So when I tell someone that I play music every week at the black Dog café, I usually get asked “ so who’s in your band?’ I stumble with my words. It’s more, much more complicated. “ Which band?” I am tempted to say.. but that doesn’t get to the heart of it. “ well, I am a jazz player, so I have a lot of friends.” But that really got me thinking.
Perhaps musical relationships can be arranged by genre. My cellist friend Aaron Kerr said that “Rock musicians are more like classical musicians than jazz players”. It made a lot of sense. Perhaps rock & classical musicians are tribal in nature ( a strong small group identity), where jazz musicians are more musically promiscuous. ( Please re-read these statements carefully, and know that I am NOT making a value statement!)
So there are two kinds of musical organizations, Rock/Classical/ Tribal, and Jazz ?
I kept thinking, and realized my reasoning was completely flawed.
Sun Ra’s Arkestra was a tribe in the most extreme case. They lived together, in monetary poverty, but shared the time under the Ra to develop the most incredible group sound.
Do you remember your first band?
The intense feelings of loyalty, oneness of purpose, even if you were playing only cover tunes poorly. It has the intensity of first romances. Extreme highs, desperate lows. A sharing of vulnerability, mutual support, rapture of music, the secret jokes, handshakes, stories, beverage and other sharings, shared pleasure, with a lot of pain. “ I pledge allegiance to my band”.
Most first bands, like most first romances, do not last.
I asked a few musicians last evening, after my early gig with James. “ tell me about your first band”… Brad said “ well, after the Army band, ( where I played low brass, to keep out of Vietnam) I had a rock band in Eau Claire. Played guitar, mostly covers. A woman lead singer who wanted to sing like Janice Joplin, but her father made her quit. Then I spent the year on the road with a show band, during the disco era . I used to take wild trombone solos over ‘Color my world’ where I used very inventive chord substitutions. The band leader hated it”
Donald laughed. “ yeah, my first band, I played clarinet in a rock & roll band, down in Birmingham. Called ourselves Algae and the Croquettes. They went to the first gig without me.”
So what about your first band? Perhaps we all want to be in a tribe, have the secret handshake, a simple way of viewing the world: “ Us versus them… the other bands, the club owners( who mostly were jerks) the arrogance of how great you were, (even though only 3 people heard the 7 minute solo you just took using the new wah wah pedal hooked up to your cheap wurlitzer electric piano) There is a kind of unity which is rarely seen.
So how do bands break up? You are never paid enough. But that’s not usually it. Romance? Probably less than you think. Usually it is artistic differences, and/or how the decisions are made.
Some of these break ups drive people from playing music ever again.
Most of us continue, hopefully wiser, realizing that there are thousands of great bass players who might understand your tunes, and drummers that have a wider sense of dynamics and time, guitar players that can actually read, saxophone players that play in tune, and who love melody. You find that there are many possible combinations of good friends. That is truly great.
On the far extreme of the “ Tribalism “ of first bands, are the jobbers, the cats that can actually make some money. They play with anyone, but seem to avoid commitments to “ a band”. You can get a lot of work this way, and are not pinned down. I have heard that it is lonely.
Maybe we all want to have “ our first band “ again. Personally, I don’t have the time for it now. Living in 21st century America, as an educator/parent/husband/buddhist, I am so lucky that I can have a time to develop my musical ideas in a weekly context. One group would not cover it all.
If I had “ a band”, just one band, it would be called “ The rhumba butts”. I would play piano, but perhaps Paul or John would play Hammond B-3 .( They doesn’t have a B-3, but he would be good at it).
There would be one trap set drummer,( Peter) and timbales ( Eric, Tim), Congas/ etc, with bassist like Andrew or Brian who could be either acoustic or electric, Bass trombone ( like Kevin) tenor trombone, Baritone, tenor/soprano sax ( like Nathan, Donald, David, and a whole bunch of other dudes), an alto player ( Pat) trumpet. Then there would be some singers. A lead female, like Kim, and a lead male. They could play percussion, too. Better have 3 singers. I suppose that there could be a guitar player, or two. Like James, Bob,or Aybars. Wow, what about a string section? Like Har, Gary, on violin, Aaron & Cory on cello. And. On vibes/ marimba, Will or Chris.
Okay, can you imagine paying this group, or clearing time to rehearse? Or the size of the stage?
This is why I play with many, many trios.
Tell me about your first band!