May Answers, Part I
6/23/2010 (updated 6/23/2010)

I was watching House recently and was delighted to hear “Just the Motion” in the closing minutes. House is known for selecting terrific music and artists. Are you a Hugh Laurie and/or House fan? Is there a story here or was the request to use the song handled by your agent? Finally when’s the new CD due out? Thanks, Bob Barr

There’s no particular story. As we discussed last month, and as you point out, some TV shows have great music soundtracks, and that song was perhaps chosen because it fit the mood of the scene ready-made. I have always enjoyed Hugh Laurie’s work – superb in the Blackadder series, an excellent Jeeves (although I have a soft spot for the BBC radio version with Richard Briers and Michael Horden), and showing his versatlility with House, which I do not follow religiously, but I’m happy to find it on the hotel TV after a hard gig.

You said in the past there was a second volume of Sea Shanty's coming - have you heard anything new?

I have not. I know there was a lot of tracks left over from the project.

I'm just about to attempt to teach myself the guitar - I, of course, expect to be better than you - once you'd done the Bert Weedon Play in a Day thing (I am assuming here), did you go for more formal lessons on technique and also training in reading music?

It would be good to have some kind of lessons, to get you out of the starting blocks, and then see how you feel, and where you want to go. I took some classical when I was 12, just for a year, but it helped a lot. It’s also good to learn from friends and bandmates, and try to pick stuff up by ear from the radio or records.

Finally, I was wondering if, with your Meltdown cap on, there's anyone you'd love to have appear, but can't make it for whatever reason? Chris Butler

Probably a half to two thirds of my original wish list fell through the cracks. Basically people are working, and are not available, or don’t think it’s a career-enhancing move. What we have is pretty darn good, though.

I see I just missed the last mailbag (though I’m thrilled to have a chance to win at my office World Cup pool now). Here’s another inquiry (or five or six).

At the New Orleans JazzFest, I had the pleasure of stumbling into Marcus Miller (figuratively, mind you) being questioned on the interview stage. It was a great interview - what a thoughtful artist he is.

He talked about how he’s been asked about doing an instructional video. He opined that he believes that YouTube and the like are “changing music,” with an implication that said change is not for the better. He said that younger players seem to want to focus on footage of fingers on frets, etc., and try to duplicate what they see—without really listening or hearing. “You’ve got to HEAR the music,” he noted, in what one would like to think was an obvious statement but apparently isn’t. (He said that he and his bandmates used to sit in the car outside the Burger King after gigs and just scat with each other—also that he tries to get his bass students to put down the instrument and sing their solos.)

I’m not a player, but I know lots of people who crave a good view of your fingering, strumming, and other digital wizardry. What are your thoughts on the benefit of visual instruction and its relationship with other sorts of learning?

While we’re on the subject, someone also asked Miller about her aspiring-musician kid who claimed he didn’t need a teacher: was it better to learn from a teacher or to go to the School of Life? Miller said that ideally one should have both. (I believe he said that he learned about theory by studying clarinet at school; his bass knowledge came more from listening and playing.) Does being self-taught run a musician into trouble? To what degree did you benefit from your formal music lessons?

And have you ever taught music to your kids or anyone else—directly, I mean, rather than through the Homespun tape series? Do better artists make better teachers? Thanks. Pam Winters

Watching live music is very important, and of course you are going to watch the fingers – I do the same myself. But I agree with Marcus, that you have to hear the music, and to hear the totality of the music, and not be a fret-watcher all the time. This is definitely a younger generation of over-analysers. And yes, sing your solos – with any instrumental solo, you are trying to make it sing like a human voice, so get connected! I have taught a few kids, with mixed results. I’m not sure I have the patience. Alisdair Anderson used to teach me dance tunes, and he was so patient, kind, generous, forgiving, tolerant, and delighted when the end result was achieved – I’m not up to that level yet. Good teachers make good teachers. Some skilled musicians, especially self-taught ones, don’t understand their own processes, and therefore have a hard time communicating. I benefited from some classical training, but I learned by ear first, which I’m glad about.

When I was coaching soccer, Marcus Miller was my assistant coach for one season, and a nicer man you could not meet. His son was a pretty slippery player, too.