Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interesting Concert Venues

Like all professional musicians I have had my share of unusual concert venues. One of the most challenging actually came just as I was transitioning from being a popular musician to being a classical musician. In first year university, before I got the chance to study the classical guitar with a real master, I got asked to play rhythm guitar in a large jazz band. I think there were twenty members in all. We did Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, all the classics. Here is one tune I recall playing, "Straight, No Chaser":

The thing is that I just had no background in this kind of music. I came out of playing in several rock bands. We did the blues, Rolling Stones, a few Beatles tunes, Cream, The Doors, that kind of thing. This is mostly three chord music. But the kind of music the jazz band played was much more harmonically sophisticated. They were desperate for a rhythm guitarist so I got hired on a Wednesday or something, handed a huge book of charts and had to play with them on Saturday with no rehearsal! I still remember the first tune. Well, not what it was, just the chords in the first measure. It started with Eb 13th flat 5th flat 9th. That's an ugly chord! At least if you are used to twelve-bar blues in A. I don't know how I made it through that first night. Mostly I just played the root and fifth of the chord. Thank God there was the occasional simpler tune like "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller:

But one night, and this is why I mention it, my background helped to save the day. In a stunning bit of mis-casting, the band was hired to play a street dance as part of the celebrations connected with a big sailing race. The street dance started around 9 on a Friday night, as I recall, and by 9:15 the entire audience consisted of drunk teenagers! Who did NOT, let me stress, want to hear Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. They wanted to hear rock and pop. So I consulted with the rest of the rhythm section and it turned out we knew some stuff by Chicago, the rock group with a horn section. Some of the brass players knew it too, so we did an off-the-cuff version of this tune, "25 or 6 to 4":

I don't know what we did about the singing, but I do remember taking a big guitar solo. Then we did some blues. After a while, the trombone players, who were seated in front, were afraid to extend their slides from fear of having them snatched away! Yes, the crowd was getting pretty unruly. Myself and the rest of the rhythm section (bass and drums) were able to placate them just enough for the whole band to make our getaway after an hour or so.

So that was one interesting gig. A totally different one took place in the hills south of Florence in Italy. Lovely country with lots of little rolling hills. It seems the south side of each hill is planted with grapes (this is Chianti country) and the north with olive trees. In any case, myself and my touring companion, a flute-player, were asked to play a little concert in a church out in the country. They gave us detailed instructions, but we still kept getting lost. We made the mistake of asking a local for help, but his dialect of Italian was so strange we gave up. Finally the promotors of the event tracked us down. They knew we would get lost so they sent a car to find us. This is sort of what the area looked like:

This church was the most amazing one I have ever seen. When I say "out in the country" I mean in the middle of nowhere. On top of a little hill without even a road to it. The last part you had to walk. It was a tiny stone church, only seating perhaps fifty people. The door was a big thick wooden one that looked really old. When I asked they told me this church dated from the 9th century!! Those ax marks on the door may have been made by the Visigoths. The church had a lovely sound and the audience (full house) seemed to really enjoy the concert. We played music like this:

And this:

Of course, the accompaniment is actually a prelude by Bach that Gounod added a melody to.

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