“Hi, I’m Ed” I announced to the lady who appeared to be running things at the big band rehearsal. She smiled, and said “Nicole … nice to meet you”, while gesturing to the back of the rehearsal space. “I have you set up back here”, a half grin appearing on her face.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way”, I said, smiling back as I headed to the rear left corner of the space.
See, it’s been this way forever, or at least the last 100 years or so. And everyone has seen it, the iconic silhouette of a jazz big band with the upright bass rising in the back on the left hand side of the band.
That space? That’s my place, the view from the back of the band, next to the drummer to my left, with the piano and guitar in front of us. The rhythm section, the guys providing that beat that propels the band, that beat that makes you all tap your feet and dance.
Just about all big bands are set up the same way. The rhythm section is on the viewers left hand side, and off to the side of the rhythm section are the trumpets (usually 4) on the back row, trombones (again, usually 4) in the middle row and the woodwinds/saxes (usually 5) in the front. If there are any featured vocalists, they are in the front of the entire band.
17 musicians, a singer and a conductor … classic big band. Of all of the musical forms/formats in which I play, this is my favorite. As a friend of mine said recently, there is nothing quite as cool as the feeling you get pushing a slamming big band, and the more fun you have as a rhythm section, the better the band plays.
I happened upon this band quite by accident while checking into some estate sales on Craigslist. I nearly always shy away from these situations since the majority of the time these bands are comprised of high school kids, or frustrated used-to-be musicians that have an old sax laying around in their closet, or old people looking to fill some of their time, or new-comers that are trying to learn to play an instrument. In these cases, the resultant band is just horrible sounding and very unprofessional.
Something about my initial discussions with Nicole led me to believe that this band was going to be different. I had told her that I was interested, but only if the individual players were, at a minimum, reasonably proficient at their instruments. She had advised me that the drummer, in particular, was a very tasteful and skilled musician, which gave me the motivation to give it a try.