Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Old Jazz Cats Trying to Get a Gig

Rehearsing With Hope
Awhile back I started rehearsing with a trio of old friends and new friends (a couple of the bass players I met for the first time).  I started off way back in the seventies as a blues piano player but one night while drinking at a bar where I knew the band's leader, he came up to me, I was already three sheets to the wind and heading fastly into the fourth, and asked me if I could sing.  My rather bibulous reply was, "No, but if I could sing, I could sing better than your singer."  Immediately, this cat pulled me up off the bar stool and dragged me up on stage, put a mic in my hands, and said, "Sing."  And I sang.  I don't recall what I sang but whatever it was, a blues I'm sure, it went over big enough that I got a roaring and impressive round of applause from the bar's music patrons.  From that day on I became a singer.

In the first bands I was in here in New York City, I still played the piano, but from that time on I also sang.  I played and sang with a series of downtown Manhattan cult bands, bands that covered everything from the blues, r and b, rock 'n roll, to original tunes by some of the most talented bunch of musicians I would never have met had it not been for that night in that bar when I was hit on to sing.

I worked as a singer/pianist (and later as a harmonica player) in the New York City area pretty steadily during the late seventies all the way up into the early 2000s when suddenly most blues and jazz venues were closed down for good or at least closed to my kind of what had then become to younger musicians old fogie music.

My last steady gig went south around 2004 and from then on if I worked I would guest with bands I knew doing a couple of tunes and getting paid in camaraderie, free beers, and occasionally free meals.

I haven't done any steady gigging for quite a while now though I'm still working on my music, keeping my chops up on the piano and harmonica and trying to learn to play the guitar.  I also produce my own CDs in my own recording studio, CDs covering a gamut of venues from blues on up to my more serious and elaborate compositions.

More than a year ago, a drummer friend of mine called me and said he and a bass player and pianist had started rehearsing once a week at the Local 802 Union Hall and he invited me to drop in if I felt like it and sing a few with them. That initial drop in soon had me invited as a regular member of this rehearsal group, as their vocalist.

Things evolved so well, that after one rehearsal while the leader, the piano player, and I were sipping cold pints of Bass ale at Hurley's Bar, it was decided that we'd try to book some gigs.

Previous to these rehearsals, I had been pretty cynical about the jazz situation here in New York City.  I had commented on how what few jazz venues were still around had been captured by a few old has-beens who were still humping the system by depending on their past associations with jazz superstars to get gigs, even though those associations were of perhaps a one-gig moment or as a back-up musician on one album.

Well, anyway, here we are a bunch of old cats from the old school deciding we can't give up.  We gotta forge on no matter the odds against us.  We're all of us still powerful executioners of several aspects (genres) of jazz.  We rehearsed an all-Horace Silver show the other day and were surprised at how many Silver tunes we knew.  And, though you don't usually think of Horace in terms of vocals, he recorded quite a few albums with vocalists Andy Bey and Oscar Brown, Jr., for instance.

So one fine afternoon a month or so back, the drummer and leader of this rehearsal group went out looking for gigs.  He came back depressed.  Even though the jazz magazines still being published around New York City, and there are quite a few, list club after club still catering to the jazz crowd, his experience found that these clubs were first of all not paying anything and second of all the better ones, the more established ones, wanted groups or individuals who were being recorded or had signed on with record labels and had CDs released.  That stipulation left us out in the cold.

As a result of NO GIGS (how can old cats like us compete with a beautiful young Asian pianist? or a young man who has just graduated with honors from a college music program?), our rehearsals went the way of all flesh and our little group broke up.

The drummer got into flamenco and he works now with a flamenco pianist from Spain, a flamenco singer, a flamenco dancer, and a bass player friend at a small Spanish bar down in the East Village.

The piano player has become a church organist at an Episcopal church in New Jersey.

And I?  I have become a writer currently editing a novel I recently finished.  I stay at home (I can't afford to go out...except I do have a friend who works for Jazz at Lincoln Center that treats me to a jazz concert occasionally), I read a lot, and I collect CDs of those jazz albums I once owned back when I was young and open minded and able to get a gig every now and then.  I also have put together quite a collection of Lester Young 78s, photos, and posters.  I still listen to 78s trying to convince myself that they are as close to the performer as I'll ever get, though some of the players I have on 78s, like Lester, moved on into the LP years and recorded on EPs and LPs, though I still nostalgically hold that their sounds on 78s are still just a step away from them blowing directly into the microphone while the master waxes are having their grooves cut as they are playing.  Maybe the young cats are right.  I'm just an old fogie on my way to the jazz and blues boneyard.  Still, I miss the stages and atmospheres of the bars and joints and dives in which I used gain wonderful applause and loving kudos.

Recent CDs I've bought that I find worthy of multitudes of listens are:
Grant Green's amazing Idle Moments Lp from the 1960s (a truly finely done jazz classical performance); Jimmy Rushing singing so fine with of all people Dave Brubeck and the Quartet (Desmond, Gene Wright, Joe Morello), a recording from 1960; and coming closer to now, Bill Charlap (with Kenny and Peter Washington) playing the music of Leonard Bernstein (I love Lennie's tune "Ohio" done masterfully by Mr. Charlap).

An Old Jazz Cat Who Still Remembers When Louie, Bird, Klook, Budo, J.J., Fats (Navarro), Rich, Diz, Miles, Blue, Mingus, et. al., were still alive and innovating.
My last paid gig...I'm the vocalist: