Always Leaves Me With a Huge Smile

Poster For This Year's Concert

Poster For This Year’s Concert

Every year for the last ten years I have been lucky enough to be a part of a big band Christmas concert to benefit Toys for Tots.  The band is called the Ken Ebo Big Bop Band and is lead by an incredible musician who both plays trombone and sings.  It features some of the best musicians in the Baltimore area – some of which I only get to see for this event.

I first started paying with the band over ten years ago when Ken was briefly out of the Marines and was teaching school in the Baltimore area.  He started having a rehearsal band on Monday nights and his book was outstanding.  That year he hosted the first one of these concerts at his school, Gilman.  As a former Marine (at the time – he has since rejoined, served a term in Iraq, and currently teaches at the school of music) he was well connected with Toys for Tots and it was a perfect fit to have a big band concert featuring all Christmas music with the admission price being simply an unwrapped toy.  The first year we mostly did stuff from the Kenton Christmas album and the big band was augmented with a French horn section as is appropriate for that music – a feature that has continued.  Of course, the first concert was hampered by no one really knowing much about it and it was further hampered by the fact that it snowed…I think there were more people on stage than there were in the audience.  As the years have passed we have gained a following and have increased the size of the venue not once but twice (first at Loch Raven High School and currently at Towson University in the Fine Arts Concert Hall).  I’m one of only a handful of people who have done every single one of these and I’m honored for the opportunity.

This year we did some of the Kenton Christmas stuff but not as much as years past.  We also did a lot of music from Tom Kubis, Gordon Goodwin, Harry Connick, and even some arrangements from Ken himself.  Ken is an excellent singer and we’ve had the same female vocalist for the entire run, Tammy Temple Testerman.  As a special treat this year we also had Ken’s wife Mary Jo join him for a Steve Lawrence/Edie Gourmet number and Ken’s two young children sang Away in a Manger with the band.  We usually only have two rehearsals to get ready for a rather challenging book and this year I had to miss the dress rehearsal for a memorial service so it was a pretty challenging night for me.  I played the lead tenor chair with some flute and clarinet doubles…I always have to dig out the clarinet and remem,ber how to play it because it seems like this is the only time I ever need it any more.

One cool thing for me was this was the first gig I’ve ever played with my new Cannonball tenor.  It played like a dream.  I used the fat neck because that’s the one that feels the most comfortable to me.  The horn played very evenly throughout the range, the altissimo was practically effortless, and the intonation was spot on once I stopped making my usual unconscious adjustments from my other horn.  I’m really happy with this horn and I’m loving being back on my Phil-Tone Eclipse.  I still need to play out a little more with this setup but I will do full reviews of everything before the end of the year.

We had a nearly packed house and we collected a lot of toys.  We even had a Marine color guard march in the colors and a representative from Toys for Tots spoke and helped give out awards.  I was very excited that I was given a certificate commemorating my ten years of service (signed by a three-star general) as well as a cool personalized Christmas tree ornament.  We always hold the event on the second Sunday of December so save December 8th, 2013 if you want to see a big band Christmas concert and help out children in need at the same time.

Fun Weekend

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.

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.

October ’12 News and Notes

Lots of cool things going on right now.  First off, there’s a cool new behind the scenes video from the Emma White show I did a few weeks ago at Artscape in Baltimore.  It starts off with Emma doing What is Hip from Tower of Power…no small feat for only two horn players.  I can safely say I’ve never done that tune with a smaller section before…or even one as small.  There is some backstage stuff interspersed with some music clips.  The music sections include some of Emma’s original songs and some choice covers.  The audio and video quality are really good.  It was a really fun gig.

Even more exciting for me personally, the CD project I spent a lot of time working on over the summer (and going back to last winter) is now out and I’m really happy with how it turned out.  The CD is from a really good buddy of mine named Anthony Setola who is an amazing bass player, a gifted composer, and an up and coming producer.  It’s called Radiate and it’s available now on CD Baby.  If you’re on Facebook and you feel the urge feel free to “Like” this page.  I played tenor and baritone saxes with my usual horn section, The Retox Horns, and I also played a lot of EWI stuff as well. It was fun and interesting because everything was recorded in different places…some in a studio, some at Anthony’s house, some onsite backstage on the gig, and lots of EWI stuff was me recording right here at my house on my laptop and then sending the files to Anthony to incorporate into the song.  Recording at home was on one hand liberating and convenient but on the other hand somehow even more stressful as I tended to obsess over my parts more than I would in a studio environment.  Ultimately I was satisfied with what I added to the project but I was especially knocked out by the other guys and girls also contributing.  Check out these names:

