Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club – Wisconsin Ave. Bethesda, MD
I played Friday night at the new Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club in Bethesda, MD with Jr. Cline and the Recliners. I was playing the third horn chair (they usually only use two but add a third for the bigger gigs) so I was on alto and bari for this gig. It was a great show for quite a few reasons. First and foremost, we had the addition of Julia Nixon on vocals. Julia is a top notch singer who was a mainstay in the DC area for years although I believe she lives in North Carolina these days. Having her on stage really made a special night even better. The gig was also special for me because it was my first one with the ten-piece show version of the band. It went very well in spite of only one rehearsal with the full band (actually no rehearsals with Julia although most of the guys have worked with her before).
What a Beautiful Room!
The club is absolutely gorgeous and is set up perfectly for concerts. It seats a few hundred people at dining tables, has a large area available as a dance floor, and has house PA and lights. The stage is plenty big and the acoustics of both the stage and the room in general are excellent. The food is excellent although maybe a little pricey but the band can order whatever they want for half price. In addition, everyone we dealt with was very nice and supportive of the band and our efforts.
It’s often said that the things that burn the hottest burn out the quickest and, much like the Tally Ho where I played a couple weeks ago, it takes a lot of support to keep them great. This is the kind of place we need to have around both for fans to have a nice place to go as well as for bands to have accommodating places to play. If you’re interested in seeing great bands in a great environment then make sure to frequent places like this to make sure they stay around.
One last thing. I finally managed to get a Jazzlab Sax Holder and it arrived just in time for the gig. I actually tried it out for the first time on stage. I will post a full review very soon but I’ll say this (Spoiler alert!) I think it’s a keeper.
Way back in July of 2012 when I started this blog I spent my third post discussing what I thought was the most important part of any player’s setup. It wasn’t the mouthpiece or the reed or the horn in case you never read it. You can read it here in its entirety or I can just spoil it for you and tell you…it’s your concept – but read the post anyway. 🙂 It’s finally time to talk about the second most important part of your setup and once again it’s not your mouthpiece or your reed or your horn. After your concept comes your physical makeup.
There’s a lot to this really as so much of your body is involved in playing the saxophone. One key element is obviously your lung capacity and your ability to deliver your breath in a controlled and predictable fashion. Connected to this is your ability to open your throat (or constrict it in an interesting way to make certain tones and effects). Also connected would be your diaphragm and how you use it to control the pressure of your tone production system. Other factors can affect the system as well such as your posture and how well you understand how the system works.
Another area that has a lot of effect is your mouth, embouchure, and oral cavity. Of course your embouchure is important for many reasons but many people ignore some important factors like how the size of your oral cavity (including how open your throat is) works as an extension of the cavity inside the mouthpiece (which is part of the geometry of the whole system). This is one of the big reasons why different people sound different on different mouthpieces and why some guys sound dark with a high baffle mouthpiece and other guys can sound quite bright on large open chamber mouthpieces with very little baffle. In addition, minor differences in tongue position can angle (or block) your airstream in such a way that enhances or negates things you are doing in other areas.
There are other factors that have an influence as well. Your physical size and strength will probably go a long way towards choosing what saxophone you should play for instance. Also, I discussed critical listening in that post and several others since then. Obviously your brain is responsible for deciphering the inputs but your ears are what gets the information to your brain. On a meta level, it’s important to make sure that the information gets in there as clearly and cleanly as possible and that’s why I use in-ear monitors and try to protect my hearing as much as possible.
Some of these things you can’t do anything about but they are just part of the equation and don’t usually prevent you from getting the sound you want. Other factors like your embouchure, breath support, tongue position, ear training, etc. can all be trained and are usually more than enough to compensate for any potential deficiencies or shortcomings in other physical areas. One of these days we can actually start discussing those mundane things like mouthpieces and reeds but I would hope that thinking about your concept and your physical makeup as being more important would keep you from dwelling on hardware like so many sax players do. It’s more important to use what you have and continue to hone your craft than it is to spend tons of time and money chasing after some elusive hardware combination.
I got thinking about this stuff again because I was at a rehearsal for a gig I have coming up this weekend. It’s a new band for me and a different horn section including a sax player I have never worked with before named Scott Young from the DC area. Scott has had a long and fruitful career and is a consumate pro. After rehearsal we stood outside and talked shop (you know mouthpieces and stuff) for quite a while and it struck me how long it had been since I did that…it was a blast. 🙂 I’m really looking forward to working with Scott this weekend, talking more shop, and hopefully playing more gigs together in the future. If you’re in the Bethesda, MD area on Friday come on out to Bethesda Jazz and Blues Supper Club to see Jr. Cline and the Recliners featuring Julia Nixon.
