Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Funkadelic Fantasy Camp (Did This Really Just Happen?)

In a better world, legendary keyboard innovator Bernie Worrell would have a private plane taking him and his Orchestra to their gigs. In this world, though, he ran a Kickstarter campaign raising funds to buy the Orchestra a touring van, and one of the reward perks offered was a music lesson with Bernardo Da Vinci himself. I signed up for that even though I don't play keyboards, and even though Worrell has a reputation for being uncommunicative (verbally, at least) - frankly, the documentary Stranger: Bernie Worrell On Earth painted a rather alarming portrait.

So when he showed up at my apartment with Glen Fittin (the Orchestra's percussionist) I wasn't surprised that Worrell was humble; I wasn't surprised that he could remember details from long-ago P-Funk sessions; I wasn't surprised that he could coax stunning sounds from my wife's ancient electric piano. But I was pleasantly surprised that he could speak volubly about a range of topics including his composing and arranging process, the role of bass in his music (bass guitar being the instrument I was trying to play), the different approaches he's used working with the Funk Mob vs. Talking Heads vs. Bill Laswell vs. his Orchestra. It was the opportunity to jam with him and Fittin, though, that made it a one of a kind experience - he listened carefully to every note I played as if I were a peer, his face lit up when he heard something he liked and he had boundless patience when I wandered off course. (The songs we played, in whole or in part: "Jam in D(avid)," "Red Hot Momma," "Undisco Kidd (The Girl Is Bad)," "Take Your Dead Ass Home (Say Som'n Nasty)," "Jam in A(rabic)," "Bop Gun (Endangered Species).")

I learned more about improvisation in that one session than I'd learned in the previous 46 years. I could have gotten a lot less and still been satisfied, but doing the minimum is just not how Worrell operates: he put everything he had into my lesson the same way he gives his all onstage.

2 comments:

Kelli Strawbridge said...

super cool

WM said...

It was actually through this site that I discovered P-Funk. The positive reviews made me go out and pick up all their best work. I've been reading your reviews for at least 12 years or so. I think it's totally awesome you got to have this experience... it's amazing what possibilities the internet hold in store for music fans.