Bill Bruford continues to astound. He may not be performing in public anymore, but he’s moved as many great musicians have—from the stage toward teaching. His website reads like a teacher’s, replete with common-sense wisdom and of course his autobiography, essential reading itself, is a go-to text for further reading. I love books like that.
A piece now up on his aforementioned site is an example. Essentially just a couple of answers to questions from Modern Drummer, he leaves no doubt that he’s very much a nuts-and-bolts, reality-based individual, a pragmatist—and a pretty damn good businessman in that he’s taken good advice, learned well and adapted that learning to his needs. What do you have, in terms of talent and, especially early on, the equipment, as it were? Don’t price yourself out of the market, play as wide a range of material as possible with an upbeat (sic) attitude, and don’t be afraid to network.
When I read it, I wished I was teaching again because it just seems resonant in the poetry classroom. How so?
The first part is an entreaty to work hard at technique because, finally, that’ s what you’re pushing at in every practice session; and aren’t writing sessions at least somewhat similar to solo practice? And, OK, the notion of equipment made me giggle slightly because of this present re-contextualizing, yet that was always the case in those years when I plaayed and that remains true. The audience, made up of gearheads and non-gearheads alike, nonetheless make judgments based on what they see as well as hear.
There’s no better example than Bruford for the idea of playing as wide a range of material as possible. Let’s see: from Yes at the moment that band exploded in England and North America; King Crmson in what I honestly think was its finest live period (and a leap for which he was much maligned in the English press; U.K., Genesis, piano/drum duets with Patrick Moraz and Alan Borstlap; the New Percussion Group of Amsterdam….and then, of course, the delightful Earthworks. This is by no means a complete list but it shows he lived those beliefs in the choices he made.
Attitude, now….if any single thing besides drugs and strained relationships can threaten a band, it’s when one person “cops an attitude,” decides to take the reins of power, or become a bully in some more physical sense. The people I least enjoyed in the academy were those who swaggered about with their most recent books like medals. Those people can destroy a university’s entire literary program. Bruford had to deal with Robert Fripp, for God’s sake. With all respect to one of the greatest guitarists alive, it’s fairly apparent that dealing with him on a day-to-day basis would not be especially fun. Educational, absolutely, but not fun in the strict sense. I understand that, and don’t question it. However, that would be hard to endure for long.
It’s OK to know people, to “network.” If advancing depends upon who you know, it becomes important to know people. Just don’t be a suck-up; don’t be obvious, but directness isn’t necessarily wrong, either. Just know your audience.
There’ve been several people I wished would’ve gotten into teaching full-time when they were ready to give up the road—Zappa, Mingus among them—but Bruford’s another and in his case, he’s still aroud to at the very least persuaded. Now there’s a class I’d love to take. Check out his site for more.