Last night the Crack Pack horns (same as the Retox Horns – Dave Makowiecki, Jim McFalls, and me) played with Crack the Sky at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore. The place was absolutely packed and we had a great time. We played two of the songs we recorded for the most recent CD, Ostrich, as well as the “usual suspects” of Skin Deep, She’s a Dancer, Mind Baby, and I Am the Walrus from the Beatles (always the closer). I once again played the Cannonball Raven tenor because it’s really tight and the intonation is pretty well locked in. I am still having trouble with a sticky G# key that is really getting on my nerves but I’m getting better at prepping the horn to limit it as much as possible. I’m mostly annoyed because I took it back where I bought it to have them look at it, it took them ten days to get it done, and it’s still exactly the way it was. I’m going to take it to my regular tech soon.
I’m also getting ready to play some high-profile gigs with Jr. Cline and the Recliners. The first one is in two weeks at the Bethesda Jazz and Blues Supper Club in Bethesda, MD. I’ve played with Daryl before but it was with the smaller club band, This gig is the first of a series with a ten-piece group (three horns) and I’ll most likely be playing alto and bari (bari for sure but it looks like alto will be a double). I’m pretty much caught up to where I was years ago on the bari with the possible exception of some endurance but I’ve been practicing a decent amount on alto to make sure that’s up to speed as well. I was playing alto in New Monopoly but only on a couple of tunes a night. I’m liking it more and more. I just had my horn (Buffet 400) in to the shop for some adjustment and it feels awesome. I’m also really happy with the Phil-Tone Custom (now called an Aurora) that has been my main piece for a couple of years.
I have been writing a lot of charts to get ready for the gig because there is no Eb book and it’s just too mind-bendingly hard to sight transpose the Bb book for me. I am still using Muse Score for this because it’s both free and (at least for me) very easy to use. I like the fact that I can enter everything need with the computer keyboard and a mouse so I can work on charts wherever I have access to a computer. I’ve achieved a great comfort level with this entry method and can get through several tunes an hour if I’m not too distracted. I don’t even bother printing them out because I read everything from my iPad these days. I just export as a PDF, upload them to my Dropbox folder as a backup and then grab them from the pad. If I was doing more charts I would probably consider going for Sibelius but for my purposes, this free program does everything I need.
It’s been a while since I posted and there are quite a few reasons for that. I was in South Korea on a business trip and the jet lag coming home really hit me hard. I was home for a week but I really didn’t feel very well the entire time. I followed that up with another business trip to San Francisco for the Game Developer’s Conference. I got back from that on Saturday morning (the 30th) and had a gig in Leesburg, VA that night and then another one on Sunday afternoon. When that was all done, my family and I went on vacation to Ocean City, MD for a couple days. The end result is I didn’t get a whole lot else done and that definitely included the blog. I’ll try to get back on track starting with this post.
The two gigs were a lot of fun. I played with Technicolor Motor Home in Leesburg, VA at a club called the Tally Ho (here is their FB page). The Tally Ho is a relatively new club that opened in an old movie theater in downtown Leesburg. I think it’s only been open for about 8 months but they are off to a great start. They’ve had (and continue to have) lots of great artists in to play. The staff is incredibly nice and everyone seems to know exactly what to do. The club has its own PA and lights as well so you can travel light to get there. We had a pretty decent crowd considering we were very new to the area and they more than made up for the number with their enthusiasm. We also had a great young singer/songwriter named Andrew Sales (can’t find his web presence anywhere right now) open up for us and he did an outstanding job. One very cool thing was the owner of the venue came up and talked to each of us at the end of the night. He’s a really nice guy and it was a very nice touch that was much appreciated. Here’s a video from the gig but the sound is a little weird because the camera was just picking up some monitors and not the mains:
Also of note for that gig was we had three subs for the gig: one of the guitars and both backup singers. The band still sounded great even though there were a couple of interesting moments. 🙂 It’s a tribute the musicality and professionalism of the whole band but especially to Andy Shriver (guitar), Amber Letters, and Jen Smith (vocals) as they were right there with little or no rehearsal time.
On Easter Sunday we did something a little different. One of the big concert venues in my area, The Recher Theatre, is closing its doors as a concert venue and reopening as a dance club. It is a sad circumstance but many musicians and bands took the opportunity to pay tribute to a great club that had meant tons to our careers and to support charity at the same time. I think there were over 20 bands involved and the festivities started in the early afternoon and went all the way to closing. Many of the Technicolor folks were tied up with it being Easter and all so we created a miniature version of the band that we called Technicolor Mini Van for the event. It was Glenn Workman on keys and lead vocals, Ben Sherman on guitar, Mark St. Pierre on drums, Anthony Setola on bass, and me on tenor. We ended up going on early so we had a little bit more than the usual allotted time (30 minutes) to perform. We were able to cover a lot of ground and it was extra fun because we really opened the solo sections up quite a bit. I don’t know if there is any audio from our portion but I’ll try to find out. As I said, I’m very sad to see this hall go away but I’m thankful for all of the years we had to play there and for the great care they gave us. Special thanks to house sound man Keith Nachodsky for making everything sound great over the years and for spearheading this wonderful event.