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Big band

2352 Views 10 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  alleysax
Does anyone know how to go about finding some big bands in my area? Like should I use google or look in the phone? I only know of one Big band in my area it plays at the 5 star hotel which I never got around to asking them if the need a tenor. But any help will be greatly appreciated.
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Most metro areas will have anywhere from five to ten such organizations, each of which will have a different "style". The trick is to find out where they are hiding, as you have already determined.

The classic "big band" (five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, four rhythm, plus any vocalists) may be a school affiliated operation (in which case look to be playing a lot of 40s through today "jazz-oriented" stuff), or it may be a privately operated bunch.

Both versions will work for money if they can get it, but the school ones are more based upon the experience of it all rather than money. Some of the school operations will let you play for free (although you won't get any credit hours if the group is part of a course at said school). And, some of the school operations get pretty far out there as far as experimentation with the "jazz idiom" is concerned. This appeals to some "pure musicians" more than it does to others.

One of the "problems" (if it is one) with a "big band" is that the repertory of most such groups will be focused on one particular era. That is to say that, depending on the person in charge, there may be a concentration on one particular type or style of music. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but it does tend to limit the appeal of the group in the final reckoning.

Looked at from a commercial standpoint, this is a big limitation, as the audience for the classic "big band" era is shrinking year by year. Many such groups play for far less money to entertain such crowds, and they are there more for the joy of playing than for the money. And, many such groups have "expanded" their repetoire into other eras in order to have a wider appeal.

If you are jazz oriented (as your tag line seems to indicate), then one of the school based groups would suit you well. However, keep in mind the instrumentation limitations here. You will far more likely find a seat in one if you play baritone or bass trombone rather than alto or tenor or trumpet. Some have huge rosters, but not all get to play every time.

Once you start talking about any commercial groups, you face a different process. If they perform for money, they will generally rehearse less, gig more, and have a limited call for new people. New people are going to have to measure up to the skill level of the rest of the group, so that may or may not work in your favor. (Doubling clarinet and flute is a big plus here.) And, when they do need someone new, it's usually going to be by referral ("Hey, I know a pretty good trombone player!" said by one of their players) rather than by any other process.

Another factor may be the repetoire that they use. I have had many excellent players show up only to decide that working for me was not what they wanted to do, solely based upon the tunes in the library. If you have a tenor guy who is really wound up in improvisation, he may not want to have to play vocal charts where the singer is the center of attention rather than the sideman. You'll learn as you play more what kind of music you would like, and your preferences may steer you in one direction or another.

No matter what the final solution is, the way to break the ice is to start by making contacts with others of similar interest. If you are a long term resident in the area (and it's hard for me to cypher out just where "UHHHHHH" is located), you have made friends with others in music over the years. These guys will be your best source for referrals.

If you are young, another starting point would be with your teachers at school (who often play on the side as well as teach).

If you get called to sub in a group, make sure that you are up to it technically, but also make sure that you are reliable. And, come prepapred to play whatever is asked of you. With classic "big bands' that may mean showing up with a clarinet or flute as well. Nothing bothers a group leader more than to rely on someone only to find out that they never show when they are expected, or that they can't do what they claimed they could do when it's go time.

Over the past few years, I've dealt with a lot of excellent musicians and vocalists. However, some of the most valued members of the groups with which I've been associated have been better people than they have been musicians. That's because (as people) they are more reliable than musicians who are far better than them in pure technical terms. Guess who gets the call when I need someone almost on a "right now" basis?

Put another way, the world's best tenor player isn't any good to me if s/he can't get to the jobs on time.

And, here's where I put in the pitch for the union. It is true that the union won't get you much work, but it does put you in the directory for your local, and it does put you in touch with other players who will put you in touch with other players and so on. It also will make you more hire-able for certain types of work if you are so inclined. That "hotel job" you referred to might be a union group, and if they are in a non-right to work state, then you would be obligated to join the union anyway.

In a way, it's a lot like making friends. It's not something that you can deal with on a cold and calculating basis. ("I'm going to get her as a girlfriend" seldom works, from what I have seen.) But, if you are around enough others who are sharing similar interests, the relationships will come in time.

When I relocated from the Saint Louis area (actually rural Southern Illinois), I went from a musical life that involved limited commercial work, participation in three local area orchestras and about four theatrical operations (pit orchestras) to an area where I knew no one. The approach that I took was to have one of the organizations with which I played (the Centralia Cultural Society) get me a list of similar community groups in the Greater (ha!) Houston area, then contact them when I got down here.

I started out playing bass clarinet for no less than six different community orchestras (rarer instruments always help here, either that or playing any of the strings), plus working (either gratis or for limited money for local theatrical groups. As time went on, I made a lot of acquaintances (I would hesitate to call them "friends"; for one thing, I usually only saw them through the agency of music), and they in turn would tell someone else: "I know a guy who plays baritone and bass clarinet and clarinet and the other saxes; perhaps you could use him?"

I also joined the two area locals of AFM, 65-699 (the Houston local) and 74 (the now defunct Galveston local). It's not required for most work down here, but it does put you in touch with a lot of other folks.

