Interview with Brian Baggett

Jim at "The Leaf", Abilene Texas

Here is an interview of me by fellow Stick player, Brian Baggett. This was originally published in Sticknews # 142 on 5/31/2001

 

From: stick@brianbaggett.com
Subject: profile/interview: Jim Kam
Date: Tue, May 22, 2001

I am convinced that as one becomes an active Stick player (or perhaps even a Stick "owner"), music is not the only export from the musician with his/her newfound instrument. Stickists, as musicians of any lessor known instrument, are immediately thrust into the role of spokesperson of this new(er) music vehicle (a missionary?? preaching this truth-tapping to the masses?). The public has often heard the gospel from the more visible Stick players: Levin, Culbertson, Howard, Beggs and many others. However, I believe the "ground troop" Stick players are the ones fueling this grassroots playing style. Giving a spotlight to one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of field troops is my personal mission. They are often the guy "next door." You know, the folks who actually work for a living (imagine that!) outside of the music world, go home to the family at night, shoot hoops with the kids, and play Stick during the occasional open mic night at a local pub to a handful of inebriates watching a TV ball game?

One such noteworthy unknown is 43 year old Houstonian Jim Kam. A full-time employee of Compaq Computers as a Systems Software Engineer, Jim debugs device drivers under the Netware OS (and to a lesser extent, Linux.) by day while enjoying the spotlight as "the other Stick player" (see interview below) at the Crooked Ferret in Houston, Texas. I had the pleasure of meeting Jim as well as learning along side him and 6 others Stickists at the West Texas Stick Seminar last March. In the following interview, imagine that we were sitting together over a beer at this "ferret" place rather than e-mailing sporadic messages every couple of days.

BRIAN BAGGETT: The standard opening question to ALL players of the Chapman Stick is..How did YOU become interested in the Stick?

JIM KAM: I read an interview with Emmett in Guitar Player in the mid 70's and was quite intrigued. Much later (1983?) on I saw a Stick Player (don't know who it was) and I knew I had to have one. Was on a road trip to S. California at the time. Called Emmett, and made an appointment and showed up at his house 30 minutes later. Was so impressed that I made arrangements to sell my prized Gibson ES335 and purchase the Stick.

BB: How soon after this event did you begin playing?

JK: I got the Stick later that summer, and started to play but quickly got "stuck" and did not make a whole lot of progress. The instrument laid in a closet for the better part of 14 years or thereabouts. Occasionally it would get taken out and played, but not very much. Musically, I was pretty much 'dead' during this period, as far as participating. Although I never lost interest in listening.

As a result of discovering Stickwire (a list serv for Chapman Stick enthusiasts BB), I had my interest rekindled, and began playing in earnest in mid 1997. Traded the old Ironwood for a Cherry Grand, and started the path of trying to learn the instrument. Along the way, I have taken a couple of seminars with Greg Howard, one in Dallas, the other in Abilene which have helped immeasurably in getting jump-started.

BB: Speaking of the Abilene seminaryour 2 song performance caught the attention of the locals that Sunday night. More than a few of my friends came to me afterwards and noted how you were their personal favorite of the 4 student soloists. "Oh, thanks a lot", I joked back (I was the first player that evening). One asked me at the evenings end, "Does that Houston guy have a CD out?". So, how about it Jim. What's keeping you from recording a self produced disc?

JK: What could they have been thinking of? These people clearly have no taste ;-). Thanks for that kind comment. . I have always had a dream of having a record out, but at this time I don't have the chops to pull it off. This is not false modesty, just a statement of fact. Perhaps with a couple more years of practice, this could change. On the other hand I am not above turning on the recorder and doodling, which I do sometimes.

BB: Thats a good segue into your recorded piece on your web site. What is the inspiration or background information on "Daydream"?

JK: That was a strictly a doodle. I just hit the record button and jammed, with no idea where it was taking me. Then I overdubbed over that - essentially accompanying myself. 4 tracks, recorded 2 at a time. The whole exercise including head-scratching and converting to mp3 took about an hour. I just happened to be in the right frame of mind for doing this. I am quite pleased with this but I haven't been able to duplicate the approach since. Darn.

BB: Im always interested in Stick players varied musical backgrounds. Tell about yours.

JK: Began pianoforte at age 5, and took lessons up to about age 17. Took up classical guitar at age 10 and took lessons for a couple of years (thereby ruining any chance of ever being able to competently play guitar with a pick ;-)) At age 15 I was accepted into the Singapore Youth Choir, and later the Singapore Youth Choir Ensemble (a smaller group within the choir that did mostly madrigals). Did a lot of live performances, toured UK a couple of times, and made TV and radio appearances as well with the choir. Stayed with the choir till about age 21.

Started 2 years of military service at age 18. During much of my military service, I was in the Singapore Armed Forces Music and Drama Company, a traveling troupe of Singers / Dancers / Actors / Instrumentalists that entertained the troops, much like the USO. Honorably discharged with the high rank of lance corporal ;-) (PFC equivalent)

BB: Corporal Jim, what regular "outlets" do you have for Stick playing? You know, any bands you perform with, steady solo gigs, etc.

JK: I play fairly regularly Tuesday (open mike) nights at the Crooked Ferret in Houston. Generally play solo. I try to keep it instrumental, although I do sing as well on occasion. Playing instrumental forces me to stretch my playing ability. It is too easy to sing and get into a 3 chord habit. Any other place, I'd probably stand out because of the novelty of the Stick. At the Crooked Ferret, I am the "other" Stick player. Jeff Norem, a player of great experience and skill has played there often for a number of years.

It's been about a year since I first started doing open mike nights. Prior to that I had never played the Stick in public. Playing outside gives me the incentive to practice and seek out new material. Prior to performing for an audience, I had probably never actually played a piece complete from beginning to end.

BB: I definitely admire your bravery to be the "other" Stick player to a more seasoned and experienced one. Have you had a chance to get to know this Jeff Norem character? Ever think about playing duets or creating a small Stick based ensemble with him?

JK: As it happens, the first time I played open mike was a duet with Jeff. We went up and winged it, not having decided beforehand key or tempo! It actually went OK in a very strange kind of way. Of course, he carried most of it, and I sort of mimed a little. Our styles and interests are vastly divergent, so an ensemble is not in the cards right now.

BB: Thanks for your time, Jim.

Jim Kam maintains a modest web site (http://home.houston.rr.com/vexorg/) about the Chapman Stick which features his downloadable composition "Daydream". You can also see Jim in action on the West Texas Stick Seminar web site (http://wtxstickseminar.myevisionlink.com/).

[Ed note - none of these links mentioned in the last paragraph are valid]

Copyright 2001 Brian Baggett


Copyright © 2006 Jim M Kam, All rights reserved. Chapman Stick is a registered Trademark of Stick Enterprises