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SOTW Columnist, Distinguished SOTW Member
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Here's a topic for discussion. I'd like to hear where others are on this.

Last night I played on a pickup gig with a band that was tossed together by a female blues/R&B vocalist. She's a very good and energetic singer, and most of the band members are pretty good players. It wasn't a rehearsed band, although most of us knew most of the tunes. Most of us hadn't played together. Notice I keep saying "most." Not "all."

So, bottom line, the drummer was way too loud, the guitarist was too loud, the bass had to turn up to be heard (I know him and he usually wouldn't do that, but had no choice), and the overall mix was LOUD. But even worse, some of the intros, endings were sloppy, the arrangements were tweaked, and solos came and went without much thought to the overall effect, and some tunes went on way too long. It wasn't terrible and the audience seemed happy, but the whole thing felt out of control and unprofessional, at least to me. I got my money at the end and went home, ears ringing. This was just a notch above a typical jam session.

Most of the gigs I do are with my own band. We rehearse the tunes, know exactly what we'll do on the intros, endings, etc. We do keep it loose enough to extend solos and improvise, but the overall structure and rhythm is tight. And we keep the volume reasonable. I can't wait to get back with my own band on a gig tonight, after last night's experience!

I also occasionally do a gig as a sub with bands that are rehearsed (not thrown together), and that usually goes just fine. So it's not totally an 'either-or' thing. Maybe it's a matter of picking and choosing when working as a 'hired gun.'

I can see some advantages to being a hired gun in that you get a lot of experience and some diversity in what you play, with no responsibility for finding the gigs, etc. OTOH, if you put your own band together you can pick and choose what tunes you want to play and rehearse so you get a tight, professional sound. This assumes you can find players who are on the same wavelength who get along (no easy task, but well worth it when it happens).

So, which way do you guys like to go on this? I know most of you will say BOTH, but maybe you can discuss some pros and cons or what works for you and why.
 

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Much too often combos treat a sax as another tambourine or accent feature and also seem to only care for a sax to play the 'sax solo' as it was played in the original recording... If you can book yourself 'do' so! You can then call the tunes to suit yourself... If you get paying gigs to be a sideman do 'that' as well...
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2009-
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Maybe it's a matter of picking and choosing when working as a 'hired gun.'
^
I think working with your own group will always be more artistically satisfying but the excitement factor when you're sitting in and it actually comes together makes for a great musical experience.
 

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Sometimes it's great to just have to show up with a horn, but at other times a sense of control can be comforting. Either situation could go south, however.
 

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Forum Contributor 2017
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Okay, first the simple answer is BOTH (as in I do both).

The long answer is that for me I have no choice in the matter. I play in 3 local bands plus I will drive up to 300 miles one way to play in Dallas if the money is right, and I perform as a solo saxophonist in restaurants and small wine bars with backing tracks.

The problem I have with playing in other peoples bands is never knowing the degree in which I am to perform, that is do they want an in your face style or laid back mellow player.

I find most bands don't really know how to use a sax player to there own advantage. They see us as an adornment.

I play according to the style of music, the venue and the size of the room but sometimes bands want me to play things that really are not appropriate to those boundaries and it really affects my ability to do the job I was hired for or thought I was hired for.

The flipside is being in your own band has so many problems dealing with scheduling other musicians who play for a living to show up at a certain time and sometime not at all, or like last night we went to a venue that booked us 5 weeks ago only to find another band had been double booked and was already set-up.

Being a musician is challenging enough but when you add business to the mix it gets really ugly.

No wonder so many musicians become mercenary in behaivor or turn to substances or just take insurance jobs.

Conclusion is that there are no real answers to your question because the days of being in one band as a saxophonist are gone.

These days a saxophonist needs to be a jack of all trades unless you play keyboards or guitar as well or better then a horn.

