Sunday, September 14, 2008

the good, the bad, and the angry

Thursday, I played electric bass at a rehearsal of a volunteer Christian Contemporary band. I was invited by the guitar player from our Sinclair College Gospel Choir for the Jesus Jam to occur Saturday. He is such a great guy and very upbeat as well as talented. I like him and he needed a favor, so I agreed.

The band consisted of guitar, bass, drums, piano, two backing female vocals and a male vocal.

The rehearsal went well but I felt that all their songs sounded too much alike. They were all even in the same key! Note to bands, your playlist should include songs of varying tempos, styles, keys, and mood so as to keep the interest of the audience. I did notice at rehearsal that everything was running through the sound board except the piano but wasn't concerned. I know now that I should have been. More on this later.

Friday, I played a 9 foot Steinway grand piano with the Hauer Swing Band for a 50th wedding anniversary at the Dayton Women's Club. The piano was huge, but the stage was small. The first row of saxes had to set up on the floor in front of the stage. I liked it because I got a stereo effect by having the saxes in front of me and the rest of the band behind me. Note to keyboardists. Whenever you perform with a bass player, stay off all keys below middle C so as not to make the band sound too muddy what with the bass and piano having the same low range. Also, when playing with a big band. DO NOT OVERPLAY! Many times when all the horns were playing, the harmonic structure of the sing was being covered.  I just stopped playing altogether. I came in during horn solos when all the other horns dropped out when the chords weren't being played and a few piano solos here and there when written in the chart. In swing and jazz, most of the time, the melodies and counter melodies come in after the beat. Many times I would play just on the first beat very high in piano register to give a little punch and harmonic variety to the songs. Here's one for the honesty books. My piano sub is a better piano player than I! Why on earth would he be the sub and I be the main pianist? It's really simple. He plays band gigs as if he were doing a solo piano performance. He invades the bass players notes and clashes harmonically with the horns. He often doubles the melody but uses a different rhythm (this just plain sounds bad). IMPORTANT, playing a gig isn't about having your part out in front drowning out and clashing with the other instruments, but having the entire sound of the band balanced and musical!  I use my piano as if it were salt and the song were a recipe in which the band is the cuisine. A little goes a long way. Too much is just pain tasteless. Why would I go on about this? 

Let's fast forward to Saturday......

Saturday was the performance of the Christian band for the Jesus Jam. We take the stage and now the piano is going through the main mixing board. We start the first song in a blues style and the piano is twice as loud as everything else! Remember that I am on bass and the piano is pounding out low notes drowning me out. He was so loud that you couldn't even hear the vocals! After about 20 seconds of this, the director in me raises his ugly head and I tell the pianist to turn down and not to play with his left hand. He looks at me and says, "This is the way I play man".  All this is happening during the first song. The drummer shot me a look as if to say, "What's the piano players problem?" Then shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Oh well, let just keep playing (but I don't)

I stop playing. When a song as two bass lines sounding, the overall sound of the song gets too muddy. I didn't play the rest of the show but sat there with my left arm resting over the neck.I was fuming mad!

The song had ample bass from the piano so the bass guitar wasn't even missed. Why the heck was I even there? I felt like leaving the stage right then and there, but felt obligated to the guitarist not to rock the boat.

But, I was still angry at the pianist's blatant lack of concern for the others in the band, especially the vocalists. The piano player knew that I wasn't playing but it didn't seem to bother him in the least. The first song ended with silence and confusion from the audience. Not one single song then entire set got any response from the crowd. Thursday, I found out that the pianist is a lawyer. I am guessing that he isn't a very good one as he doesn't listen to anyone but himself! When the set ended, I got the heck out of there as fast as I could.

So what did I learn?  

1. don't expect inexperienced musicians to understand the concept of musical balance in an ensemble setting. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a good music teacher.

2 don't expect others to listen to you as if you were still the band director in charge and your word is law.

3 remember that your instrument is the salt. When someone else is salting the recipe (song), put your own salt shaker  (instrument) down.

4 never stop doing favors for friends as they are important

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