Saturday, May 18, 2013

Practice Makes Worse

In being a sideman with bands, I've noticed that practices are the biggest waste of time next to transporting to the gig and setting up and taking down.

Practice sessions involve the same time commitment for everyone in the band, but the preparations for that practice are vastly different. Everybody brings a different understanding.

Some people in the band may have played the same three or four chords their whole life, and that covers most of what the band does. For them, a lot of practice can be eliminated by using the Nashville Number system. Whoever knows the song communicates it to the rest of the band and very little rehearsal would be necessary.

Some people in the band might listen to the originals of cover tunes as preparation to practice.  You can learn a lot by listening, but it often leads to unnecessary discussion, when different members hear a song a different way, or want to emphasize one aspect over the other. The band that wants to develop their own interpretation needs a leader who is also an arranger or has the financial resources to put the desired arrangement into a form acceptable to the musicians. Otherwise this is what most of the practice time will be devoted to. The net result might be a good level of precision, but one that could be just as easily achieved in less time with arrangements.

In the case of blues, r&b, rock or other dance music, some of the best players need little or no practice. They really only need to rehearse the beginnings, endings, and stop times or other aural tricks in the song.

It might surprise someone to hear that a fun practice is a bad practice. Doing it for fun is the reason most musicians play, especially since live music gigs have gotten scarce. I submit that practice makes worse.
One typical situation is playing a song all the way through. Most of the time, a singer wants to do this. Hey, who wouldn't? You're singing, and you've got a live band behind you. It may not be as good as karaoke, but that band is also your built-in audience.

Typically, that leads to playing the song again, usually because the guitar player has been adjusting their volume during the first time through, and one more time, they might think they can get it right.
At this point, there might be a group effort to get the sound right, maybe by playing the song again, or moving onto another song. What might enter in, is the sound reinforcement aspect. Amplified music has made things so complicated that most hobby players will waste more time and money on gear than will ever be compensated by improved performance.

Alongside the issue of what amounts to wasting time on a "gig scrimmage" is, the players may be friends and actually have no objection to coming up with a new take on an old chestnut. Music does bring people together; there's no arguing that. Like anything else though, compromise is inevitable. Meshing various skill levels works only for the people on the low end of skills. Like many musicians, I've always treasured being the worst player in the group, it actually means you're going somewhere, getting to play with a higher level of musician than oneself. By the same token, being one of the better players in the group often aggravates bad behavior, either by those who can't cut it, or by the good player themselves who becomes morose or passive aggressive.

Hopefully I've laid out a few simple considerations to show that "practice makes worse." It sounds counter intuitive because people think when they invest time, things get better. Let's say you mow your lawn and all you have to show for it is a bunch of cut grass. Well, you spent the time on it so you think it looks better, right? Just like a haircut, the answer is no. It won't look right for a couple of days. One of the reasons smart bands only rehearse when a gig is a couple days out.

Another consideration I haven't mentioned has evolved in the last 20 years or so. It is the ubiquity of song lyrics easily printable from the internet. This has led to an explosion of people who see these lyric sheets as something to read during a performance, rather than something to memorize. It's easy to understand why superstars do this, they are paid well to not forget lyrics, especially their hits. During the first few rehearsals of a song, any kind of chart (as mentioned above) can ease the need for practice time. When the lyric sheet doesn't go away after a certain amount of practices and/or gigs, the rest of the musicians can sense the singer's lack of commitment. Everyone might react differently. I'm a bass player, and I'm no saint, so I start listening to just myself, and perhaps the drummer if I like what they are doing. The singer's gonna keep on reading their sheet and the guitar or keyboard player's gonna keep on adjusting their volume. That's when it's time to stop practicing and let the gigs be the practice.
Here's a couple of good links:

That's a quote from Jill Jaxx at her site
She also has a video on youtube.

This is a good link describing the need and tactics for memorization:

Monday, February 11, 2013

The little record that could....and did...prove Elvis' appeal

On Sept. 9, 1954, a young rockabilly singer played at the grand opening of a shopping center; he was paid $10 to perform on a flat-bed truck parked in front of the Katz Drug Store. The next day he began a long session of recording at a local studio. He worked for hours on several song covers which were never released.

Finally things fell into place while he and the studio group were covering the 1948 r&b hit "Good Rockin' Tonight." Later that day, or maybe the next day, he recorded a pop tune he had heard in a movie, "I don't care if the sun don't shine."
These two sides became Sun 210, released on Sept. 25, 1954.
That night, Elvis appeared at the Eagle's Nest Club with the Tiny Dixon Band. The single record release, Elvis' second, would not hit big. But artistically, this Sun single represents one of the best performances of Elvis' career.

