I just got through a really fun weekend playing for the first time with a new (to me) band. The Hudson Project is a wedding and event band out of NYC and they played a couple gigs in my area. I played with them Friday and Saturday nights – Friday I was the only horn and Saturday I was part of a three-man horn section. The band is awesome with some really talented musicians and some truly amazing singers up front. They play a very big variety of music from standards and oldies to tons of much more modern and funky music. I had a lot of fun and wanted to talk about a few interesting things regarding the weekend.
View from the Ballroom at the Hay-Adams…right behind where I was standing. It’s more impressive when you aren’t taking a picture with a Blackberry.
On Friday night, the gig was in Washington D.C. at a place called the Hay-Adams. This place is amazing because it commands a nearly unparalleled view of the White House and the surrounding areas. In fact, I was standing right next to a French door that looked directly out on the White House. Of course, getting there was another story altogether. I left my house 90 minutes before I was supposed to arrive (usually a sub 60-minute trip) but I hit traffic basically the second I hit the highway and I was in stop and go for the entire trip. It was a combination of the usual Friday evening mess combined with driving in and out of torrential downpours the whole way. My GPS also told me a really dumb way to get there but I couldn’t be confident any other way would be better so I just sucked it up and arrived 30 minutes late but still ahead of gig time. Not the first impression I wanted to make but the band was fine with it. I did call ahead and let them know I was running behind.
Being the only horn player in a band you’ve never played with before is fun, challenging, and mentally draining all at the same time. You really have to have your “ears on” because you never know what key a song might be in or if you’ve ever even heard it before and you definitely never know when they’re going to point at you to solo. For example, they did Soul Man in G and I know I’ve never ever payed it in that key before. I really had to be on my toes but luckily I’ve been doing this long enough that I was at least familiar with the vast majority of the songs. If I would have changed anything I would have brought my EWI to play some synth stuff on some of the more modern songs rather than trying to figure out a sax line but maybe I’ll get that chance in the future.
It was good there was a microphone and music stand for me but I’m used to having in-ear monitors and the sound company didn’t even have me in the monitors so it was really hard to hear myself. Much like playing outside, the tendency is to hear how dull and lifeless you sound (if you can even hear at all) and try to blow harder to generate the brightness and edge you think you are missing. Overblowing is the worst thing you can do, though, as you will just tire yourself out and your tone will probably suffer in the long run. One thing you should do in advance (and in general) is try to find a setup that will let you hear yourself well “behind the horn”. This is a concept I first heard from another blogger and great saxophonist named Ben Britton and it’s a really important factor in choosing a setup I think. It seems odd but you really can find a setup that maximizes what you can hear in situations when you are totally acoustic in a loud room where much of what you hear is through bone conduction. It’s probably going to be trial and error at first to get an idea of what works for you…the only way to be sure is to actually play the setup on the gig. Another thing you can do is try a different reed. If you’re trying to combat overblowing you might want to use a stiffer reed. For me, I have enough experience to keep from overblowing so I actually chose a slightly softer reed to get a little more brightness. One more thing is to either position your music stand or some other object to get some bounce back from the bell much like the way sax players always play into a wall. Finally, you could put in ear plugs to maximize how much bone conduction you are hearing but for me this is a last resort.
One more thing about this gig…it was continuous music. That means the band is on stage for the entire contracted period (four hours in this case) and that was an additional trial for my chops. Luckily, the band leader was very good at finding ways to give people breaks but even then the last two hours was non-stop stage time for me. A couple of hints: try to have a solid knowledge of tunes that get called on the usual wedding gig. That means a lot of Motown as well as some choice standards like Fly Me to the Moon, The Way You Look Tonight, and All of Me. Also, it doesn’t hurt to spend some time listening to some more modern dance music and playing along just to have an idea of the lines that make up the song and the form.
Saturday night the band was in St Michael’s, MD at the Maritime Museum for another wedding but this one was outside in a tent. As I mentioned, we had a section for this gig. Being outside we had the additional challenge of having the horns get cold whenever we weren’t playing. That meant that the horn would be quite flat until it warmed back up again. I usually try to lip up as much as possible rather than trying to push in and then pull back out but depending on how cold the horn is you may not be able to get all the way up to pitch this way. Luckily, brass warms up pretty quickly. Because they were expecting the horns they brought books but as fate would have it, most of the songs didn’t have charts so we were left with making up parts as we went. This was a little challenging since the three of us had never worked together as a section but ultimately we sounded fine and had a good time hanging out and telling war stories. Another tip: Try to spend time practicing making up quick and easy horn lines and also practice finding simple harmonies for those same lines. It will come in handy in situations like this.
The food at Hay-Adams was awesome even if I didn’t have much time to enjoy it. It was salad, roast chicken, steamed veggies, and a risotto with asparagus in it. Dinner in St. Michael’s was also chicken but it was accompanied by asian noodles, a different type of salad, and pre-packaged cookies.