Price will always sit out at a merch table in the lobby after shows to sign autographs and take photos with his fans.  He stays until the last fan has left meaning that often we might be there for a hour or more waiting on the tour bus before we took off for the next stop.  After the “Jewish Bluegrass with Sass” concert, which was recorded for later radio broadcast, Hazzan Mike Stein open the stage for a couple of jams with the local musicians that accompanied him on the show as well as any local bluegrass musicians who brought an instrument.

Jon Silpayamanant playing with Grammy Award winner, Hazzan Mike Stein, and local bluegrass musicians after the concert which was recorded for live broadcast.  Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Louisville, KY.  March 3, 2013

Jon Silpayamanant playing with Grammy Award winner, Hazzan Mike Stein, and local bluegrass musicians after the concert which was recorded for live broadcast. Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Louisville, KY. March 3, 2013

Sometimes the involvement with these musicians means doing things like this video recording session with Ray Price I participated in:

Other times, it involves opening for, or having other Grammy Award winners open for us.  While I was touring with Ray Price we’ve had Grammy Award winners like Crystal Gayle and Roy Clark open for us and we’ve shared the bill with/opened for Multi Grammy Award winners such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson.

Jon Silpayamanant with Roy Clark after playing a show with him in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theatre. September 18, 2008

Jon Silpayamanant with Roy Clark (Ray Price to the left) after playing a show with him in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theatre. September 18, 2008

There are also near misses.  While the tabla player, Badal Roy, recorded some half dozen or more albums with Miles Davis, none of those are on the list of some 8 or so albums by Davis that had a Grammy associated with it.  He and his Jazz Combo were incredible musicians nonetheless, and I had a blast playing with them one evening at a local Jazz club in Indianapolis when I just happened to have my cello with me.

One of the lessons to be learned here is, if there is any chance at all that you might get a chance to play with someone you think is worth playing with, then make sure your instrument is with you (or very nearby)–you may regret if it isn’t!

Jon Silpayamanant with Crystal Gayle after playing a show with her in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theatre.  September 18, 2008

Jon Silpayamanant with Crystal Gayle after playing a show with her in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theatre. September 18, 2008

The other lesson to be learned here is something I’ll be talking about more in depth in a future post (the one I mentioned above) as it deals with how little actual control we have (the 10,000 rule notwithstanding) over our musical environments and how crucial it is to be in control of those aspects (like simply having your instrument on hand for a jam or you 10,000 hours of practice) over which we have total rein.

Many of those things I discussed in Creating Sustainability as an Entrepreneurial Musician post and a recent interview with comedian Louis C.K. especially emphasizes work:

Does it matter that what you’ve achieved, with your online special and your tour can’t be replicated by other performers who don’t have the visibility or fan base that you do?

Why do you think those people don’t have the same resources that I have, the same visibility or relationship? What’s different between me and them?

You have the platform. You have the level of recognition.

So why do I have the platform and the recognition?

At this point you’ve put in the time.

There you go. There’s no way around that. There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

While to a large extent true, sometimes you do luck into a larger fanbase–with label backing/tour support; or by being asked to tour with NIN, thus piggy-backing somewhat on their fanbase (yes, I’m talking about Amanda Palmer again)–but those are factors that are largely out of your control, though there are ways to place yourself in a good position to maximize the possibility for making those lucky connections–like something as simple as having your instrument on hand for a jam with a Grammy Award winning musician!

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2 thoughts on “What’s it like playing with Grammy Award winners?

  1. […] I hadn’t realized Starker had made over 160 recordings (sometimes you can actually learn things from wikipedia entries!) and only vaguely remember that he had won a Grammy for one of them which I didn’t mention in my post about playing with Grammy Award winners. […]

  2. […] performing with Mr. Price (you can read my “How do you get to the Grand Ol’ Opry?” post and What’s it like playing with Grammy Award winners? posts for that) I thought I’d just post a few less polished youtube videos of shows I’d […]

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