How Not to Sit In

"The band is just trying to find my key..." (Incidentally, the crook isn't just a cartoon gag - it happened. Look up HC Miner's Bowery.)

“The band is just trying to find my key…” (Incidentally, the crook isn’t just a cartoon gag – it happened. Look up HC Miner’s Bowery.)

Don’t like to be personal round here, so I’ve kept the following story as anonymous as possible (so as to protect the guilty). But it’s absolutely true and it illustrates almost perfect technique in how to piss any band off…

Anyway, on a gig a while ago, a guy approached me during a break and asked to sit in and sing. “Okay,” I said, “what do you want to do?” And he named a song I have heard, but is far from straightforward and hardly front-and-centre in my repertoire, or frankly likely to be so in anyone’s.

Vivaciously he asserted: “Oh it’s alright, I’ve got charts.” This guy claimed to have been in the business for 40 years. Although, with hindsight, I’m at a loss as to precisely which business… (Actually, I subsequently learned that he writes a load of inarticulate breathless bilge for some website called fonkychoons2damax dot something or other, so I guess he considers himself a music journalist.)

In due course I called him up on stage and found out that he was half-right. The tune was spread over two pages, so strictly speaking he did indeed have charts (plural) – but he only had one copy. And the stage wasn’t set up for the old bass-over-the-shoulder trick.

Dutifully, I set about frantically scanning the harmony, all the while keeping an ear on the discussion he was having with the bassist, which went something like this:

“No, I don’t really know it,” said the bassist, “and it’s not on my phone…” [meaning not in his emergency iRealBook collection]…  “Oh, I’ve got it on mine,” replied the crooner, who then swaggered off the stage and returned with a recording of the tune, offering my bassist a pair of earphones… [remember, we’re onstage in the middle of a set]…  “Ahahaha… Er, no I just need the chords…” “The what? C’mon you must know it – goes like this…”

And let’s just say that looks were exchanged. At which point, I handed over the single precious part to the bassist and remarked that I’ll just use The Force™. Then with the drummer set to “none of us know the ****ing form, just do swishy-swishy”, we played for him (with the bassist mouthing the odd chord across the stage to me). Sinatra he certainly wasn’t, but it all worked out okay. Nobody left the room, sued or died.

That over, we got the icing on the cake. Insult to injury. When a band accommodates you on their gig and pulls something unfamiliar out of thin air like that at the drop of a hat, the correct kind of response is something like: “Wow, thanks guys, that was amazing.” Not – as this ignorant wanker remarked – “I’ll choose something easier for you next time”… 40 years in the business – yeah right…

Half-stunned, the manager – who knew what I can be like – visibly paled, waiting for the onslaught. But I was polite enough. I simply pointed out that we’ll play Shostabloodykovich for him if he likes, but we can hardly be expected to just pull it out of our arses without music at 30 seconds’ notice. (That’s polite btw, by my standards.)

Ah well, shall we just say that there wasn’t a next time… Now, I’m really not anti-singers – I know some wonderful ones. I have other horror stories from every desk, but I’m afraid this is a pretty perfect example of how not to behave on the stand. Special mention also to the sax player who got annoyed when I told him to stop making strange random noises on other people’s tunes at a jam session. His indignant defence: You can’t talk to me like that – I’ve been to New York, you know… Yeah, well I’ve been to Mongolia pal, but if I tried to fire an arrow on horseback it would probably go up my nose…

Now if you are the mysterious Mr X and have happened upon this post, will you please take the time to peruse Thoughts from the Piano Chair of a Jam Session. I think you’ll find it helpful. And don’t pull this kind of stunt again, or so help me I’ll name you…

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings
6 comments on “How Not to Sit In
  1. Adam Cole says:

    So tempted to tease, but I’ve been there. Played live for a man who appeared to be greatly hard of hearing one time and seemed to have no notion of it. I’ll never forget how he sounded when he sang “Willow Weep For Me” with/ at the same time as/ the band. Then there was the guy with lots of money who paid me to do a studio session with him. He sang like Cookie Monster…he was an actor who thought singing was the same thing. He wanted his demo to have as much fidelity as possible (ironically) so he insisted on having me with him in the sound booth, me with my keyboard, and him with a mike and an amp. He asked the engineer to record the output from the amp with a microphone. The engineer was, as you might have guessed, flabbergasted. Can you guess some of the tunes we did? My favorite was “Send in the Clowns.”

    • Jason says:

      Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair? Me with my command of the musical structure, you with your head… up your arse…
      I was once present when a singer got up, informed the band she wanted to do a standard usually done in Eb, in A. Pianist asked whether she’d be able to just stretch the semitone, because Bb would sit so much easier with the band. No, A it had to be. He communicated it to the rest and they ran their hands quickly over some of the changes.
      At which point she planted a chunky little forearm on his shoulder and said: “bless, you ain’t really a jazz musician, are you?” Then shouted out “freestyle it, guys!”, counted in the tune, came in the wrong place, out of tune, got half the lyrics wrong and only remembered the bridge on the out-head.
      Had it been me, I’d have told her to remove her ample bosom from the vicinity of my ear, my stage and my gig, and basically freestyle off.

  2. Chris Tandy says:

    I feel you need a front-of-stage mike with a ‘No vacancies’ sign swinging on it. Otherwise I feel you are tempting providence at every similar gig.

    • Jason says:

      I really do like singers and enjoy working with them.
      Must confess, though, that I’m hopelessly prejudiced. I’m afraid I have an irrational dislike of dickheads, whether they’re a singer, a lutenist or a local government official.

  3. On the basis of the above story alone, I just purchased a copy of your pentatonics book out of solidarity.

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