This is the original Sun 210 single. There's something special about owning it.
As life neatly arranges itself into archives with the help of computers, this unmistakable artifact reminds us of the mechanical and agricultural age when popular music started to rock and roll, as if creating a vulgar secular church.
Condition of the grooves in this Sun rarity is very good, and both sides play through nicely, with all the excitement of early Elvis on wax.
The label has some ring wear but no markings. There's a slight smudge on the author credit of "Good Rockin' Tonight"-- the word "Brown" can be read but not the word "Roy." (Both Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris had previous hits with this song). The artist credit is Elvis Presley Scotty and Bill.
From the earliest days of "big hole" 45 rpms-- innovated by RCA Victor as a game changer in the competition against Columbia (which invented the LP album)-- there were two "flip" sides. More often than not, the record would have a fast song on one side and a slower song on the other. It was also assumed that only one of the songs could be promoted enough to get wide radio airplay.
The term "rhythm and blues" is said to have been concocted because a 45 rpm might have a "rhythm" tune on one side and a "blues" on the other. Often these records contained music that would not be heard on radio. There would have to be strong encouragement to play a song on the radio if the artist was perhaps not caucasian. A few pioneering DJs were up to the task, especially if they had black listeners. The rest of the radio community needed an umbrella concept that was as lily-white as their baby boomer audiences. The concept became known as "rock 'n roll." The packaging of this idea coincided with television stagings such as "American Bandstand" and record promotions such as the ones pioneered by Alan Freed and other DJs. Almost as soon as the term "rock 'n roll" (originally a black coinage) was applied to the music, "rhythm and blues" became "oldies but goodies" or just "oldies." Many rhythm and blues records were exported to England to help create the "British Invasion" sound of the 1960s. British youth did not see the racial baggage in the music that the parents of their American counterparts saw. When Paul McCartney was making girls swoon by imitating LittleRichard, no American artist could pull off the same thing. White American kids needed their black music safe.... Motown and Berry Gordy accommodated this need.
Elvis Presley was not only a caucasian, he was an equal opportunity offender. He appropriated music from the rural country and from race "rhythm and blues" artists and became one of the top pop artists of all time. He was one of the "white boys" who could carry "rhythm and blues" into the white community under the moniker of "rock 'n roll." His touring throughout the South in the mid-1950s also helped pioneer the development of rockabilly music, which reached popularity later with artists such as Buddy Holly.
The example of Sun 210 is historically perfect in showing the "flip side" numerology of the 2 sided 45 rpm. The songs on this record are one side "rhythm (and blues)" and the other side "pop country." Elvis Presley could do genuine versions of each, adding his own touches. The 45 rpm was the perfect medium for him. This was his 2nd 45 rpm record with Sam Phillips for the Sun label.
The round punch marks on the label, for juke boxes, are present in this Sun 210, distinguishing it as an original. Trail-off numbers in the deadwax are U-130-45-72. The record is in a plain white sleeve. It is worth well over a thousand dollars. It plays well and is in VG condition.
It's February 11 and we're in the middle of back-to-back snowstorms with more coming this weekend.The USPS was closed on Saturday due to the snowstorm "Nemo" so there was much to ship today.

Just a coincidence, but the Hank Ballard single is called "The Switch-A-Roo"---- the Rock-A-Teens single is called "Woo-Hoo"---- and the sheet music sale for today is "Hi-Diddle-Diddle." It's a real day for baby talk!

The vintage Mentor Paperback is called "Man Makes Himself." That little box with the triangle window is a replacement needle for a record player.

This Louis Armstrong album came out while he was still alive but his popularity was dwindling and few people knew he practically created the art of jazz improvisation. Bessie Smith did not live to see her music revived in this Columbia Records box set of 78 rpms from the 1940s.

It was a light day for "print." Life was a weekly magazine and Horizon was a monthly history journal. Hardcover and paperbacks were also among today's sales.

Just a few of the LP albums that shipped today. The four Jimmie Davis LPs you see were from Gov. Davis's own personal collection. He was a teacher and a professional musician and a politician and a songwriter and performer among other things.

The alto tone I dig, the haircut, not so much

I never used to play alto sax much, always trying out mouthpieces and still never getting a decent sound. Then one time I was in Texas, Daddio spotted me his red Runyon plastic alto mouthpiece, in trade for some tenor mouthpiece he had his eye on. Up in Newington NH, my favorite drummer Bat Kaddy gave me this Yamaha student alto he had in his attic. I messed around with it and actually liked it better than my artist model Yanagisawa (my favorite tenor and soprano are also Yanagisawa). Then I got a chance to used it on this gig with Ray DeMarco in Portsmouth, NH. Ken Ormes had been working on singing "I'm Old Fashioned" and I honestly didn't know the tune but had brought a chord chart with me. Well, so it all worked out and I like the alto tone here, if you ever see me not getting tone this good, please let me know.