As in most of life, ability is important, but of more impact on the bottom line is who you know.
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Here's my story in how I got in with some bands:

When I got back into playing sax a few years ago I had taken a tenor I had bought into a local music shop for some minor repairs. The owner of the shop was excited to find out I played tenor and insisted I come and sit in with the bigband he played with. They're second tenor was in Germany on vacation.

I was a bit hesitant but went to a rehearsal anyway. Everyone was low key and very encouraging. It was more like a community band type thing and I found most were doing it for the love of the music.

I sat in on a Wednesday night rehearsal and Friday morning I get a call to play a gig with them that evening. I guess the person they had to sub bailed out at the last minute. I ended up having a good time and it all went well.

I continued to play with that group for 2-3 years and ended up getting invited to play with a few other bands in the area. Like the comment in a previous post, I was not the most talented player but I proved to be reliable and always tried to do as much as I could in the way of setup and take down.

I now have cut back to mainly playing with one 9 piece group that gigs together 1-2 times monthly at a local Inn. I'll still get called to sub with some of the other groups on occasion.

I played a 4 hour gig with this group last night. I always arrive early, help in setting up and make sure our leader is safely packed up before I leave. He's in his mid seventies and I have a lot of respect for him. He's basically become a father figure for me.

This last week he had gone into the hospital with some chest pain and had several tests run. So far things have checked out OK but it's made us realize how quick things can change.

We were talking before the gig and he says, "Glen, should anything happen to me you'll be getting a call and will be the man in charge. You know where to get all the equipment and you can call tunes as well as I can." I was totally taken aback.

I'm nowhere near the player of many in the band but he knows I'll be there and get it done when it counts if needed.

Anyway, just get some feelers out. Check into community bands even if they aren't a jazzband. Be respectful and always do more than your share of work. You'll probably make contacts that may lead you where you'd like to go.

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Sort of the same theme, but check the local community college for jazz ensembles and other bands. I struggled to make contacts for more than a year in a new location without much success. I finally decided to check out a local community college jazz ensemble just to keep my chops up and get out of the house. The director was looking for saxes and invited me down. After the first rehearsal I was invited to join the band and didn't even have to register for the class. I wound up making several valuable contacts through that band, which led to a lot of work.
As I said above, many college level bands will let you play without registering. As the credit from the course is pretty much useless unless you are seeking a music degree, it's just as well that you don't register, thereby avoiding grades, required attendance and all of that.

In all of the time I spent in the college/university environment, I never took a single course. However, I was always part of the school's orchestra and pit orchestra operations, and occasionally was part of the "jazz" band at some of them. People always wondered about that, but I always told them that "Mozart didn't spend a single day going to school for musical purposes, so why should I?"

However, the music with the "big band" groups at colleges and universities is going to tend to the abstract, jazz themed stuff that you may or may not want to be playing. None of the college operations that I have played with over the years were big on the "big band" classics like Goodman, Miller and the like.

Conversely, you are far more likely to find a group that plays the "big band classics" if you look for a community based organization. These are always put together by folks looking more for playing opportunities than they are for playing gigs of any kind.

As for setup and tear-down, any player that helps out is always appreciated. I don't expect any of them to help my band boy (i.e., my wife) and me to do the work, but we are always appreciative when it happens. Some just walk in and play, collect their pay, and leave; others work as hard as we do to get it all cleared out. The first group we understand; the second, we really appreciate.
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Well i can double on instruments basicly any sax and clarinet. I started out playing clarinet and then switched to sax, but the only problem is I can't afford a half decent clarinet. I'm usually always on time for rehearsals or performances. A matter a fact I remember we were holding a competition in the fall and a lot of people didnt sign up to help set up at 8:00 a.m., so granted I didn't sign up but I still showed up at 7:45 a.m. to help when I didnt have to be there until 1:00 p.m. So I think I have the always being on time and help setting up stuff down. The music repertoire wont really matter because I'm willing to play anything cause I love playing just that much. Sense our band director out of a 45 min class basicly teaches the trumpets for 30 mins(not an exaggeration) of the class I would really like to play more too.
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Hotspur said:
Does anyone know how to go about finding some big bands in my area? Like should I use google or look in the phone? I only know of one Big band in my area it plays at the 5 star hotel which I never got around to asking them if the need a tenor. But any help will be greatly appreciated.
Man, I just can't resist going's just too hard...what town is UHHHHHHH close to? Don't know if I spelled that right or not. :shock:

Sorry, I just had to do it!

New Life Sax
I just played a couple gigs in Tyler, TX ... some really nice event center ... great food.
newlifesax said:
Man, I just can't resist going's just too hard...what town is UHHHHHHH close to? Don't know if I spelled that right or not. :shock:

Sorry, I just had to do it!

New Life Sax
I was thinking the same thing. Maybe you should try a post with a title like:

"Looking for Big Bands in XXXXXX"

where XXXXXX is the metropolitan area encompassing "Uhhhhhhhh".

I don't know where you are, but we could use a tenor near Grand Rapids, MI...
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