This is not the piece I meant to write for Flypaper’s #BetterBand week. Having created the Building a Better Band course with the team at Soundfly, I’m supposed to be the leader, right? I’m supposed to always be the one who’s there, making sure the group is on point. Well, soon I won’t be able to be that to a band that has meant a lot to me for the past five years. I’m making the move from East Coast to West, and will have to say goodbye to my group, Tiger Speak.
This isn’t a negative departure by any means. My reasons for moving have to do with opportunities for myself and my family, and honestly, I couldn’t be more excited. Unfortunately, my time with Tiger Speak as I know it is reaching its end, but not before teaching me some incredibly valuable lessons.
Originally, I envisioned this band as an instrumental group with hip-hop influences. Between semesters at Berklee, I wrote some material with friends in Canada that was hugely influenced by what Robert Glasper was doing on Double Booked. I wanted to continue playing in this realm when I got back to school in the States, so I started looking for potential collaborators.
That semester, I took an improvisation course that required each instrumentalist to play a piece completely unaccompanied, and there, I found an ideal drummer. While every other drummer in the class did their best Ari Hoenig impression, this dude stepped up and played some filthy pocket stuff, smacking you in the face everytime he hit the snare. His name was Matt Phenix, and he turned out to be a great producer as well, and thus a perfect fit. I told Matt about my developing vision for a group that didn’t yet exist, and we immediately set a time for our first rehearsal.
I called just about everyone I knew who might sound good on the tunes, and we met up in one of the school’s basement practice rooms to see what would happen. To my surprise, Matt brought along a friend of his who was an emcee. I had described the music as having “kind-of-a-hip-hop vibe”, so naturally, he thought someone should rap over it. His friend, Harrison dropped a few bars on a tune I had written. I knew right then that this was the direction the group had to explore.
That has always been the most important part of a project to me — being open to new ideas regardless of any preconceived plans. As a bandleader, it’s good to have a strong inclination as to what your group should be, but that doesn’t mean you get to be stubborn. With Tiger Speak, I initially just wanted to play some form of jazz and take countless solos on interesting harmonic changes, but that isn’t where the music was meant to go.
That sense of open-minded collaboration is something I have done my best to keep throughout the life of the group. At its largest, Tiger Speak has been a ten-piece project, and we’ve had countless subs, featured guests, and astounding artistic partners. When Tiger Speak became the house band at the Brooklyn jam, Playground Sessions, our extended family grew exponentially.
Every member of the Tiger Speak community has brought with them a spirit of passion and creativity. The instrumentalists, singers, and emcees each possessed a level of musicianship so remarkable, that I have constantly felt the need to improve. Tiger Speak afforded me the opportunity to try new ideas and gave me the freedom to play things I wouldn’t normally have tried. The group possesses a collective fearlessness that I have never experienced in any other playing situation, and I will likely be chasing that feeling for the rest of my career.
I may be leaving, but the group will live on in some way. The Playground Sessions have become an integral piece of the Tiger Speak community, and I know that if those continue to be nurtured, they will become a premier destination for musicians and music lovers alike.
The moral of the story is that if you’re ever thinking of starting a band, but feel like it’s just too much work, or wonder how to attract people to shows, or how to get paid, or go on tour etc… ignore all of that for a second and just do it. Find some people who inspire you to do what you do better, and create something unique together. Allow that project to take on a life of its own and savor the experiences, even the late night rehearsals and mid-gig string snaps. If you approach leading your band with a spirit of passion, respect, and curiosity, it will become a crucial and unforgettable part of your musical journey.