“Hell is full of musical amateurs.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
This week I got to sit in with a struggling big band that is under new management. This band has very strong elements and a couple of weak players. I suspect part of that staffing battle due to the band being located in a small town that is kinda far from Seattle.
If I were to make a suggestion to this kind of hobbyist band it would be, do nothing until your rhythm section is solid. Sitting in and sight reading charts is scary enough for this hobbyist without trying to figure out where the beat is. Fortunately I had no solos so I was just able to give the best I have and not worry about holding this band back.
The nice thing about this band was that they had decent soloists in the sax, trombone and trumpet sections. So this band will make gas money. Having a solid section leader who is a great sight reader is the only way to go. Hell, if we band managers could make any serious money, everyone in the band would be pros. The fall back is seed the sections with the best soloists you can. I don’t know who said it but I find this to be true, “In a jazz combo you are only as strong as your weakest player. In a big band you are only as strong as your soloists.”
“Jazz in the Corner” in Seattle 2010
I use a lot of tricks to get around fast parts that I would really need to woodshed. Every time I sit with this band, they seem to have a sax feature number with 16th notes and a pace somewhere north of 220. One of the tricks I use is to try to hit the sweet notes in a run. Guessing which ones they might be is a challenge.
The other thing I do is always aim for the first beat if the run time gets kinda dicey. This has been drilled into me by years of lessons where I’d spend the first half hour sight reading. It was also fortified by instructors who during a duet would drop out unexpectedly and I was expected to carry on as if nothing had happened.
Everyone makes mistakes in a first reading—the true test of a musician is how you handle it when you make a mistake. If you falter, stop, or get really quiet, everyone knows it’s a bolo. If you press on, play with passion, and try to make it work, it can be considered interpretation. No, really…
BTW, this band will make it. They will make it because they have a great set of soloists, vocalists and a world-class band manager.