November 2019
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You Don’t Know What I Did Last Summer

You might know I played with a big band for a bit.

This band has been around since the 1950s and some of the members might have been there at the beginning, or close to it. I won’t go into some of the odd dynamics between the members, but I will say that one saxophone player and the guy who did most of the running of the band got into an argument the second time I was there and the sax player walked out and quit.

I found out about the band from a drummer who plays with them who I met at a blues jam I go to. He told me the piano player goes away for a few months every summer and they often have no piano player for that period. I was hoping to meet the piano player before he left but I didn’t. I went to one rehearsal after he went on vacation but didn’t play at first. With some encouragement from the guitar player, I started playing after their break. Even though it was a struggle to read some of the charts as well as keep up, it was fun. I came back the following week. I started copying the charts for my own library. I bought a couple of the books. I redid some of the charts for myself. I worked on some piano parts like the intros to Mr. Lucky and Take the "A" Train. My sight reading was improving, as well as my ability to keep up (though I still got completely lost sometimes). I was subbing for the vacationing piano player and I was having a blast. I hoped that I could parlay it into something I could do with them after the regular piano player came back. Maybe I could help them with their charts, many of which were in poor condition after having been through Hurricane Harvey as well as simply being many years old.

After my fourth rehearsal with them, the guy doing most of the running of the band came up to me and thanked me for coming. It was funny timing because since Lori had the next day off (it was the third of July), I had brought her with me to check things out. I thought, "uh oh, him saying that isn’t a good sign…" He went on to say that they had another piano player coming the next week "and he’s supposed to be pretty good." He didn’t know much about him, just that and that I wouldn’t need to come back the next week. After that, it would just depend, "maybe it’s not his thing."

I was disappointed. I loved playing this music. There were definite difficulties playing with these old characters, like some of them having that "old man who is either deaf or obstinate" thing. But I was learning and growing a ton just from the few weeks I had played with them. Even with no gigs scheduled that I knew of, I didn’t care because I needed this and was getting a lot from it.

A few days later I got a call from the guy and turns out the other piano player wasn’t coming the following week after all, but the week after that, so if I wanted to come back for another week, I was welcome to. I didn’t really want to, but I did so as not to burn any bridges. It was hard to have my heart in it when I knew I was being replaced. The band leader described the other player as "a ringer."

Needless to say this other piano player played with them for the rest of the summer.

At the end of the summer, I got a call from the band leader because the regular piano player was not going to be back for another week and "the ringer" was back in school. Unfortunately it was the same day as the rehearsal and I couldn’t do it that night.

I still think about that band and miss it sometimes. There’s another big band in town whose piano player is moving at the end of the year. I’d love to play with them, but they are all the top players in town and frankly I don’t think I can hang just yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on myself, it’s just that I suspect they can get someone who can jump in and play as opposed to me who could have used more rehearsal time with this old big band before I was ready to play with this other band. Still, I’d love to be playing with a big band right now. That stuff is just too much fun. I know some piano players who don’t enjoy playing with a big band because piano is not as much of a focus as it is in some other jazz ensembles, but I totally dig it. I hope I can find another opportunity to do that again.

Posted 2019 11 06 at 3:30 PM

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