Response to email asking “How do I get in a band?”

So you want to return to music performance. And it’s been a lot of years since you last picked up the instrument, maybe even as long as high school or college. I was there once and here are some tips and tricks I have learned along the way. Be aware that as the baby boomers find themselves in an empty nest or retired position they are going to return to doing the things they loved in school. Trust me, it won’t be tackle football either. So there will continue to be a lot of competition in all levels of music organization.

MJBshazNgreg2009The groups I play with in the Redmond (Eastside part of Seattle) have *long* sub lists can be both frustrating at first blush and interesting as to the possibilities. The number of people wanting to join got so big a couple of years ago that we had to institute an audition process. But all is not lost. Consider these options and from a hobbyist like me who mans the 2nd alto and tenor chairs mostly:

1. The complete list of Community bands in the US and around here is at I search on the string ‘WA’ and then work my way through the list. With over 1100 community bands listed, that’s the most efficient way I know to search. I know that Monroe and Shoreline were looking for clarinets and saxes last year. I joined the community band to start networking with other hobbyist musicians. Concert band isn’t my thang, but it catapulted me into jazz in a big way as I met other like-minded folk.

2. Create your own sax quartet. I did this and now have ~12 people who rotate in during the year. Last year we actually gigged three times. Here is one of the videos: Yes that’s me on the soprano. All I had to do was procure the music and start pokin’ around for sax players in my part of town. I actually converted my wife into a sax player from her primary instrument of clarinet. My collection of sax quartet charts is now over 100 arrangements.

3. Create your own Big Band. I did this a number of times and now run the Microsoft Jazz Band at work performing 4 times a year. For the really rookie player, I helped create the Pacific Cascade Big Band performing at swing dances monthly. These groups have the longest sub list of anything I do. And my personal library of jazz charts is over 1000. The nicest part of doing this is that no one else wants to do it. So you can get a lot of stellar musicians who participate because you make it easy for them. And I get to select the music I luv to play.


4. Start playing to Aebersold Jazz play-along books if you aren’t already. Great for developing those solo chops. If you’ve never done this start with the ‘Maiden Voyage’. That’s where a lot of beginners start. And if you have a nerves thang and never plan to play in public, you can get the full combo experience in the safety of your home. If you luv to perform publicly you can hone your solo skills, get ideas for great licks, and have fun too.

5. Open mics are around town like at Crossroads of Bellevue in this part of town. I don’t do this kind of thang because I prefer to play an hour or more of music to playing one song a night.

6. Just start taking lessons and see if your instructor can hook you up with playing opportunities. I thought I was a *great* player until I started taking lessons. Now I’m fixing many of the things that I hated to hear in my recorded solos. A great teacher can take almost any mediocre player and turn them into someone who is interesting to listen to.

7. Use decent equipment: please don’t bring an instrument to any practice or gig that you can’t even tune. (Yes, I know people who do this, usually in a community band setting. If your instrument hasn’t been touched in years by a technician, here’s betting it has leaks. For example if you can’t play the low end of the instrument (for sax think in the pinkie key range) you probably have a leak in the upper stack. No, that is not intuitive to figure out. And if your low note warble, most likely your mouthpiece isn’t right for you. A good tech can make your instrument the best it can be just like a good teacher can help you sound the best you are capable of playing.

It may take you some time to get into the network of fellow musicians interested in the kind of music you prefer. But I believe it’s more about the journey to where you want to be than getting there. Along my trip I’ve started up jazz combo like the Dissonance that gigged about 8 times a year. After three years I gave up on it even though we were getting gigs. I am sooo an intermediate player, but there are a lot of us out there. And if you have organizational and networking skills like I do, it can be easier.

BTW, I’m taking two lessons a week and have for the last three years or so. I started playing after a 25 year hiatus and found out that I probably never was a very good player even though I played first chair throughout high school. Start with the Community band list (item 1 above) to find a community band in your part of town and work it from there.

About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Seattle Solid GOLD Big Band (formerly the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra), and enjoy time with family and friends.
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