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I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sat May 26, 2018 8:41 pm
by Kingfan
I'm updating a thread I started on TTF. I play in a big band started over 15 years ago by a WWII vet. He ran the band solo - picked the charts, ran rehearsals, got what few gigs we got. Great guy in a lot of ways but did not listen to others and was stuck in the past. Good subs wouldn't come because of the way rehearsals were run. He became hard of hearing and so I was the conduit from the band to him, as I sat next to him. We needed a PA system, so I bought one out of my own pocket. He promised three years in a row that this was his last year leading the band, and the members hung on hoping things would change once he left. He finally gave it up last fall and sold it to me! I had two quarters as a classical performance major back in the 70s, no music education since, never ran a duet let alone 18 piece big band.

My wife, who was against it at first, decided to go with it and helped me organize the books. What a mess! Over 60 chats were missing at least one part, some three or more. One of the other tbone players offered to be a co-owner and manage getting people to rehearsals and getting subs when needed, the job I hated, so I jumped on his offer. Now he runs the band, really. I was working on getting an occasional gig at a local restaurant/bar, but he got us every other month gigs at a lounge/music club that has big bands at least twice a week. He recruited a killer female vocalist. Our drummer couldn't keep tempo, I was trying to get him to work on that but the other guy brought in a really good drummer, former pro. The other drummer got forced out. Our bass player just said he can't keep up with all the new music and doing a new set list every other month so he resigned. There is talk of finding another bari player as the one we have isn't keeping up.

So, on one hand, this band is finally playing up to its potential and moving ahead much faster than I thought, is no longer primarily a 40s cover band and is now doing more modern and challenging stuff, and has bi-montly gigs (we get paid in free drinks and food discounts) instead of two a year, and subs are lining up to join. On the other hand, two of my friends left because the couldn't keep up, and it is no longer "my" band. I am spending hours some days on band business and it is a lot of work. I am trying to run rehearsals with no experience - we have a sub who runs the jazz bands at two local colleges, and that is intimidating as hell for me! I fear that they will be looking for a new lead trombone player replacing me someday!

Thanks for letting me vent.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 2:45 am
by Bach5G
Sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 5:18 am
by Geordie
I followed this on TTF. Whatever happens it’s sounds as if the band is in a better place than it was and in less danger of fading away. Well done sir!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 8:53 am
by boneagain
Are you running the rehearsals?

Are you projecting competition from the college director? If so, consider the possibility that SOMEtimes a band director LIKES to take a break from having to put in so much effort to hear ALL that is going on, in ADDITION to playing his/her own part. As long as you keep rehearsals interesting and productive (i.e., did everyone have SOMEthing interesting to play? did charts sound better after rehearsing than before? did you not waste too much time letting the sax section get tricky bits under their fingers? did you spend ENOUGH time letting the sax section get tricky bits under their fingers? etc.) your energy is better spent welcoming whatever talent comes through the door rather than fearing challenges that likely won't come up.

OTOH, if all you are doing is playing lead, doing the books, and making sure you maintain whatever for-profit or not-for-profit status you band has, and generally not having any fun except when you are playing, perhaps it is time to sell it along.

BTW: good idea to vent here and not in the band!!!!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 11:38 am
by Kingfan
boneagain wrote:
Sun May 27, 2018 8:53 am
Are you running the rehearsals?

Are you projecting competition from the college director? If so, consider the possibility that SOMEtimes a band director LIKES to take a break from having to put in so much effort to hear ALL that is going on, in ADDITION to playing his/her own part. As long as you keep rehearsals interesting and productive (i.e., did everyone have SOMEthing interesting to play? did charts sound better after rehearsing than before? did you not waste too much time letting the sax section get tricky bits under their fingers? did you spend ENOUGH time letting the sax section get tricky bits under their fingers? etc.) your energy is better spent welcoming whatever talent comes through the door rather than fearing challenges that likely won't come up.

OTOH, if all you are doing is playing lead, doing the books, and making sure you maintain whatever for-profit or not-for-profit status you band has, and generally not having any fun except when you are playing, perhaps it is time to sell it along.

BTW: good idea to vent here and not in the band!!!!
No, not projecting competition from the band director, more wondering how much of an incompetant idiot he thinks I am. I talked to him afte the last rehearsal and told him to feel free to give constructive criticism to me and/or the band at any time.

