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Be still my beating heart...

Discussion in 'Managing the Gig from Hell' started by SOTSDO, Sep 18, 2012.


    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Well, it's time for the second iteration of the Blues Brothers revue with a group of rock folks. I hate to rag on other musicians, but I have to get it off of my chest just this one time.

    We are providing the six horns for a ten piece backup for a local Blues Brothers revue. One of my vocalists and her husband are half of the vocal talent for the group, and the rhythm folks for the group are guys who have worked with them in the past.

    All four of the rhythm folks are competent enough as far as hitting the notes - no problem there. However, their music reading skills - ahem - "leave a lot to be desired".

    For the two sets that we are performing, we provided the full Monty as far as six horn charts are concerned. Mind you, some of them are pretty sketchy - there's the ubiquitous "rhythm outline" method of transcription used by some of the arrangers. Nonetheless, there are complete parts for everyone to follow.

    The big problem comes with rehearsal. A couple of the vocalists have trouble with fitting their performance to the arrangements, so rehearsing is a bit obligatory on those. And there the problem begins.

    While we horn folks, all playing off of the written music, can snap to any point in the arrangements with ease, even if it does involve counting the occasional bar numbers here and there, none of the vocalists or rhythm guys can reliably find their way to any point in the music on demand.

    So, we have ended up rehearsing either the whole chart, or the last two thirds of the chart ("after the sax or guitar solo"), over and over and over and over, trying to get everyone on the same page, so to speak.

    With some of the entrances varying from the recorded versions, one of the vocalists has had a horrible time getting it all together. Very, very trying, to say the least.

    It's worth the effort only for the structure that we (the horn line) are gathering for when I sub in our rhythm and vocalists to do our version of same. I've got a line on a venue that is looking for a ten piece operation for their performance space, and we've now got the whole shebang for the Blues Brothers end of things. Sinatra will come when I get the charts together.

    Suffering for one's art, and all of that..
  2. You have my complete sympathy.
    Remember the old joke/errrrmm... adage....
    "How do you get a guitar player to stop noodling?"

    Put a chart in front of them

    Select text line above for punchline
  3. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    In the various church ensembles I've been in -- from full orchestra to small ensemble, including jazz groups -- I've worked with a lot of music-reading-impaired musicians. What helped is that most music was written with the instrumentalist's part and the vocalist's part, including the lyrics. So, for example, the lead vocalist could just look for the lyric in question and we could start from there. Sometimes the parts were supplemented with notes like, "Guitar solo here."

    Even if you didn't read music, you got a lead sheet with the music and lyrics.

    When I was writing out stuff like the above, I was entering notes with a synth keyboard and computer keypad -- ah, Finale 1.0 and Professional Composer! -- but it's probably a lot easier and faster with today's music software.

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator


    ...I was dealing with folks who couldn't even manage that.

    We spent a solid five hours repeating parts over and over that we had down pat the first time through. On one tune, we ran the bridge at least a dozen times before the vocalist managed to come in with any consistency.

    This time around, we drew the line at one rehearsal with the horns - no telling how many times they went through things without us (just the rhythm) to get the entries right. (There were a lot of muffed lines in the schtick between the tunes right - more sitting around and waiting.)

    This is the same sort of stuff that makes amateur theatricals such an ordeal. I will play almost any show (save Suessical and Carousel), even without pay, but when the dress rehearsals start running to six hours, I generally avoid that company in the future.
  5. Carl H.

    Carl H. Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    I just finished a similar sort of ordeal, except it was an ABBA tribute thing.

    The singers made up stuff and came in whenever they felt like it. No amount of rehearsing the openings and endings could get them to do it the same every time.

    The guitar player is an amazing player - if you are doing country, or blues or rock, but if he hasn't been doing it for 30 years, it isn't going to happen. I ended up taking a number of guitar leads on my bass (24 frets and an Ampeg SVP BSP made it possible). Jaco may not have needed 5 strings or 24 frets, but I sure did, and I'm no where near that sort of talent. I only left one fret unused, which never happens in written bass parts. Thank god I wasn't on a Fender - this gig convinced me to sell them off as they were too limiting.

