The Return of Live Music, and my (our?) Sanity
The concerts I just had in Spain with Spanish Brass, Luca Dell'Anna and Pablo & Chano Dominguez were absolute medicine for my soul.
Every musician has horror stories to tell about this past year and a half, myself included - having all of our gigs go up in smoke practically (or literally) overnight, and all of the mental, emotional and financial struggles that have followed in this dreadful era of covid.
I’m extremely grateful that at least I was able to maintain a humble-yet-sufficient income thanks to LOTUS, which saved me from a slew of additional problems. But nonetheless, not having a single gig from March 2020 to July 2021 was enough to really, really affect my wellbeing. I’d already been keeping a schedule with fewer gigs and more time spent in LotusLand over the past several years, but without any concerts whatsoever, I felt like I was rotting on the vine.
The hardship really blew up when I got Covid and began experiencing serious fatigue, brain-fog and depression for months afterward. I mean - that shit really. f#cking. SUCKED. Getting any work done at all took a monumental effort, and I had to make peace with the fact that I simply wasn’t going to be as productive until further notice; which was obviously a very bitter pill to swallow considering my level of ambition.
Eventually the symptoms began to subside, and I started getting back to a normal energy level, which I desperately needed in order to tackle the supply chain complications we were having in LotusLand. But there was still something terribly wrong. Being completely cut off from a social-musical environment was just as detrimental to my health as the actual ‘long-covid’ symptoms. For sure, I’m not alone in feeling that music isn’t just the spice of life; it’s an essential element in maintaining my wellbeing, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — in every way.
I still did what I could. I built my new personal website, built the new Lotus website, spent 14 weeks in Italy working on the production and supply chain details of our mouthpieces, studied a lot, expanded my meditation practice, did a ton of arranging, and occasionally had flashes of inspiration to compose some meaningful music of my own. By description, things were going pretty well under the circumstances. But there was still something terribly wrong. In a way, I continued feeling more like a shadow of my actual self.
Then, after a year and a half which felt like an entire shitty decade, one fateful conversation with my friend Carlos Benetó from Spanish Brass led to several gigs manifesting on very short notice. I had proposed that we collaborate on a tribute to Chick Corea whenever possible; I’d transcribed some of his pieces and planned to do much more. I figured we’d be looking at next year.
But as luck would have it, the timing of our conversation was perfect — Spanish Brass was able to continue performing concerts in Spain and had several upcoming concerts that would work perfectly for us to join forces! And as if it were some sort of cosmic joke on the theme of “feast or famine”, I had to put together an entire program of Chick Corea’s music in NO time. But hey, who am I to complain about a GIG?! Especially with a great ensemble, and even more so after this epic period of hibernation!
Long story short, I worked harder than I’ve needed to in YEARS to pull this off. With the amount of time needed for the transcribing and then the arranging, I could only get everything done by actually sleeping every other night — alternating with all-nighters — for three. weeks. No joke. (Actually, I did sleep two nights in a row, a couple of times; full disclosure.) It got pretty brutal by the end. But at the same time, Chick’s music is a very comfortable place to call home for extended periods of time; it’s so brilliant on so many levels that it fuels my unwavering attention. And long ago I honed the ability to stay in a deep, meditative state where work can happen for, well, two days straight, taking hardly a moment’s pause to eat or piss - let alone unnecessary detours such as showering. And that’s how it went for a while; more than slightly severed from the common reality, in a never-ending waking dream of Chick’s music. It’s a bit too intense of a state to be sustained for very long, very often, but it also did feel great most of the time. I thrive in that intersection where passion meets a gun to the head.
After I’d finished as many arrangements as possible, with my flight to Spain just a couple of days away… rather than resting, I put together a brand new pedal-based effects rig to use for some of Chick’s more synthesizer-centric tunes. It really did need to happen. Then BOOM — pack — go! Oh my god, I’m traveling! To a GIG!
And finally… came THE REWARD! Gig #1 after all that time! Joining Spanish Brass for the opening concert of their beautiful festival in Alzira — the 20th Anniversary of the festival no less!