Balancing rehearsals sometimes is like trying to herd cats. It is a balancing act between not putting a damper on the better players and throwing too much at others without as much skill. In our dress rehearsal last week, where everybody knew we were going to blow through 20 charts, some members wanted to go back and woodshed this or that section. Others were coming up with changes on the fly - "how about we make the repeat a coda" "instead of the alto, trumpet, and bass each doing 16 bar solos, why can't we work out four bars each" - at dress rehearsal.

Yes, that is what my wife and I have talked about multiple times lately. I could sell my part and step back, just be somebody who manages the folders and counts off in rehearsals but isn't an owner/manager. I love playing bass tbone, and sometimes wish our current bass bone would retire so I could move to that lower stress part. On the other hand, it is an ego boost to have my name on the band business card and be lead bone in an up and coming band.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 1:33 pm
by boneagain
Sounds like you are doing a nice job of herding the cats :)

Many want their names on the card, but few are willing to herd the cats.

Or even solicity constructive criticism.

Doesn't sound like time to sell it along just yet!

Bass bone player lead the whole Basie band for a good while. There IS life beyond the lead trombone chair!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 1:49 pm
by AndrewMeronek
I play in a big band (Rhythm Society Orchestra) that has become a pretty solid staple of the Detroit area swing scene, and the band has people in it from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some players are stronger than others, but as long as everyone plays what they need to and aren't adverse to giving up parts to someone else that they can't play, things work just fine. Not everyone has to be a ridiculous player. While most people get the occasional challenging part or solo, we split up the vast majority of solo work to 3 players: lead alto/clarinet, lead tenor, and 2nd trumpet.

As far as the music itself goes, first I have to say that I am a big fan of really modern, cutting-edge stuff. Maria Schneider, Bob Florence, Bill Holman, James Darcy Argue - there is a long list of big band music that I just love that has been written in the last 30 years. But, don't discount some of the swing era stuff. A lot of it was schlock, which is perfectly fine, and some of it remains very challenging. Check out some of the musicians' bands from the period, especially Jimmy Lunceford and Artie Shaw. Those two bands could play some pretty tough stuff when they want to stretch their musical muscles. And, of course, it's still true today that a true test of a big band's mettle is whether or not they can play Fletcher Henderson's King Porter Stomp at tempo.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 4:21 pm
by Kingfan
Thanks! The band as a whole has little interest in playing the old stock arrangements, top line bottom line... Our gig Wednesday we are playing Artie Shaw's arrangement of Begin The Beguine, an arrangement of Birdland, a few Sinatra charts, Skylark tenor solo, Makin Whoopee bass trombone solo, Cherry Pink trumpet solo, This Masquerade with all the trumpets on flugel for part of the tune, Killer Joe, Mack The Knife vocal, At Last vocal... We have a lot of Nestico and Wolpe arrangements, and a few Holman I can think of. We like Ellington and Basie. We have a few Maynard charts, told the trumpets if they want to give them a try we'll back them up. In case anybody really gets cocky, I have two Don Ellis charts!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 4:25 pm
by BGuttman
If you want to humble your lead trumpet, pull up MacArthur Park (Maynard arrangement). I've never seen something go so high.

I inherited the Makin' Whooppee solo from the bass trombone before me. He used to play it on a sousaphone. My alternate likes to play it on a Mirafone Contra. The band likes it best when I play it on my bass trombone.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 5:22 pm
by AndrewMeronek
It's probably more appropriate to start a separate thread on sharing which of the swing-era tunes are fun to play and to listen to, but here's a kind suggestion from Artie Shaw's book:



The musician in me suggests it's too bad that Artie Shaw got burned out on music and left it to become a writer. The dude was a ridiculous clarinetist with a great band. But, we all have to forge our own paths in our lives.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 5:47 pm
by StevenC
AndrewMeronek wrote:
Sun May 27, 2018 5:22 pm
The musician in me suggests it's too bad that Artie Shaw got burned out on music and left it to become a writer. The dude was a ridiculous clarinetist with a great band. But, we all have to forge our own paths in our lives.
He really was not cut out to be a pop star. I listen to Gramercy five recordings and other less poppish stuff, and think about what might have been.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 8:06 pm
by Kingfan
BGuttman wrote:
Sun May 27, 2018 4:25 pm
If you want to humble your lead trumpet, pull up MacArthur Park (Maynard arrangement). I've never seen something go so high.

