It may have been somewhere in The Bear Comes Home, that remarkable novel about music and life and transcendance, that I was struck by how important listening is when you're making music with other people. Since my re-emergence as a performer some fifteen years ago I've had the opportunity to play with a remarkable range of players, and the best experiences are those where everybody is doing as much listening as they are picking out their own notes.
The Bearded Pigs are a challenge because there's eight of us going at once and with four guitars it'd be easy to be tripping over each other. And since we're always playing without a net, and building our arrangements as we fly, the listening is critical. When it works, as it does astonishingly often, it's a blissful thing.
Liquid Prairie presented a similar challenge, because it was a big band as well, but much more aggressive and punk than the Pigs. We played loud and fast and liked it messy, even though we spent much more time working out actual arrangements. It was less improvisational that the Pigs, but that didn't make the listening any less necessary.
Duos are a very different thing. My favorite musical experiences have come from playing with Ranger Dave, when we would step out from Liquid Prairie and perform together as the Prairie Dogs. Ranger is an exquisite flat-picker and we blend in a way that I've never quite found with anybody else. Several years ago, I was back in St. Louis for a visit, and Ferd hosted a party at his place. I rode out early with Lonnie and Emily and when we got there found that Dave & Merry had already arrived. I hadn't seen him in three years and other than maybe one brief phone conversation hadn't had any contact. We shook hands, spent about five minutes on idle chit-chat, and he said, "So, you want to play some guitar?" And we played just about nonstop for the next ten hours, sometimes just the two of us, but with the other musicians who came to that party chiming in as well. If you'd walked in, you'd've assumed that Dave and I played together a couple of times a week, we were that tight. And I know it'll be like that the next time I get a chance to play with him.
This coming Sunday I'll have a chance to play with one of the finest musicians I've ever had the privilege of listening to. Kenny O and I will be holding forth during the "musical nightcap" at the Midcontinental/Midwest joint chapter meeting in Omaha. I've known Kenny for a long time and I've had the chance to listen to him play in a wide variety of settings. Personally, I don't know any musician who is so versatile. I've seen him sit in with everything from a house blues band, to a resort lounge band, to a Caribbean steel drum band, to a very serious hard bop trio and every time he does, he finds the places to fit in and he makes the whole band sound better. Musicians love having him sit in for just that reason. He is an exquisite listener.
He and I did a set at a reception at a Midcontinental meeting in Sioux Falls a couple of years ago and it is one of my favorite duo memories. I know we're going to have a fine time on Sunday. I can't wait.