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Gig Journal - June 1, 2002


This is the first in a series of articles about my experiences on solo jazz guitar gigs. I usually make notes in my journal after each gig, so I can learn from the experience.

For this series, I've edited the entries a bit and added details so you can better understand what's going on. I discuss room acoustics, set-up, dealing with clients and the audience, tune selection, and details of the performance. I hope you find these articles interesting and informative. I you have any questions, or would like me to go into more detail on anything, just post a message in the forums.


6/1/02 4:46 pm
Gig journal:
Solo gig at fundraiser for The Road Back Foundation (an organization that supports antibiotic treatment for arthritis). Sheraton Boston Hotel, Constitution Ballroom. Near Berklee. Big ballroom. High ceilings, with sculpted areas in the ceiling, good for reflecting highs.

Usually on arriving at a gig I walk around the room and snap my fingers or clap my hands to check out the acoustics. It's what I call "reading the room." But the organizers of the event were already there, making arrangements, so that wasn't appropriate.

My wife, Mal, was with me, as she often is on gigs. She's my manager; she takes care of set-up details, reminds me to get the check at the end of the gig -- all the important stuff. We spotted Diane, who is an old friend, and who, as the main organizer of the event, had hired me. We chatted with her for a while, and then I asked her where I should set up. We decided on a spot near the tables, against the long wall, not far from the podium. About a dozen tables were set up, enough to seat about a hundred people, in the half of the room near the podium.

This was a huge room for a solo musician to fill, even with just background music. I had my old Ampeg B-15 bass amp, which provides pretty good coverage, but the challenge is to have enough volume to reach every part of the room, without being too loud for the people seated or standing near me. Fortunately, the hotel had provided a sound system: four Bose 900s, one in each corner of the room. They were on stands, raised above head level, so they would provide excellent coverage. Of course, they had not been set up for my benefit, but for the Diane and the other guest speakers.

The hotel sound man came over to me after I'd set up and asked if I wanted to mic the amp and go through the sound system. Seemed like a good plan. He miced the amp while I tuned up, and as I did a sound check, he walked around the room, listening to each Bose. I played a little of Softly as Morning Sunrise for the sound check. My arrangement has a walking bass and chord intro, then goes into chord-melody, with the first melody note being a D (tenth fret), harmonized drop-3. So it covers a good deal of the range of the guitar and gives me a sense of how the room responds to highs and lows. I play that first melody note sforzando, so I also get a sense of the reverb time of the room, and of my digital reverb settings. I use an Alesis nanoverb, on plate 2 setting. Just a little, to compensate for the dryness of the bass amp.

This room was pretty live -- that is, had a nice amount of natural reverberation. Actually, I'd played this room before with GB groups, but never solo. It was ideal for solo. The sound man came over and said there was a hot spot near my amp (where I sounded a little loud), while in the rest of the room I was too soft. He suggested that I turn the amp down and he'd turn the guitar up in the sound system a bit. We tried it, and I could tell right away that I was getting better coverage. I thanked him for his help. It's important to stay on good terms with the sound man.

I played another tune, to warm up. One of the waiters, setting the table near me said, "Les Paul?" Since I was busy playing, I just smiled and returned a confused look. "Is that your name -- Les Paul?" he said, and laughed. I laughed and said, "I wish!" not knowing what else to say. He said, "But that is e Les Paul guitar isn't it?" I thought he must be joking again, since my thin-hollow-body Aria, looks nothing like a Les Paul. Still playing, I said, "Actually, it's an old Aria." He said, " Well, it sounds nice," and moved off to set another table. Off and on during the gig, I could see that she was listening. It reminded me: always play your best; you never know who is listening.

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