B
 

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I feel your pain, man. I was actually chuckling while reading and thinking...Dude, at least there were intros and outros, breaks, etc..even if they were screwed up. A lot of gigs I take as a gun are worse. Its definitely better to have your own thing going on-then you have the ability to be picky about what gigs you take as a gun. Those thrown together, loud, unorganized jerk-fests get old real quick.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Conclusion is that there are no real answers to your question because the days of being in one band as a saxophonist are gone.
I understand there are no real answers to this, or I should say there are no right or wrong answers. I'm just asking where others are on the issue and great responses so far! Keep 'em coming. I have more thoughts on it, but want to hear from more of you first.

I don't agree the days of being in one band as a saxophonist are gone. At least I haven't found that to be true in my case or in some others I know (almost all my gigs are with one band). It is true that the sax is nowhere near as in demand as it once was, but certain genres of music are more 'authentic' with the sax (i.e. jump blues, swing, most jazz, old-school R&B/funk, etc). One way is to form your own band. More on that later. No easy solutions, of course.
 

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For me, a gig has to absolutely fall in my lap before I'll do the business side. I play with a fair few bands on a semi-regular basis but I don't really like to rehearse. But in my genre I'm pretty well respected so I get about as much work as I can handle because I'm a decent player who is sober, industrious, reliable, neat, have my own transport and own a PA.

While it CAN be nice working in your own rehearsed band the business side is the pits. Dealing with venue management is bad enough, organising musicians is worse. It's easier to shrug off the bad gigs when you can just pack up your horn and walk away than it is to be responsible for changing people's behaviour.
 

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I understand there are no real answers to this, or I should say there are no right or wrong answers. I'm just asking where others are on the issue and great responses so far! Keep 'em coming. I have more thoughts on it, but want to hear from more of you first.

I don't agree the days of being in one band as a saxophonist are gone. At least I haven't found that to be true in my case or in some others I know (almost all my gigs are with one band). It is true that the sax is nowhere near as in demand as it once was, but certain genres of music are more 'authentic' with the sax (i.e. jump blues, swing, most jazz, old-school R&B/funk, etc). One way is to form your own band. More on that later. No easy solutions, of course.
Maybe I am being short sighted, maybe it is the market I am working in. Pay has gotten low here over the past decade and I am finding myself being a mercenary and playing anywhere and everywhere I can to eek out a meager living.

There is nothing I would not give to be in one extremely well rehearsed band in any one genre particularly jazz but gigging every once in awhile doesn't cut it.

Here in bumf#$#ked Oklahoma people have no cultural experience to draw from like they did when I lived in New York and California. It is like living in a vacuum.

B
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Here in bumf#$#ked Oklahoma people have no cultural experience to draw from like they did when I lived in New York and California. It is like living in a vacuum.
Man, I feel for you on that score!

But don't get me wrong. I haven't made any value judgment on this or said which way I'd go on it (yet). I just think it's a good topic to discuss and there are a lot of sides to it. I'm pretty mercenary also. Getting money to play my horn is always a good thing under almost any circumstances.
 

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Well, I am not in this position on the saxophone, so I am speaking solely from a gigging musician standpoint. I have done gigs as a mercenary drummer, and been in regular bands of my own. The one offs, or fill in gigs, sometimes can be chaotic and have enjoyable moments. Then you might go back to that group as a mercenary and that can lead to possible studio time. Having your own band is more pleasing artistically but mentally, as was my case recently it can be more taxing. Forcing people to be on time for rehearsal, ego, all the usuals. But when you find someone that works it is immense. I prefer having my own band, that way we are a well oiled machine, our music is laid out very specifically, so when we do open up a little bit we can grab the reigns back on the song, solo section or what have you, and bring it back hme. I am very particular about endings, transitions, dynamics, making section lengths fit rest of song, and presenting a very practiced set. But as was my last case with a group that is recovering from a bad members poisoning , I would rather take all that negativity and leave it behind at that gig. But that is what goes with musicians.:mrgreen:
 

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I have regular opportunities to do both. Aside from the ocassional blind "walk-on", I'm working with 2 original projects and a corporate R&B tribute type band. The blind gigs are half crap - half fun, but I only take ones with decent pay. Thankfully, my "regular" bands seem to get some work. They are all different though and even a set group can be iffy. Here are my impressions of all of them and why I like / dont like them.