    The sax player was as white as they get, which you'd think would be good for an ABBA gig. But timid late entrances and a thin tone don't work anywhere for anything I have ever been involved in.

    Drummer was a bit under prepared, but a good player with fast ears and actually did a very good job.

    I don't know that I'll ever be involved with these charts again, which is a pity because they are actually well crafted, but non reading "musicians" can F up anything.

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    My audition ads...

    ...(since I learned my lesson with the first one) have always specified "ALL MUSICIANS MUST BE ABLE TO READ MUSIC", set the last few times in boldfaced type. Yet, every batch that we audited would turn up two or three folks who would answer that they "couldn't read music per se" (one actually used the verbatum Latin formulation), but that they could "pick it up pretty quick".

    I understand the desperate need for work for many who are trying to make a living in the music business. But to think that you could step into a duty slot where there are over five hundred active charts and be able to "fake it" right off of the bat seems to be the ultimate in hubris. But, they still seem to think that they can do it.

    When presented with such a "dude" (and most of them would qualify for the title - some might add "hipster" to the title), I explain the magnitude of the music facing them, giving them a chance to bow out graciously before the slaughter starts. They never bail. I then ask them if there is anything that they are "comfortable with" that we could cue up on the rehearsal schedule.

    Invariably, they will offer some rock standard, only to find that our arrangements aren't in "their" key, or is set up differently from what they have learned by ear over the last fifteen years. We always run through it without them the first time, only to play through a walking train wreck when they essay an attempt.

    Then, they would fumble around when we ran a standard chart (for us) like "We'll Get It" or "The Look Of Love", embarrassing the hell out of themselves in the process.

    Then, it becomes my unpleasant task to tell them that they aren't up to the challenge. (Occasionally, I will encourage someone to come rehearse with us for a while - that sometimes works out.) I've had people walk away in tears, or angry, no matter how tactfully I approach the situation. Part of the price of being a leader.

    I swear that they come for the free donuts and coffee...

    Vocalists are a little different. I'm willing to work with someone who has the basic tools (presentation, voice, looks and personality) but who lacks the music reading skills, particularly since vocalists don't usually sing notes but rather the intervals. I teach the basic layout of a chart, along with how to read the values of notes and rests. Most are able to pick this up well enough to navigate a chart so as to be on "the same page" as the sidemen.

    (They usually don't eat as many donuts, either...)
  7. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    You had me at "free donuts."

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    You sax players are so easy...
  9. Bloo Dog

    Bloo Dog Consider the plight of the boneless chicken.

  10. Bloo Dog

    Bloo Dog Consider the plight of the boneless chicken.

    I quit playing with guitarists years ago, especially with guitar-dominated rhythm sections. I'll probably take some heat for this, but most young guitarists are time-wasters. Back in the 'eighties, I led a five-horn horn section. I wrote the horn arrangements from the record. When the entire band rehearsed, it was often apparent that the rhythm section hadn't rehearsed. The horn players sat around while the guitar owners and the drum banger learned their parts. Oh, yeah, and the alleged vocalist went at it, only to demand that the key be changed.

    I was thoroughly miffed at that one.

    "What's the big deal?" the would-be guitarist asked. Just move your fingers down a notch."

    --- Horns don't work like that. We can't just move our fingers down a notch.

    Luckily, the horn players could transpose in their heads, but if the record that I was given to transcribe or write an arrangement for was in one key, but the singer(s) needed to sing it in another, why couldn't they tell me ahead of time?

    I transposed TOP's "What is Hip?" four times and numerous other songs over and over ad nauseum.

    After a few years of that, I performed solely with piano/acoustic bass/drums trios. If there was a female singer who was in a relationship with one of the other band members, my response to an invitation to join was strictly TBN (Thanks, But No).

    PS. I realize that this thread is quite old and that Terry is gone now. I think that it's a good one to continue.
  11. How do you get the guitarist to play slowly and very quietly? Give him a chart to read.
    Gandalfe likes this.
  12. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    The irony of the title of this thread is palpable. Rest in peace Terry.
    Gandalfe likes this.
  13. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

  14. JfW


    "What's the big deal?" the would-be guitarist asked. Just move your fingers down a notch." o_O

    Also, any bump to a Terry thread is very welcomed.
    Gandalfe likes this.
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