  • Frank McComb- Vox
  • Sean Rickman- Drums
  • Scott Peaker- Drums
  • Dan Leonard- Guitar
  • Jonathan Rogerson- Guitar
  • Russ Pahl- Pedal Steel Guitar
  • Ned Judy- Piano and Keyboards
  • Federico Gonzalez Pe?a- Melodica
  • Benjie Porecki- Organ and Keyboards
  • Glenn Workman- Organ and Keyboards
  • Bill Plummer- Moog Synthesizer
  • Justin Lewis- Moog Synthesizer
  • Mark Merella- Wave Drum and Percussion
  • Mark St.Pierre- Wave Drum and Percussion
  • Meg Murray- Vox and Elements
  • Ross Hancock- Vox and Elements
  • Brad Kimes Cymbals, Wind Chimes, and Vox
  • Joe Amey- Elements
  • Larry Rodbell- Elements
  • Barry Caudill- EWI, Tenor Sax and Baritone Sax
  • Dave Makoweicki- Trumpet
  • Jim McFalls- Trombone

It was an honor and a privilege to work with such great musicians even though the only guys I ever saw in the studio were Anthony and the other horn players.  I’ve worked with a lot of the others in various live situations and on other recordings but this collection is a juggernaut.  Check out the CD (or Anthony’s previous CD – also on CD Baby – that I worked on as well) and pick up a copy to support a great guy and a wonderful musician.

Finally a little bit of sax geekiness.  I’ve mentioned before that I have played the same reeds on tenor for quite a few years.  I tried Van Doren Java Green reeds when they first came out and I have been using them on tenor ever since (I also use them on alto and soprano).  That’s nearly 30 years on the same reeds although I have switched back and forth at various times from 3 to 3 1/2 and back again.  Recently, I bought a box of Rigotti Gold 3 1/2 M and I finally had time to work them in and the results are very promising.  The strength matches up very well to what I was using (I was on 3 1/2 recently with the Javas) and the consistency is excellent throughout the box.  Of course, it’s only one box and it could be months before I am completely sure but they are cheaper than the Javas and I’m very happy so far.  My first gig with them is tomorrow night so we’ll see how they hold up.

An Opinion

A couple weeks ago Amanda Palmer, formerly of the Dresden Dolls and current musical diva of Kickstarter, announced that she was going to have volunteers supplement her touring band and that they would be playing for free (well technically for beer and hugs).  This announcement literally lit up the intarwebs where the righteous indignation meter was absolutely pegged.  People pointed to her past career, the “fact” that she was worth millions from previous deals, and the million plus dollars raised by her Kickstarter.  One of the interesting things here is she walked away from the potentially lucrative deals she had and spent several years writing and getting ready before re-launching herself as an independent artist.  Sure she raised over a million but that was to support the new album.  Before that money was raised she had already shelled out for recording, paying the musicians, mixing, and mastering.  That was a lot but she was raising money on Kickstarter for  duplication, cover art, printing, packaging, and worldwide distribution not to mention all of the art books and other extras that were to be part of the Kickstarter promos.  Add to that the cost of taking a group of any size on the road and I’m seriously not sure what would be left…it might be a lot or it might be nothing.  Of course, you can make a lot of money on a tour in support of the album if you handle the merchandise correctly and keep your costs down…which brings us back to the original “problem”.

MANY people decided to judge the situation based on their own preconceived notions and there was much vitriole and tons of recriminations but I see it another way.  Here’s one example: I’ve definitely played open jam sessions before so I’ve played for free in front of anywhere from a handful to a large roomful of people.  This usually took place in commercial enterprises called clubs in which “someone” (i.e. not me) was making money but I did it for my own reasons: to get better, have fun, network with other musicians who might call me for gigs, be seen by fans or potential fans, etc.  At the time, I weighed those potential benefits vs. the idea of not making any money and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs.  This situation should be no different.  In fact, the potential payoffs are much higher.  You would most likely be playing in front of many more people and could network with national caliber musicians.  The ability to hand a business card to players that are connected well beyond your region is priceless not to mention that you can put the gig on your resume and possibly get more gigs based on that.

