Any suggestions for an improv acoustic gig?

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by hrodbert696, Apr 9, 2012.

  1. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    OK, here's what it is; one of my daughters is in this arts program for girls called Arts in Reach (or AIR). The current program is on poetry and they're having a reading of their poetry this Saturday evening.

    I responded to a call for any musicians among the families to come and provide some improvised music under the girls' readings. It looks like it's going to be an acoustic gig; two flutes, a harp, an acoustic guitar, and me (on bass guitar, I don't play upright). The girls will be mic'd but the band not, but I'll have my amp of course. We have one run-through this Thursday to see how it goes.

    Any suggestions for how to tackle it? I'll keep my volume down, obviously. I'm thinking it might be better if the five of us don't constantly play, but go in solos, duos, and trios, and only occasionally all be playing. Otherwise I'm not sure how to proceed, other than just trying to listen to each other and the poetry. This is my first time doing this kind of thing.
  2. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    bump, anyone?
  3. Sounds like fun! I also play electric bass and don't read music. If I was in that situation I'd get together with he other musicians and pick out a half dozen songs to play. I'm sure there are others in the group who could take the lead. You all don't have to play all the songs as it will sound too busy behind the readings. Just figure out who'll play in what songs. It should be subtle and nice. Enjoy!
  4. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    A couple more thoughts.

    Agree on an "artsiness level" that everybody's comfortable with... I mean this could be done as anything from improvising over standard chord progressions to avoiding all semblance of recognizable rhythm or melody.

    Do you have the text of the poems available, so you know what's coming next, when they end etc? Endings will probably be the most difficult part to get right.
  5. Mykk


    Aug 22, 2010
    Prescott, AZ
    I did something similar years ago. We had an improv three piece playing behind spoken word & poetry. Drummer with a striped down kit, Saxophone, Stand up bass.... so naturally the sound was Jazzy.

    I found it was best to keep things loose, keep it open... pick a key or two for the duration of the 'song' and just hang out in that key without getting too busy(From what I gather your situation is similar to mine, the poetry will be delivered while the band is playing?) The fun part was creating the atmosphere to match what the poetry was about.

    Cheers ~Mykk
  6. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
  7. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    That was good!

    Thanks for the advice - we're getting together tomorrow afternoon to jam and hear the poems. They've suggested an instrument for each poem - like one for each - but I'm figuring the rest of us will be jumping in on some of them.
  8. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    I like the idea of an "artsiness level" - I'm really only an intermediate player myself, and no idea where the others are at. The girls reading their poems are NOT all experienced performers and I'm not too optimistic about their synching with anything we do too well.

    Thanks! Yeah, just sticking to one key will probably be essential. I'll report back after tomorrow...
  9. caeman

    caeman The Root Master

    Sep 17, 2008
  10. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Hey y'all, just a report back on how it all went down.

    Thursday the musicians all met with the program director, who read the girls' poems and told us what instruments the girls associated with each one. We had me, the harpist, and the two flutes, and found out that the guitarist had pulled out. Basically what I found was that the harpist and I were pretty comfortable picking a key and jamming while the flautists were more taking notes and planning on picking pieces of written music to go with each. It was sort of one person taking lead on each poem and the others could jump in if they felt the spirit move them.

    Saturday, we all convened in the afternoon and heard the girls read their poems and worked our parts in. A new guitarist arrived, a high school sophomore who was GREAT and really knew what he was doing. He went off in another room with five or six of the pieces and worked out parts to each. Some of the girls were very confident, bold readers and other were VERY shy and timid (this is not a program you audition to get into, it's meant more as an opportunity for girls to encounter the arts who might not otherwise get to). So the real challenge was to do something interesting without overwhelming the poems. Luckily the girls were mic'd and the sound guy could always crank up their levels if he had to. There were also four girls from another program for international refugees so we had to come up with backing for them on the spot.

    Guitarist came back and gave me the chord progressions for the poems from the other room, and then it was dress rehearsal. A couple glitches, but went pretty well. Then the harpist saw the program and noticed it said there was going to be an "overture" - and we hadn't done anything about that. We decided to take one of the guitarist's progressions and just jam on it (simple CGF progression), and the director said we could just do that for a minute or so and it would be fine.

    Ten minutes before showtime, the audience starts coming in and the director tells us to start playing the overture. We start in, just jamming away, but four or five minutes later audience is still settling, the program director (who would be introducing the show) is nowhere to be seen, and jamming on a three-chord progression is getting kind of dull, so we wind it down and look around - still no director to open the show, still five minutes to 8:00. So I look at the guitarist and suggest we do a blues jam. He shrugs and off we go in G minor. It's a lot of fun, audience tapping its feet, after a while we wind it down... and there's still a minute to go and no director in sight. Someone in the audience calls out "play something else!" so the harpist launches into something or other - I think in Em - and the rest of us try to keep up. Finally we stop, the director shows up, and the show begins.

    A couple of times I thought the girls were going to run screaming from the stage, but they held it together and the show goes off beautifully. We got lots of compliments on the music after. The harpist gave me her card for an Irish Harp Orchestra and is talking about adding bass to their shows - no idea how that will work, but really cool idea!

    So, all in all - big success and a really fun show.

    Thanks for all the input guys, helped me plan an approach. Hopefully there will be more like this in the future!
  11. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    Awesome! Glad to hear it went well.
  12. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    Funny after I posted here I never knew this would happen to me also at my gig this past weekend. We were playing a music club a really cool one in an arts district and when setting up I noticed our singer talking to this one guy allot.
    When we go on our singer says during one of our slower songs to hang on the verse chords with no lyrics and there is a guy coming up to do interactive poems? What? Well he does and we play the same 5 chords for like forever while the crowd plays along with his poem. It was funny and weird at the same time.
    He later came up and did another for felt like and hour while we played and they did crazy bird calls all kinds of stuff and I had to keep from laughing. It was an interesting night for sure but they did tip well.