Getting to perform that music with Spanish Brass, Pablo Dominguez on percussion and my longtime collaborator and brother, Luca Dell’Anna on piano, for hundreds of people (outdoors) felt like getting hit by lightning! You know in the movie “Back to The Future” when a lightning strike ignites the DeLorean’s time travel? Yeah, something like that — only I was transported back to a better time, when my job was to make people happy! Whisking people away to a magical place, far away from their own struggles, and filling them with inspiration and joy — that’s what my job is supposed to be! (¡#@%&!)
Feeling like that again altered me on a molecular level. Sure, I could have played better, and we could still clean up the music a bit (which we will before recording an actual album/video next February!) but the most important thing that needed to happen - happened. Hundreds of people went away feeling lighter, with enormous smiles on their faces. Including me; totally recharged! I actually got to feel like Adam Rapa again; the one that you guys are accustomed to. That synergistic feedback loop of love and appreciation we can get with the audience — when our egos don’t get in the way — that is powerful medicine!
Then came gig #2: A large brass ensemble concert along with Spanish Brass, Luis Gonzalez, Roberto Bodí and other really heavy players, conducted by the great Tierry Caens. That was also a LOT of fun! Such a healthy social environment; such lovely people. Getting to perform, again, outdoors for hundreds of people was, again, magical.
And if that wasn’t enough, then came the 3rd and final gig of the month with Spanish Brass. THIS one came with the added bonus of getting to play with CHANO DOMINGUEZ!! We’d all played together around 5 years ago (his son Pablo on percussion as well) and I’ve been burning for a repeat ever since. Chano always, always, plays with the same freedom, playfulness and joy as a 5 year-old in a jungle gym, which is SO infectious and invigorating.
Chano was also very keen to pay tribute to Chick, so we played one of the tunes I’d arranged, while the rest of the concert was his program with/for Spanish Brass, which fuses Flamenco & Jazz together in a unique and captivating way; and soulfully. Since Carlos and Juanjo didn’t need my help at all with their (crazy-challenging) trumpet parts, I simply got to enjoy playing a few solos and having some spirited musical conversations with Chano.
Again, I could have played better (and certainly would have if there were just one more concert) and yet, the most important thing that needed to happen - happened. This time felt even more like a return to life as it once was: we played for a packed house — nearly 1500 people in Valencia’s oldest and greatest concert hall, the Teatro Principal de Valencia. It was UNREAL.
Being on a stage like that, playing in large halls, used to be so common that I took it for granted in a way. I mean, I was always grateful, but it was also ‘business as usual’. I don’t know how many thousands of times I’ve performed for thousands of people. Certainly never expected to go a year. and. a. half. without a-ny-thing. Inconceivable.
THIS time, on a perfect summer night, in marvelous company, it was an indescribable pleasure! No metaphor comes close enough to describing my euphoria. Everyone was so elated to be there; the audience and our ensemble alike. And I haven’t been that happy to do a meet-and-greet after a show in forever!
There are only a few more concerts on my calendar for the rest of the year, which I’m obviously looking forward to very much, but these recent experiences have me feeling so refreshed and back to my “normal” self that I’m more in a state of being content than anxiously awaiting the next concert. And what a magnificent feeling that is!
I hope that all of you have gotten to (or will soon get to) return to a life of service within your community, lifting both their spirits and yours with the very tangible, healing power of live music. If any Good could possibly come from this nightmarish epoch for musicians, may it be a renewed appreciation and an emboldened demand for more live music in society at large. In this case, one can only hope that absence has made the (collective) heart grow fonder.
One thing we can certainly do to create more demand for live music is do our best - do even better - at making sure that our audiences have a great time; that they leave changed. Making sure they’re not just tacit witnesses to you being wrapped up in your own head, or battling with fears, or flogging your ego — none of that shit does them any good. The more pure and honest, clear-headed and free, and in service to the greater good OUR experience is, the more profound their experience will be; the more often they’ll want to repeat the experience, and share it with their friends.
That’s why we need to tend to our mental and emotional health and growth alongside our pursuit of technical mastery; always. Neglecting either one is not an option. (See you on my Educational page!) [An enormous Thank-You to Simone Biles for being such a powerful catalyst in that regard!!]
May we all be reminded of the reasons why live music is so important to society, as it’s likely been since the very dawn of our species. And may we all be better servants and better supporters of quality live music moving forward, as life begins coming back to life again.