I distinctly remember my first real paying gig. It was at the Officers Club at the Rock Island Arsenal base and I was in high school. Fortunate for me I was a better player than anyone else on the job. It was a New Year’s Eve dance and the book (music) was easy although hard to read from all the spilled beer and cross outs on the one-hundred year old manuscript. But enough about my first time, let’s see if we can give you some help on what your first time might be like.
Gigs or jobs are terms that describe what you will be doing and both terms are recognized by all musicians and are interchangeable. Be careful when using these terms for if you are new to the business and start throwing the terms around to seasoned musicians, they will think you’re a new musician trying to impress people.
Rule #1. Don’t be a “Hot Shot”
As a new member of this group, always keep a low profile until they get to know you. Trust me on this one. A new kid on the block, trying to impress an older player will only make it more difficult for you to gain respect. Older players, when confronted by what they consider a “hot shot” have diabolical ways to put you in your place. One very quick way to teach humility is to give the “new kid” the lead part on a hard chart. If you are capable of pulling it off, you are set. If you crash and burn, you wouldn’t be invited back.
Rule #2. Find out if the job is a “reading or head chart” gig.
Definition of Reading Job- Combos and big bands can be reading situations but most often you will find big bands reading and combos using head charts. If you have been asked to play with a reading band, there are a couple of things you should know ahead of time.
• A reading band will expect you to be able to read and perform in the traditional jazz notation. To prepare for this you should have experience on phrasing, articulation, dynamics as well as basic ensemble playing. Jazz notation is much different than classical notation and interpretation so you need to study and perform in that style otherwise you will be classified as a “Square or Legit player” and that is not good. Just as playing in a jazz style in an orchestra is not good. Learn the difference and you will do well.
• Combo’s many times will not have written arrangements and for you to do well in this setting you will have to learn a ton of what we call “Standards”. These are well known tunes which every playing musician should be able to play in any key. The best way to build your head chart library would be to purchase one of the definitive collections of standards usually referred to as a “REAL BOOK”. It is best to memorize them but as a starter you could take your Real book to the job to make sure you can play with the other musicians. I played a job about a month ago and one of the best musicians in Branson brought his and I was very surprised that he needed one, but I was impressed that he was concerned enough to bring his book with him. Get a Real Book, learn it and keep learning more tunes every week. I Tunes is a great place to “Sit IN” on some of these numbers.
Rule #3. Make sure you know the following information about the gig-
• Where is it?
• When is it?
• What should you wear?
• Do you need mutes?
• How much does it pay?
Rule #4. Find out what instruments will be playing.
This might not mean much to you right now, but you should find this out for it will tell a lot about the group. Instruments are most often listed in this order- Trumpet, sax, trombone, piano, bass and drums.
The more horns on the job, the easier it will be for you for each player will share the load for the evening. If on the other hand, you are the only horn, you will be playing a lot which means you will have to be in good shape endurance wise. Most often in a combo using charts, the range is reasonable and as more horns are added, the range goes up a little but the amount of resting increases. In my way of thinking the hardest jobs are where you are the only horn. But on the positive side, if it is a head chart band, you can play in any range you want.
If you are the only horn in the group, the usual structure of the songs is this-
Rhythm section introduction (most often 4 measures long), the horn plays the first time through the song followed by the piano. After that it is a matter of switching back and forth between the horn and the piano (usually the horn would play the first sixteen measures and the piano would come in on the bridge followed by the last eight measures by the horn). This is only one version but holds true for most combos. The horn most often plays the last time to close.
If the ensemble is a medium size (six to ten players) it could be a reading group or a head chart group. Anything over that number will be a reading ensemble. Playing with a reading band has its own situations.
Rule #5. How to prepare for performing in a reading big band.
• Get there early (usually 30 minutes for the first time with a new group). Trust me, as a leader of both combos and big bands, the leader will be impressed that you are there early for your first job.
• Find out which chair ( book) he/she wants you to play.
• If you are to use mutes, this would be a good time to set them by your chair. While you’re in your chair, open your book and if it is a large library, split the book in half with the first half on the left and the second half on the right. The reason for this is you will be able to find your arrangements much faster.
• Charts are usually numbered consecutively so start on the lowest number and check to see that the tunes are in order. If the last person did not replace the arrangements in consecutive order, it will be you who will struggle through the whole evening. “MAKE SURE THE TUNES ARE IN ORDER”.
• On your first gig with the band, do a lot of listening. You are there to learn from them and they usually are not interested in learning from you.
• During the job, the lead player (assuming you are not playing lead, and we can safely assume that) will ask you if you would like to play lead or take a solo. If it is a good lead player, he/she will make sure that the part is not too difficult for you. If he/she picks a very difficult chart for you to play lead on, your days may be numbered in that band.
• If you are offered a solo or you are playing the solo chair, keep your melodic playing close to the original melody. Playing too far out (away from the melody) is great on a true jazz job but for dances, the audience wants to be able to hear the melody.
• When the band takes its breaks, stay close to the lead trumpet and ask him/ her many questions about their playing style, background, teachers, etc. Lead players love to talk about themselves and you can learn a lot about the business.
• After the gig is over, ask the leader if you can help tear down the band. He will appreciate the offer and this will also get you close to him/her to make sure you get paid for the job.
We are running out of space and time for more information on this topic but I think we have covered the basics of what to expect on your first gig. Remember that there are good bands and bad bands, but as long as you get paid, they are all the same.