A day in the life of... a portfolio musician

The most uncomfortable question I face is ‘what is your line of work’? For most people a simple, single sentence is adequate to impart the answer. ‘I’m a session musician’ provides no clarity, ignites further questions and leaves non musicians perplexed at how this can work. Interestingly to capture a ‘day in the life of Al Gurr’ which was the brief for this blog, would be a misrepresentation of all the ‘heads’ one wears as a professional.

I can answer it with a list of job titles; a director, governor, writer, graphic designer, photographer, producer, recording artist, coach, jazz piano session player, accompanist, bass player, author of ‘Read This If You Want To Play Great Piano Chords’, psychologist, presenter, lecturer, etc. This is closer to the answer but puts out an unattractive narcissistic personal brand.

I can answer it by referring to the work I have done in the last few weeks that includes a jazz gig at Symphony Hall Birmingham, a session gig on a 70s jazz album, a gig at the London 606 club for an original member of Manhattan Transfer; singer Erin Dickens, gigs with jazz reeds player Alan Barnes and trumpet player Bryan Corbett, a ‘Team Jazz’ TM presentation for a business, a university presentation, governor meetings and coaching, job interviewer etc, but this assortment is just as confusing and doesn’t sit very well in the arena of polite social engagement. There is a danger that I will come across as a sober version of an intoxicated musician who starts talking about their solo album!

So for this blog I choose to focus on what unites all this multifariousness; attitude. Whichever scarecrow head I put on, the common denominator is a ‘possibility attitude’ which delivers the best engagement, the best performance, and the best outcomes for all the elements that are within my control. This possibility attitude is underpinned by an acceptance that things may not go exactly to plan-and so what! This was probably the best lesson I learned as I stepped into the real world as a young musician performing in concerts that were arranged by Sir Yehudi Menuin’s Live Music Now scheme; giving myself the permission to get it wrong!

As a result, the Central Processing Unit in my head worked more efficiently and spent less time in the red zone and music making became fun again. I tell my students that we don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents and this dissipates the fear, gives permission to get it wrong and allows more positive time to be spent exploring ‘what can be done differently as a result’ for the next time. As I described to some final year university students on an enterprise and employability module, it is easy to reside in the fear language of impossibility and tribalism but in a recalibrating world, architects of possibility will be much more in demand!