The copporate R&B band is an 8 piece that is very well rehearsed. The past couple of years it's only been summer weddings, concert openers and festival work. They still plan two rehearsals a week (and make at least one regularly) all year long. It's a bit like a family. Everyone gets along both on and off stage. You know exactly whats coming and when. The only variation is that the singer will sometimes extend solos but he is a true MC and everyone follows him well. They love the sax, so I am the only band member without regimented parts. We have a trumpet player that I share signature lines with, but he hates to solo and is happy playing a tamborine or bongos too, so mostly I can just take solos and support the vocalist. I really like this band. The familiarity, the relaxed atmosphere, and how tight it is all contribute to my enjoyment level. The downside is that it's seasonal and not very challenging.

The first original band is an interesting mix. The genre is "Jump Blues" - They mix in a few oldies (30% +/-) but most of the music is spot on the genre but with original lyrics. Because of the nature of the music, you (almost) always know where the song is going. Recently voted Atlanta's Best Blues Band - this band has never practiced in the 15 months I've played with them so every gig is sort of a "walk on". Half of the time there are fill-in players on stage. Some nights are magic - some are disasters. The players are always better than in my corporate band, but alcohol, drugs, and a refusal to practice, make every gig a crap shoot. They work more than any of the groups I play with though, and I really like this band too. Those moments of magic more than make up for the bad nights. I don't always get along with the band leader though (I'm not the only one) and that's a bit of a strain - It also means I don't get to play gigs where he's sulking, but I always get the call-back so I guess it's not too bad. Since it's Jump blues - I get plenty of playing time with this group too. I joined as a "hired gun" - it's just been so long I sometimes feel like a member but I still just walk on with one horn, play, and go. One day soon I expect he'll find a replacement that sticks.


The other original project works an every other Thursday night gig and practices every Tuesday. Hard to say no to extra money but they are just wierd. I'm a decade (or two) older than the other players and the only soloist, so it's yet another opportunity to work out my chops, but many of songs have strange changes. They also extend songs to rediculous extremes, and like a jam band - will morph a tune 5 different ways for 15 minutes. (expecting me to blow the top of my head off the whole time) I like this one too though - plenty of playing and the audiences are 90% college students so there are a lot of pretty girls to look at..... :) It's also a great opportunity to try and learn how to make a 7 minute solo interesting, which is a huge challenge.

Lastly, I have my own band but I don't play sax in this one - We only play about once every 6 weeks and practice once every other week. Downsides - The music is very regimented as the players are only OK. There is freedom to solo, but no there are no extensions or sit in players, and you are expected to do "homework" to be a part. To be honest - it is probably my least favorite of them all musically. It is though, a gathering of friends and as much a bi-weekly dinner party as a rehersal.

In summary - I say take what you can get - Every situation gives you a chance to be a better player. I play so much because it causes me to practice, and I have really enjoyed taking up the sax again. I'm just not motivated to practice without the fear of totally bombing live to spur me on.
 

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I prefer my own band for the tightness and quality of the music, regularity of gigs, the security of knowing you will have a gig as opposed to being the "5th wheel" and only getting hired as a sideman when they can afford you.Also I have much more say in what songs we will do, and how much we charge.
The down side is there is more work and responsibility- weekly rehearsals, schlepping and setting up PA equipment, being more resposible for the final product.Occasionally I like playing as a 'hired gun" for the extra money, new experience and only having to show up with my sax or bass and amp.
Overall, I'll take my own band anyday.
 

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I write a lot of stuff for a living and I often play on it so I have a lot of control ( not all as I have a partner). I enjoy this control a lot. On the other hand I really enjoy playing other people's music both live and in the studios. Some are very specific about what they want and I enjoy this challenge. I like being a " Hired Gun"
for example recently I played " lead" sopranino in an avante garde ensemble where everything all the parts were written but I loosely set the tone and dynamic.
I like only being responsible for my horns which makes a refreshing change. However the downside of being a " Hired Gun" is sometimes I really dislike the music or context. This has become an issue in one of the groups I have been playing with recently to the point of wanting to quit. It's been partly resolved now with fresh material.

