Did a great gig with our friend Tony Kofi last week. Hell of a player, and a lovely guy. He brought along a stack of really interesting tunes and called a few of them in an ad hoc order as the mood and need for contrast seemed to dictate to him. It was only as I was whisky post-morteming at home later that I realised there was a really sweet narrative arc implied by the tunes.
We kicked off with the theme from the Cary Grant film Mr Lucky, which exuded a typical Mancini street swagger. (Here’s our cocky protagonist.)
The next number was George Adams’ Flowers for a Lady, which seemed to involve as much flourish as adoration. (Our young buck is wooing and trying to impress.)
Then a segue into Tyner’s tender You Taught My Heart to Sing. (Ah – it seems this isn’t just an alley cat conquest anymore. Or is it her tune? And does that start to work on him?)
Next up was Monk’s We See – a very hip declamatory tune. (They get hitched, but the wedding is an unusual, rather bohemian deal.)
So what comes along next? A quirky, restless triple-time bundle of fun called Little Niles (by Randy Weston).
We played out with Kenny Barron’s Voyage – (onwards into the future go our kooky little fictional family).
It put me in mind of the odd occasions when I have deliberately themed sets with some kind of loose narrative structure in mind. It also got me thinking of classic films like Pal Joey. Portmanteau musicals.
I COULD WRITE A BOOK
A lot of songs are associated with certain musicals or films, when they were actually hits lifted from earlier ones and pressed into specific dramatic service. Take Pal Joey, for instance – only about half the songs were actually written for it, the rest were originally written for Broadway musicals twenty years earlier.
But they’re carefully chosen and woven together to tell the story of Joey Evans and the “mice” (who bite him)… The lyrics are distillations of the dialogue and mood. It’s semi-operatic.
Of course, the film was a Sinatra vehicle, so his character is a nightclub singer who would know and love these classics. And the women who pull him in two directions would too.
(Incidentally, I’ve remarked about musical stand-ins before – Rita Hayworth may have been lovely, but that ain’t her singing…)
I’m not saying that the audience is going to consciously pick up on the “programme”, nor do I necessarily think it’s a good idea to actually lecture to them about it. But this kind of overarching organisation by tune flavour can give a band an extra element to pick up on (you don’t have to lecture them either), and it does have an effect on the gig.
I just think this kind of approach (whenever you have the time and inspiration to do it) can give extra coherence and interest to gigs – something more than the “we’ve just done a ballad, so let’s do a bossa” approach. Or doing tunes that happen to have “spring” in the title, or something.
But even if you don’t actually programme miniature musical plays like a latterday Hollywood music editor, you should certainly give some thought to the flow over the course of a gig – the changing moods, tempi, keys, time signatures. Of course, you’re also giving deeper structure a chance to happen by accident…
Think about it – you’d give that sort of consideration to an album, so why not a gig?