Being and Staying Prepared
Today I’m going to tell you about an experience I had when I was in the early years my profession. I was a hard lesson to learn, but also one I never forgot.
I had just graduated college and had gotten a “dream job” (which was any regular gig playing music and making good money at it). I got an opportunity to tour with the musical “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar”, a jazz musical, throughout Europe. I played Tenor sax and clarinet. Things were riding smooth. Soon, I was able to memorized the whole book and play with reading. I saw a little bit of the world, met interesting people and played with some fine musicians. After a few months, I go back home to New York City and I got a call from a colleague who I was just on tour with. Jackie Byard’s big band (the Apollo Stompers) was playing a weekend gig in the Village and they needed a sub on 2nd alto. I thought, “Great!” I can get to read some charts again, and possibly make some more contacts for more jazz gigs. I asked, “When is the rehearsal?”, I was told that there was no rehearsal. I just needed to show up to the club and play the gig.
Well, Friday evening came and I showed up nice and early for the gig, ready to blow. Most of the band was already there, too. Jackie Byard wasn’t there yet. I heard from a couple of the other guys in the band that there were a number of subs in the band that night. Almost half the band!
The guy next to me playing lead alto sax asked me if I’d like to play lead. I declined saying I was hired to play second alto. He told me that he was a sub too and didn’t know the book! Well, Jackie Byard showed up 10 minutes before the downbeat and brought the music with him. Just so you understand, none of the “new” guys got to see the music at all before we had to play. Tough!
Anyway, Jackie passed out the charts and called out the first tune. We all flipped through the book, looking to the tune and Jackie started counting off! The tune was a “Rhythm changes” at break-neck tempo with a sax soli. You can imagine how many of us panicked! On top of “fluffing” through a lot of the notes, the big moment came: the first solo with a solo break. Who was it? Yes, you got it. Me! The second alto was to play the first solo! I was barely able to keep the tempo and just made it through by the skin of my teeth. After my solo there was even more sax soli to play.
After the first tune was over, you can imagine how I felt. I was shaken! Jackie was cursing at the band (so that the audience didn’t hear it), and I felt 2 inches tall. The rest of the evening was a little quieter but there were always surprises.
On the way home that night, I was determined to play the next two nights better than ever and really fight to play everything in sight.
The next two nights went a lot better, but nonetheless, after it was over, I got paid, no “thank you”s, and didn’t get a call to play with the band again.
Lesson here? You always have to be ready. Ready to read anything, solo over anything at any tempo, and keep your chops up. You see, although when I was on tour, I always kept practicing (which can be hard to do on tour) but forgot to keep my reading chops up. Well, I paid a dear price for ignoring that.
Now, you all may not live near a metropolitan city where the music scene is so intense as it is in New York, or Chicago, Philadelphia or Los Angeles, but it pays to keep your skills at the highest caliber you possibly can – just in case.