I inherited the Makin' Whooppee solo from the bass trombone before me. He used to play it on a sousaphone. My alternate likes to play it on a Mirafone Contra. The band likes it best when I play it on my bass trombone.
We have MacArthur Park, Hey Jude, and County Road. Also have a Tito Puente chart that gives them plenty to do. I wish our bass tbone player hadn't modified his Holton TR180 by wrapping copper wire around the slide tubes and much of the bell section tubing. He says it focuses the sound. I have the exact same horn and I think it deadens it.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu May 31, 2018 9:12 pm
by Kingfan
OK, first gig is under our belt. for a sample. Me, I'm the bone on the left next to the drummer. Yes, I have an earplug in my right ear! The guy who is half owner is next to be on t-bone. We confirmed two more gigs and have an open invitation to come every other month.

I thought I would feel elated, but I'm just glad it is over. Now, I have to 20 pieces of music back in 16 books, finalize the rehearsal list for Monday, and figure out how to take the audio I had my brother record on a Tascam digital unit into something I can send out to the band. I was hesitant to post the video, I'm my own worst critic, but figured what the heck.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2018 5:44 pm
by Mikebmiller
Hey man, it sounds good! Bands like that are just for fun and the love of the music. Nobody is ever going to make any money off of running or playing in one. I have played in a community big band for 20 years. I am one of 3 original members still hanging around. We have gotten to be a pretty darn good band lately, with 5-6 real pro level players and 3 really good singers, but I can remember when we weren't too good, but still had a lot of fun. Keep it up and you will have a blast!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2018 9:15 pm
by Kingfan
Thanks, Mike!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:53 am
by tctb
Try and remember why you play the trombone . It's supposed to be fun! As long as you are having a good time at your gigs why would you want to give it up. As someone else said , nobody else will be keen to take over herding the cats!
It takes a special sort of person to lead a band and it sounds like you are doing a good job.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:11 am
by Kingfan
I play trombone because it really attracts girls! Yeah, right.... I played for the last 40 years because I had a highly technical job and it was theraputic to live in another world for a few hours a week. Now that I'm retired, that need is not there. I do like the social aspect of it, kind of like being on an amateur sports team.

I hate to admit it, but I go months at a time without practicing outside of rehearsal. My high school trombone teacher (who encouraged me and had faith in me as a trombone player) was a new member of the Cleveland Orchestra and was principal trombone when he retired, so I have a strong background. I've been coasting on it for 40 years, though. I have to go one of two ways - get serious about practicing and learning how to ad lib solo, or keep coasting.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:32 am
by ghmerrill
Kingfan wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:11 am
I played for the last 40 years because I had a highly technical job and it was theraputic to live in another world for a few hours a week. Now that I'm retired, that need is not there.
I never thought that playing in community bands "relieved stress", although I'm sure it did. I just liked doing it. But it (and practicing/performing music in general) does provide an environment in which, for given periods of time, you just can't think about, or be distracted by, ANYTHING else. This is very beneficial.

Now that I'm retired, I value it even more. It provides focus and goals (which for a "technical" person is absolutely essential in some way). It's actually quite decent exercise. It's challenging (and I'm a challenge freak), and it's fun. My other similar activity lately is blackpowder muzzleloading rifle (target) shooting -- in which I am currently dreadful beyond 50 yds., but that provides a great opportunity for tinkering with (18th-19th century) technology, ballistics, and various athletic issues. I'm approaching being an "adequate" community band bass trombonist. Another six months or so should get me solidly to that level. :? The competitive muzzle loader thing appears as though it will take longer. :( But it's the journey more than the destination.
I do like the social aspect of it, kind of like being on an amateur sports team.
I often find the social aspect somewhat irritating. But it is VERY like being on a sports team. In reality, it IS a kind of sports team.
I have to go one of two ways - get serious about practicing and learning how to ad lib solo, or keep coasting.
You can't keep coasting. You'll find that frustrating and unrewarding -- and ultimately you'll "take a break" and maybe end up abandoning the music. That would probably be a mistake.