All of these groups play original material but in the old days I played for many years in covers bands. backing bands, cabaret and residencies. I was far less fussy then because that was how I earnt my living
and I also just wanted to play all the time regardless. I think you can learn from any situation but you also have to know when to quit.
 

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I would love to have my band....

I would love to have my band, but cannot. I have to be a "hired gun" then. In Mexico, not much blues to be played and if so, you better be patient. Usually for playing with a saxophone some blues you have to find who to play with and you cannot get very sophisticated aabout the key... It has to be Concert E or Concert A... If you want to have a band what you can get is a bunch of kids that want to play R&R and their mothers are my age. There are great musicians in Mexico, but they are already taken by brand name singers. Live music has a different style, guitar trios, mariachi and some bands, but not really blues... So if the opportunity shows, I jump in as fast as I can and can't really be picky about what we are going to play.

If I could, I would really like to have my blues band.... Deep Bass, Hammering Drums, Soulfoul Hammond Organ, Fat Guitar and my Alto Saxophone... Howling Singers invited... Sigh.... I am going to play right now.:sad2:

All the best,

JI
 

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Distinguished Member, Forum Contributor 2008-2017
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I would love to have my band....

I would love to have my band, but cannot. I have to be a "hired gun" then. In Mexico, not much blues to be played and if so, you better be patient. Usually for playing with a saxophone some blues you have to find who to play with and you cannot get very sophisticated aabout the key... It has to be Concert E or Concert A... If you want to have a band what you can get is a bunch of kids that want to play R&R and their mothers are my age. There are great musicians in Mexico, but they are already taken by brand name singers. Live music has a different style, guitar trios, mariachi and some bands, but not really blues... So if the opportunity shows, I jump in as fast as I can and can't really be picky about what we are going to play.

If I could, I would really like to have my blues band.... Deep Bass, Hammering Drums, Soulfoul Hammond Organ, Fat Guitar and my Alto Saxophone... Howling Singers invited... Sigh.... I am going to play right now.:sad2:

All the best,

JI
 

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Bout the ringing ears...

By the way... JL, ringing ears... Do you use earplugs? I do. I almost cannot live now without them. At the beginning they were a horrible experience, but now any band can go as loud as they want and it is fine for me. Have to admit I am a screamer.

JI
 

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Modman.

Here in MN, it's a lot like OK. Most full-time musicians here that I know and know of, work in the Tri-state area to maintain a full-time living (MN, ND, SD/MN, ND, WI/ MN, SD, IA). A lot of the sax players here (Can't speak for the Twin Cities) do play a percussion or rythm instrument, along with their sax, and many I have met, the sax is the secondary instrument, and not their main axe!

I get the gigs when and where I can, and maintain a full -time job outside of the sax (I would love it if I could have enough gigs to equal a part time job, would never want it full time!). By part time, I'm talking measly $9000/yr would make me happy! But, the most I have made w/my sax in one year is about $600.

Now, I'm sure sax players w/ 4 year civilian degrees, and a far better network of musicians and venues, can and do get better and more gigs, but "3rd tier" sax players, such as I, just don't. My Dad, as a Bass player (another "3rd tier" musician) makes over $2000/yr on his bass, and he has no formal training on it outside of high school! I have private lessons and military training, as well as Interlochen and a few other nicities in my portfolio that he doesn't have! It's tough for sax players here.

The irony: every gig and jam session I go to, I'm always asked what band I'm in, and aside from the community bands, I'm "on-call". And the audiance always loves it! Not the same old guitar/drums/bass/keys ALL the bands here have! I've heard some '50s R&R bands here that play the sax parts on keyboard! Now that's just wrong!
 

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Prodigal Son and Forum Contributor 2008
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I'll play with anybody who tolerates me. I'm currently in 6 bands who all appreciate me and my individuality. In most cases, I was hired in order to "take the band to the next level," meaning pay range or to "add spark" to a relatively lack-luster show. Pick-up situations, last second calls, anything that puts me with new cats is exciting. I eat it up and thrive from the energy caused by the guitarists and singers anxiety about not knowing me. Some of the best long-term relationships started with a last-minute call to play.
 
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