On this occasion, by ‘playing outside’ I’m not talking harmonically, I literally mean playing outside as in not in a building, outdoors…al fresco.
Be it due to death-threats from neighbours or the allure of beautiful surroundings, some of you will have at some point considered or even indulged in mother nature’s woodshed. I’ve recently found myself regularly in a situation where playing outside is not only slightly more sociable option but also a more attractive prospect due to surroundings, so with my relatively small amount of experience, here's a run down of some things I have learnt / considered from doing so.
Playing outside with little or no acoustics helps develop a fuller tone.
This is a commonly acknowledged fact and I believe it to hold some truth. Someone the other day told me that Andy Sheppard did a lot of playing along the riverbanks in Paris which attributed somewhat to his monster tone (sounds plausible). I think the theory is that by playing outside with little or no acoustics (i.e. no sound bouncing back off walls and stuff) you are forced to push your sound further to produce something which is immediately full and satisfactory rather than an accumulation of sound knocking around a small hard enclosure. I have no tangible evidence to prove that this has had any impact on my tone, but I have gone up a reed strength despite recently going to a wider tip opening, sooooo maybe something has changed? I guess it’s a bit like resistance training.
Beautiful surroundings inspire creativity and stifle boredom.
Nothing beats observing diverse foliage, entertaining a curious otter or beguiling an intrepid squirrel with your saxophone. Ok, so maybe it's not quite like a C.S.Lewis book, but it's certainly more interesting than looking at the same corner of the same room where you've been shedding for the past decade(s). In reality it's largely insects that I observe, maybe the occasional bird, but who says Mr Tumnus isn't going to prance by and chip in some harmonies with his fife? I've got no way of proving that's definitely NOT going to happen.
I also think that by semi-distracting your brain with looking at other things whilst practising it helps get your playing into the more subconscious part of your brain (the amygdala?!) where it can be recalled instinctively rather than constantly having to rationalise it’s application in real time. There's probably a point to be made about having a more abundant supply of oxygen by being outside, fresh air, vitamin D…..beats fluorescent lighting and the smell of your own farts anyway.
Playing outside in the cold sucks.
Yup. Apart from a few winter sports, doing most things outside in the cold sucks, most of all having to hold a freezing cold piece of metal. Same thing goes for rain and slightly less for wind. I think it's safe to say that if the weather is anything but pleasant, you should stay indoors to practise. Or move to Spain where the winters are laughable.
Weirdos exist outside.
This is true although I've been lucky enough to not come across any yet, only the odd rambler, and everyone knows they care less for jazz than they do for ill-marked byways.
But seriously, you never know who you might bump into outside, and if you're already a vulnerable person there is a very slim chance that you could get into a sticky situation. If this is the case just make sure your never more than a short sprint away from civilisation and maybe don't take your mint condition SBA and Florida Link collection with you, could be a good time to use that 'backup horn' that you swore you'd need 15 years ago. A few people have told me that when they’ve been outside playing (mainly parks in Bristol) they’ve experienced some jovial heckling from passers and got a bit vexed, I think you have to expect this once in a while if you’re outside in a highly populated area, would it kill you to reel off a few bars of Baker Street just to defuse the situation?
If the prospect of coming across as a weirdo in the woods hasn't even crossed your mind, I've got some news.... you're the weirdo in the woods.
This brings me to the most important point of them all:
Golden rule: Make sure you take some drinks (beer) and make sure you keep them cold (icy).
If you've watched any Bear Grylls episodes you'll know hydration is the key to surviving outdoors, and this is no exception. Who knows how deep your session is going to be, and you don't want to have to stop in the thick of it just because your mouth is drier than a dead dingos donger (official Aussie terminology apparently). Make sure you take more than enough drinks, and make sure you have a way of keeping them cold too, a small cool bag and some ice packs would be ideal, but if you don't own these try wrapping them in silver foil and kitchen cloths and then leave them in your empty case until you fancy a bevy.
You might think it's fine to just wander in to the forest for a quick hoot with nothing but a lukewarm panda pop and a curly wurly, but before you know it you'll be drinking your own stale p*ss through the intestines of a dead snake, just like Bear did.
Oh yeah, and take some spare reeds.
My conclusion in the form of a Haiku:
Such good sax outdoors
Be prepared and trust no one
Take reeds and cold beer