I (seriously) have to go now and put a new sight on the Great Plains Rifle. I'm sure that will be the key to success. It's always in the equipment. :roll: That's why I have one of the finest $500 bass trombones around.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sat Jun 02, 2018 7:47 pm
by Kingfan
Thanks, gh! I also tinker with cars (installed entirely new suspension on my Mustang GT along with engine mods, etc.) as a hobby. I have to disagree about the coasting. It worked for 40 years. As long as I'm not holding the band back, why not coast? I do admit that I would move to bass tbone in a heartbeat if the current guy left the band and they could find a better lead bone. Not that bass isn't challenging, but to me playing lead is challenginger. Is challenginger a word? :-)

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:01 am
by tctb
To quote a well known song " You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone !"

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:28 pm
by Kingfan
OK, I was really ready to turn it over to the other guy at rehearsal last night. I had e-mailed him asking him to pick the charts and run the rehearsal but he didn't read it, so it was on me. I guess because I didn't care anymore I took more responsiblity for the rehearsal and took less crap from the members, and I ended up having a really good rehearsal.

The lead trumpet player who I respect immensely (I wonder sometimes why he stoops low enough to play with our band) said I played the solo in April in Paris really well and lead a good rehearsal. Our male vocalist said I was spoiling him with all the equipment I brought and he really appreciated it. The drummer (a former pro) and I had a chat after and I mentioned a bit of my concerns. He said he knew how much work it was to choose and pull charts, count them off, keep track of the books, listen to multiple opposing opinions and keep everybody happy, and oh yeah play my part well so no wonder I felt burned out. I called one of our internet challenged members this afternoon to check if he was a go for an upcoming gig and he said I and the other co-owner were doing a great job.

It looks like I'm sticking with it!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:48 pm
by Mikebmiller
Don't be afraid to ask people to help out with some of the various tasks of running the band. One guy can't do it all.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 9:45 pm
by Kingfan
Mikebmiller wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:48 pm
Don't be afraid to ask people to help out with some of the various tasks of running the band. One guy can't do it all.
The co-owner makes sure we have everybody at rehearsals and gigs, and arranges for subs when needed. That is a big job I am super glad I don't have to do. Our lead trumpet player often brings a digital recorder to rehearsals and will send out clips and/or give constructive criticism on each chart. I bring the music and PA equipment, but band members set up and tear down the chairs and tables we need. They also help me haul my stuff in and out. Members have bought new charts out of their own pockets and donated them, and one of our trumpet players has software that allows him to transpose parts if needed. Still, I spent almost three hours Monday taking 20 charts out of 16 gig books and putting them back in the main books. Another hour today making calls, digging up a Youtube video of a new chart and sending it out to the band, and trying to get a vocal chart in a lower key.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:21 am
by afugate
Mikebmiller wrote:
Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:48 pm
Don't be afraid to ask people to help out with some of the various tasks of running the band. One guy can't do it all.
I'm with Mike on this. I'm in one big band that includes several band directors. Different people rehearse different tunes. I think it's healthy to hear others approach to tunes.

--Andy in OKC

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:09 am
by Mikebmiller
In our band, the actual music director doesn't do anything except run rehearsals (and take all the solos). Another guy does all the scheduling and coordination for concerts and gigs. Another guy runs the library. I do most of the publicity.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2018 9:37 am
by Kingfan
Thanks, group! I just sent the bass player, a semi-pro, a part he wanted to practice. He responded, thanking me for it, and added that I was doing a great job leading and organizing. Maybe part of my feeling overwhelmed is my own self doubts. I am my own worst critic. I took over when I had a full time job, now that I'm retired I can focus on the band exclusively, which sure helps.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:52 pm
by Bach5G
Our leader, who started the band 7 years ago, just announced he is moving to another country. Leaves a bunch of interesting questions, like, the band’s bank account, ownership of the charts. I assume the $ and at least some of cost of the charts came from gigs for which no one was ever paid.

1/3 of the band would like to carry on. The rest have not yet been heard from.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:39 pm
by Kingfan
Bach5G wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:52 pm
Our leader, who started the band 7 years ago, just announced he is moving to another country. Leaves a bunch of interesting questions, like, the band’s bank account, ownership of the charts. I assume the $ and at least some of cost of the charts came from gigs for which no one was ever paid.