If you always choose to make a decision about a gig because of what the headliner might be making or what you think they should consider reasonable then you will probably sit home a lot.  If, instead, you choose to make a value judgment based on what the gig means to you and you can look at it objectively based pon what you can get out of it (not always money) then ultimately you will probably make better decisions for your career or at least for your sanity and my experience has been that I make more money in the long run but I have no way to prove that.  I recently learned that she decided to go ahead and pay the local musicians who join the band in each city but I’ll say right now, if I was open and the opportunity came up I would probably do it and I don’t even like beer.  It would be fun.

A Fun Night

I had a really great night on Friday.  I was playing with Technicolor Motor Home at the Recher Theatre in Towson, MD.  This band is one of my greatest pleasures right now.  First off, it’s a great bunch of musicians and a tremendous bunch of people to hang out with.  It’s incredibly gratifying for me to be included in such a wonderful group.  Second, the band is a tribute to Steely Dan but rather than trying to go the whole “Beatlemania” route and dressing up in costumes, we are content to be a tribute to the band’s live concerts.  That means we are doing arrangements that are in many cases more complex than what was done in the studio recordings and we’re also able to solo much more freely rather than trying to mimic whatever was played on the original recordings…not that there’s anything wrong with Tom Scott, Pete Christlieb, Wayne Shorter, and Chris Potter but Walt Weiskopf and Cornelius Bumpus really pushed the envelope in the live shows.  Another great thing is that the fan reaction to the band has been phenomenal.  Of course, we don’t get to play together too often since people would get sick of us doing the same music over and over.  Also a group of people this talented and sought after in the area (and a large group at that) is very hard to schedule.  So it goes without saying that we end up cherishing the time we do spend together.

Playing behind the "mastermind" Glenn Workman.

Playing behind the “mastermind” Glenn Workman.

One more thing, above and beyond all that, this band has probably the finest total package horn section I have ever had the pleasure to work with.  The Retox Horns, Dave Makowiecki, Jim McFalls, and I seem to have a rather special bond when we play together as a section and our ability to have fun while hanging out is second to none.  We originally started playing together in another band called Expensive Hobby and have been together as a section for at least 5 or 6 years but I think it’s been longer.  Currently, we are the section in TMH as well as for a band called Crack the Sky (where we are called the Crack Pack Horns).  We’ve also been together in the studio for a few very fun projects recently.  I’ll have more on that as details become more available.

We tried to do our soundcheck as quickly as possible because some good buddies of ours were playing a block party type thing right down the street from us and we wanted to check them out.  Rumba Club is an outstanding group featuring some of the absolute best jazz and latin players in Maryland if not anywhere.  The band is always a great musical experience to see and it’s never less than a blast of a hang.  If you ever get the chance to see this band please make sure you do it.  We only got to hear a couple songs but it was worth the effort and a couple of the guys came over to see our show when they were done which was very nice of them.

Food was provided by the club…I had a turkey burger.  🙂  In deep rotation in the dad van this week is the new Pat Metheny album called Unity.  Pat Metheny and Chris Potter playing together…how can you pass that up?

Gig Notes

Played an interesting gig last night for several reasons.  It was a 45th anniversary party for a nice couple and the gig was on Gibson Island.  I was playing with my usual wedding band, New Monopoly.  I mentioned before how huge the book is and even after nearly two years on the band I’m still amazed that we will pull up charts I haven’t seen before.  Because of the nature of the event we ended up doing a lot of 50’s and 60’s music although the number of grandkids there did cause us to play Poker Face and Firework so I got to play EWI – didn’t set it all up for nothing.  🙂

The next thing will probably lead to a longer post in the future about gig survival kits but here’s what started the idea at least.  Our lead singer, Jessica Deskin, is a wonderful young singer and she also doubles on keys, flute, and alto on the band.  Before the gig her alto wasn’t playing at all and they were trying to figure out what was wrong with it so I asked to take a look.  It turned out she lost a cork on her octave key mechanism so that lifting the G key did not cause the neck mechanism to operate.  Of course there are no techs on the gig so enter duct tape.  Over the years I’ve fixed all manner of emergency sax and clarinet problems with duct tape to hold me until I could get to the shop – everything from holding in pads that had come unseated to replacing corks to holding a key together. In this case I cut several small squares of tape and layered them on top of each other until they were the right thickness and then I attached them to do the job the cork used to do.  It got her through the gig and that’s all that really matters in these situations.  Luckily, the band had duct tape handy but I don’t like to rely on other people so I usually have some duct tape available in case I need it.  I used to just stick pieces to the rack that housed my synths, mixer, and in-ear system until I switched my rig.  I found a couple of cool ways online to have duct tape handy at all times.  You can check them out here and here.  Always keep some handy.

