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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
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.
I ended my sound check just as the first few early guests started arriving. The gig was a luncheon, 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. At 11:30 I started my first set.
The first hour was cocktails. The bar was near the middle of the room, then there was an open area, and at the far end of the room was a long table with the items for the silent auction (including a copy of my solo CD). So the guests gathered at the end of the room away from me. The setup was good, allowing me plenty of space.
I make it a habit to start with Here's That Rainy Day. It was one of Stan Getz's favorite tunes, and it serves to reminds me to play tunefully -- Getz was a wonderfully melodic player. I knew that I wouldn't be playing for the full three hours, because there would be speeches. Even so, it was going to be a long gig. When you play solo, you can't lay out and let the keyboard player carry it. So I had to be careful to pace myself. But I also knew that I had plenty of time to stretch out on tunes. I usually do head, solo, head on most tunes. The solo section is a mixture of chords and single lines, while the head sections are my worked-out arrangements, with chords, melody, and bass line. On a long gig, I stretch out more, and take a few choruses, maybe one with just 3-note chords, one all single lines. On Softly as a Morning Sunrise, and Satin Doll, I took a chorus of "bass solo", limiting myself to the bottom 3 strings. This worked well.
As more people arrived, I pushed up the volume just a bit, but apparently not enough. Mal came over and said that in some parts of the room the music was too soft. Bodies have a weird way of soaking up sound. So I turned up a bit more. Mal walked around during my next tune, and gave me the high sign that the volume was OK.
I played a long first set, nearly an hour. It's good to play lots of bossas in that first set. I've been adding more bossas to my repertoire lately. People often comment that they enjoy them. I always start Girl From Ipanema with that Fmaj7 Gb9 vamp, alternating root and fifth in the bass. This sets the tune up well.
After that first long set, I played shorter sets, stopping when the speeches were about to start. I started one set with God Bless the Child, and took a very bluesy solo on the bridge. I liked it so much, I took another chorus and played all single lines, bluesy, from the bridge through the last A section. Need to do more of that; it sounded great, and I could see a few people really dug it.
One of my friends, who is a great musician, was very ill that weekend, and I was worried about him. I try to clear my mind when I play, but that was on my mind. That guy is a big fan of Keith Jarrett, so when I played Jarrett's Days and Nights Waiting, in my mind I dedicated to my friend. I don't think I've ever played it better. I usually keep chords going through most of the choruses, but I did a lot more single-line work this time, and it sounded fine. Sometimes the single-line stuff sounds thin to me, but sometimes it just works. It's a matter of how I get into it and how I get out of it, thinning out the texture gradually, or using percussive chords.
It was clear that several people were listening closely to my music, and everyone was enjoying it. A few people commented, both between sets and at the end of the gig, that they really enjoyed the music. That's always nice to hear.
Diane had arranged for Mal and I to have a meal, so on one break we sat with some of the guests and had a meal. Interesting people at the table. A woman from South Carolina who did stone sculpture. She had developed arthritis and was unable to sculpt for a long time, but the antibiotic treatment had cured her to the point that she was back to sculpting. At the end of the gig, she came up to me and said she had bought my CD at the silent auction, and asked me to sign it. Can't beat that!
Post Script June 6: Mal ran into Diane at dance class. Diane said everyone loved the music and told Mal to thank me again. She said that a few days later she and her husband had gone to another event and the music was so loud they couldn't even talk. She said it was great that my music never got too loud. Mal said, "Oh, Steve never plays too loud. That's not what he's about."
Email Steve Carter
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