1/3 of the band would like to carry on. The rest have not yet been heard from.

Our band's finances were a mystery to all but the leader/owner. I know he paid for most new charts out of his own pocket. He tried to sell the book, stands, name, and some equipment (ancient keyboard amp, three cheap mikes, two mike stands) to me for way too much - he donated all the originals to a local school for a charitable deduction and was selling only the copies! The price came way down, and I bought it with a partner. We do have some members buy new charts or donate their own to help update the book - they are all now agreed to be the band's property. On the other hand, I have members telling me we need to buy this or that chart with no suggestion how to pay for it since we rarely have a paid gig. We have a paid gig in August and some band members want to get paid, others may want the money to go to new charts. I'll have to get that straightened out before the gig for sure!

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 4:25 pm
by Bach5G
We are making some progress in moving the band forward. There are 4 of us who have taken the lead. Two will take turns conducting, we’ve secured our rehearsal space for a year, and we have free use of the book until Christmas. There’s money in a band account and we’re looking at two or three gigs next fall. We may have to replace several sax players (ages 80 and 86) who are thinking of retiring.

The music is likely to be an issue. At $50 per chart (originals, not copies), it adds up. Fortunately, we can kick that issue down the road.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:41 pm
by Kingfan
Bach5G wrote:
Wed Jul 11, 2018 4:25 pm
We are making some progress in moving the band forward. There are 4 of us who have taken the lead. Two will take turns conducting, we’ve secured our rehearsal space for a year, and we have free use of the book until Christmas. There’s money in a band account and we’re looking at two or three gigs next fall. We may have to replace several sax players (ages 80 and 86) who are thinking of retiring.

The music is likely to be an issue. At $50 per chart (originals, not copies), it adds up. Fortunately, we can kick that issue down the road.
Lots of work having so much fun, right?

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:49 am
by BGuttman
One way around the high cost of charts is to "roll your own". I've played in a bunch of bands where they have home-grown charts of standards that are really pretty awful but they seem to sound OK to the audience. This is especially true for the bands playing for Senior Center dancers.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 7:39 am
by Kingfan
There are a series of books of big band standards. "Authentic Sounds of the Big Band Era" has 16 old warhorses and you could probably get a complete set for about $160 to $180, a bit over ten bucks a chart. "Exciting Sounds of the Big Band Era" has 15 charts. Alfred Publishing puts them out.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:53 am
by JohnL
BGuttman wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:49 am
One way around the high cost of charts is to "roll your own". I've played in a bunch of bands where they have home-grown charts of standards...
That doesn't get you around copyright issues, though.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 11:43 am
by BGuttman
JohnL wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:53 am
BGuttman wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:49 am
One way around the high cost of charts is to "roll your own". I've played in a bunch of bands where they have home-grown charts of standards...
That doesn't get you around copyright issues, though.
It gets you around the arranger copyright issues. It doesn't help you with song copyright issues.

Still, I know a lot of bands who did it.

Some started from "Stocks" and arranged from there.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 12:33 pm
by JohnL
BGuttman wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 11:43 am
Some started from "Stocks" and arranged from there.
Yeah, that's probably a fine line. If you start with a standard 4-2-2 + rhythm stock and add a few parts, does that count as a new arrangement (and thus in need of fresh permission from the copyright holder for the tune)? I wouldn't think so, but if someone decided to make an issue of it, it'd be a real pain even if you won out in the end.

Re: I took over a big band and I am officially insane!

Posted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:26 pm
by Bach5G
We’re not going to trade copies of our music for copies of other band’s tunes. Partly out of respect for copyright, partly out of not wanting to play the same music as everybody else.

I’ve got some stuff that falls into some grey areas: a Zappa arr’t that I bought but which I’m sure didn’t have the consent of the Zappa foundation; a couple of SD arr’ts that Fred Sturm gave me; a couple of arr’ts from B Cunliffe that I kept after a big band camp; a D Ellis arr’t that I’ll have to re-arrange (take out the section that says “Freak Out!”), a couple of free but probably illegal charts off the net (eg Maynard’s Chameleon).

I’m not averse to spending a little dough on this. I’ve got an eye on a couple of less expensive M Schneider charts. There’s a Mintzer chart I’ve always wanted to play. Any arr’ts of Sting tunes out there?