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Ok, well that's the question. But I'll add a couple of qualifiers. I'm not speaking of big band jazz or a 12-piece pop band. I understand the need for charts in those settings. I'm speaking of a smallish combo in blues, jazz, or old school R&B, with one or two horns (maybe even three, at the most). I'll also stipulate (just saw an old Perry Mason show) that this is not an earthshaking issue. But I'm curious what you all think about it.

The other day I saw a blues band at a small outdoor festival that featured a tenor sax & trumpet, along with the usual keys, guitar, bass, & drums. The two horns were using charts and I really couldn't understand why. The riffs and lines they played were relatively simple blues licks, and imo, not so complex that they required charts. It wouldn't have been a big deal really, but the trumpet player kept fooling with the charts, pinning them to the stand to keep them from blowing away, turning pages, pointing to something on the charts, etc. And of course, both horn players were totally focussed on the charts, not the audience or even the other band members. This was very distracting, at least to me.

So here's my take with a couple of reasons why:

I don't like to use charts in a small combo.

I learn the lines and can play them better when I memorize them. I also like the freedom to come up with a riff on the fly and don't like to be totally tied to written material. I prefer to have some improvisational freedom, even with another horn player. Of course the horns have to be in sync. I realize that. I'll add that in the hundreds of jazz performances I've been lucky enough to attend over the years (small combos, not big band), I have never, not once, seen these musicians using charts. And this was even true with some fairly complex arrangements (Art Blakey's bands for example).

I could list several more reasons why I prefer to play without charts, but would like to hear from others first.
 

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We started off using charts in the funk band because the material was new and we needed them . Now ( a year later ) they're still there and just serve as a comfort zone and somewhere to focus other than at the audience.

It's very unproffessional and lazy more than anything , thanks for reminding me.
 

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Don't do it. Play without whenever possible.
 

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I've never used em (and some would say it shows!). I was the solo horn so I liked the freedom to change things up. If there were another horn, maybe, but I would have it worked out before hand and not need the charts (nor want them)
(and yeah my sight reading stinks I have to know it first anyway and just use charts as a crutch/reminder)

John, sounds to me like in your example, the sax player was new and the trumpet player was leading him thru the charts
 

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Charts can get in the way

We are all in agreement here.
Charts get in the way of really listening to whats going on . Like Bill, I am a solo tenor sax player in a Blues band, (here in Dayton, Ohio,) and love the freedom to play the riffs, solo's or long tones as the music changes and/or grows and progress's.
2 horns can pretty much ad lib their way through the gig, but more than 2....FORGET ABOUT IT
(3,4,5, horns)You need charts.
But the kind of chart that is open ended and responds to the rest of the band.
 

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I don't really like the fact that we use charts. The problem is, my lead tenor spot is kind of rotating position where I get which ever of the 3 guys is available. That spot, and my bari spot, both play with several other groups. It's just not feasible for them to learn the 30+ charts.

I'm not sure Tower of Power even knows 30 Tower of Power charts at any one time.
 

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And then there is the story of my brother-in- law (trumpet with BS&T) who gets a call from Chicago's Lee Loughnane and has to learn 32 songs in 2 days.(neither band uses charts), and flies from a BS&T gig to a Chicago gig the next day. that's what its like at that level.

But Steve is in a different universe than me. (musically that is).
 

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There's really no excuse for me not having all the tunes memorized. I probably know 10 of them well enough to do them without the chart, and another 10 I could fumble through.

Our bass player, on the other hand, knows every tune by heart, and he's playing Rocco's 16th-note-laden parts note for note.
 

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Playing by ear?

I am not very good at working with charts, but when I learn a song I try to play it from the chart first to get the right melody. Then I just play it. I seem to make a lot of mistakes when playing the heads, but having the chart there doesn't always make a difference. For me, it's just playing it over and over and over, until I know it by heart.
 
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