My Bio

My Music Calendar

The Art of Freelancing


My New Album:
Faces of
the Bass

Jazz Musician’s Alliance

Lex Valk

The Art of Freelancing

I've advertised in Jazz Times and the IAJE Journal in order to share my experiences as a freelance musician who has made a living playing a wide variety of musical styles, from symphony and opera to jazz, klezmer, dawg music, continental, rock, and latin. Most clinicians advertise themselves as jazz performers and improvisers, and rightly so, but I believe these skills, although important, provide only some of the weapons required in the working musician's battle for survival.

So what does the young musician need to learn to become a well-rounded freelancer, capable of playing a variety of styles with competence and authority? I've boiled this down to five rules which I would like to share with you.

The Five Rules of Successful Freelancing

Rule 1: Broaden yourself!
Take every available opportunity to learn new styles. Unless you are a specialist in a very in-demand style, you must be versatile. Take all the playing opportunities you can and listen to as many different styles as possible. There are a lot books and recordings out now to help learn new styles. My clinic will go over these resources in detail.

Rule 2: Study sight-reading. In orchestral auditions sight-reading is limited to playing excerpts you should already know. But, if you hope to do a variety of other work, including shows, you must read well. There is not a lot of studio work outside three or four major cities in the U.S., so you don't have to be a killer reader, but you should at least be good. There are a number of books available to help with this process, and definite ways to practice sight-reading. Again, this will be covered in detail in my clinic.

Rule 3: Learn to follow classical conductors! If you don't, you have partially nullified the advantage created by Rule 2. Shows require reading skills, of course, but if you can't follow the overly fluid beat patterns of some classically trained conductors, you might as well not read well at all. And believe me, learning to follow these conductors is an acquired skill.

Rule 4: Learn tunes! In most cities, the steadiest work for the majority of freelancers is casual jobbing, often one-nighters at parties. So play with your friends with the objective of learning songs that are commonly played so you won't have to take a Real Book to every job. Rule 4a-Learn tunes in several different styles. Learning commonly played songs is not enough- many fine musicians know a lot of tunes, but often in only one style, and are lost when playing outside that style. You need to develop several different tune repertoires to work widely. Again, more discussion of this in my clinic, including styles and tune lists.

Rule 5: Learn the foundations of your music! Knowing a tune is more than memorizing a lead sheet in a fake book. You must know the stylistic foundations of the music you play. I divide this rule into two parts:

A) Rhythmic Foundation
When I started doing broadway shows, I found out, quite contrary to what I had thought, that there is a huge variety of ways to play two-beat rhythm style. One conductor even based the overall feel of each song in a touring version of Guys and Dolls on different lengths and accenting of my two-beat bass notes. Although this example is extreme, each major style has a number of rhythmic sub-styles that you should know well. Studying this will allow you to create a "groove" in almost any style, thus making even, say, society work interesting. In this instance there are really no books to help get the "feel" of a style, although this material can be taught. I my clinic I will discuss and demonstrate these styles and sub-styles.

B) Harmonic Foundation
Each of the styles mentioned at the top of this page has its own unique harmonic style. Knowing a particular style's harmonic tendencies will help in learning new songs. Studying this is not a matter of deep theoretical analysis, but of careful listening while playing.

Each of these rules will be covered in detail in my clinic, complete with recorded examples, performable music, handouts, and lists of records and books that can be used by your students. If you would like more information about my clinic on The Art of Freelancing, please e-mail me at [email protected]. Thanks for your interest.

I appreciate your feedback. Email me at [email protected].