One more thing.  Most times when you play a lot of weddings, private parties, and corporate events you get fed.  Sometimes you get to eat off the buffet but often there is some kind of spread in a back room or an unused conference room somewhere.  I think you can find out a lot about people, whether it is the clients, the caterer, or the venue by how they treat the band.  For instance, this is an actual picture of a dinner that was supposed to “feed” an 8-piece band at a gig.  DISCLAIMER: I was not on this gig but one of my friends was.  The band, venue, and caterer shall remain nameless to protect the innocent:



It looks like two wraps cut into 4 pieces each…so it’s technically 8 servings.  Notice there are two small bags of chips as well…maybe they thought the band needed to lose a little weight.




One of the many great things about New Monopoly is how well they front every job so all of the details are taken care of before we ever get there and that includes food.  Of course, it’s not always  the greatest food and I’ve had my share of “bandwiches” but last night was above and beyond the call of duty.  Check this out:

Now This is More Like it!

Now This is More Like it!

Maryland Eastern Shore crab cake with asparagus and potatoes with a wonderful side salad and bread.  It was served to us an hour before we went on so we had a chance to sit and really enjoy it.  Great venue and great people for clients make a happy band.

Artscape 2012

My Mark VI - ready to go

My Mark VI – ready to go

I played a very fun gig today at something called Artscape in Baltimore, MD.  I was part of a band backing up a young, talented singer named Emma White.  We didn’t have a lot of time to get the songs togethe?ß?r and there were only a handful of horn tunes but the overall vibe of the whole experience was really great.  It was a great combination of Emma’s original tunes and some select covers both old and new…everything from Aretha to Rihanna.  Emma’s truly a pleasure to work with and she sings beautifully.  It was also special because I got to play with a lot of my favorite guys in town as well as a new guy I hadn’t worked with before named Fred Moss.

Here’s the lineup:

  •  Emma White – Vocals, Guitar, Keys
  • Glenn Workman – Keys, Vocals
  • Fred Moss – Guitar, Vocals
  • Mark St. Pierre – Drums, Vocals
  • Jimmy Charlesen, Bass
  • Dave Makowiecki – Trumpet
  • Yours Truly – Tenor

I first met Emma a few years ago when she was working on her demo reel for getting into Berklee.  She wanted to record a version of What is Hip by Tower of Power and the band I was in at the time happened to do a great version of that song.  We went into the studio and recorded it, she ended up going to Berklee and now that she’s back she’s starting up a music career.  I play with some of the other guys in a Steely Dan tribute band called Technicolor Motor Home.  Actually the same guys were together in that previous band as well…we like playing together.  Glenn, Dave and Mark are great musicians and great friends and I will take any gig they are on no matter what the price or where it is.  I’ve known Jimmy Charlesen for many years but we’ve only really played together a few times in all those years.  He’s a consumate professional, and excellent musician and a great guy so I was happy to have another chance to work with him.  Fred and I feel like we have met somewhere before but we don’t know where or when so for now I’m pretty sure it’s the first time we’ve worked together.  Fred is a great guitarist and singer and also a really nice guy (I think there’s a pattern here).  It is my hope that we can all get together and do this again real soon.

Not a huge crowd - we were the first act of the day. The weather held up but it remained cloudy and cool the whole time.

Not a huge crowd – we were the first act of the day. The weather held up but it remained cloudy and cool the whole time.

Artscape is something that I started playing way back when I was in college I think.  It’s entirely possible that I played one of the very first ones if not the first one but then I didn’t play at it for many years in between.  I was shocked at how big it’s gotten.  It used to just stretch along just one street but now it covers several blocks and has branched out to include new additions like Gamescape (a computer and video game art exhibition).  They’ve always had top talent…years ago I saw Gato Barbieri there and he wasn’t even on the main stage.  This year the main stage featured the likes of Brian McKnight, The Rebirth Brass Band, and of course, Emma White.