At last night’s gig, I walked away with lots of tips; probably one of the largest amounts I’ve made in tips that wasn’t in the holiday season. It actually shouldn’t have been that good since restaurant traffic, even for a Saturday night, wasn’t all that heavy. By about 7:30, while the restaurant was full, there was no wait, and that was unusual for a Saturday night. Normally, on “light” nights like this I take more regular breaks, but for some reason last night, I got in a groove and ended up playing a 2 hour and 45 minute first set. Most of the tunes I was playing were primarily vocal-centric, but last night, I added some instrumental parts to several of the songs with my looper and just improvised over the chord progressions. I’m not all that technically savvy, and probably only know a few modes at best, but I decided to take the risk, and just go for it.
I must’ve been doing something right because the response was immense, as I saw my tip jar filling up. That just spurred me on to keep experimenting and pushing outside my comfort zone with my playing. At one point, I even pulled a bit of a “George Benson” and scatted along with some phrases. That was something I’d never done in the thirteen years I’ve been playing at the restaurant. I was so inspired that I even did a song that I knew well, but had never performed (“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess), with a chord progression that really departed from the original, then put on the looper and scatted/improv’d over that.
Who knows? Maybe I got a bit of inspiration from the two elderly African American women who seemed so appreciative of what I was playing. For them, I pulled out an old, old Nat King Cole tune called “Nature Boy” that they recognized – it warmed my heart to see them smile then close their eyes in reminiscence, perhaps pulling them back to a time when they had more to look forward to and less to look back upon. When I see reactions like that, it eggs me on, and even with that song, which I played on the piano, I did some scales and runs that I had never done.
But the important thing to me when I looked back on the gig after I finished was that I made the choice to take the risk of looking like a total fool. In the process, I discovered that I had some latent skills tucked into my subconscious that only needed the permission to come out. The proof of the success of the evening was in my tip jar, which was packed and literally filled to the brim.
Of course, it’s important to be aware of the reaction – I really don’t know if I’d be able to pull this off with another crowd – but I could only know if something worked if I tried it out, or more precisely, took the risk. In this case, the risk came with some nice rewards.