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I think I'm in over my head!

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by SuperDuck, Nov 28, 2006.

  1. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    First of all, I do not play upright, nor is this question directly related to playing upright. I do, however, feel that I might get more help regarding my question from the gurus down here than I might up in BG. Please have pity on this poor, misguided slab-playing youth.

    Long story short, I agreed to play in the band for a musical being put on a by a local theater. I've never played in this type of setting before, and I might not have even agreed to do it except that they were apparently desperate for a bass, and a bandmate of mine (who is performing in said musical) asked me very nicely. It also pays somewhat well.

    Most of the music is 1940's swing-feel with a few ballads thrown in. The problem is that most of it requires me to improvise over written out changes. There are a few written out parts, but I'm not worried about those because I can work them out ahead of time as my sight-reading leaves something to be desired. But it's the improvised lines that I have to make up that have me sweating.

    It wouldn't even be so bad if it were just for a song or two, but I have a book with 50+ pages of music that I'll have to play over. My main problem is that I get lost easily when playing these kinds of tunes, and get flustered as I can't always follow the chart with the group. Basically, my walking skills are not very developed. I'll also admit that I'm intimidated by the amount of material that is before me.

    The biggest problem is that the rehearsals start in two weeks. :eek:

    So, if any of the jazzbos down here who can walk in and zip through a chart no problem have any tips of how I can prepare for this, please share your wisdom with me. I know, I know, it's like I'm asking "How can I get real good real quick?", but I'm really more asking how one might practice for this occasion so that I can be as prepared as possible. I have no intention of backing out, and I'm looking forward to the challenge, but right now I'll admit I'm a little nervous.

    One idea I had was to sit with a metronome and go through all the tunes playing the just the root over each change, whole notes or half notes depending if each change is over a whole or half measure. After a few times through the book I would expand to playing the root and then a chord tone that fits in the changes, and progressing that way. Is there a better way I can get familiar with all these tunes?

    (Sorry for the long post. And for being in the DB forums. And for being so apologetic.)

    Thanks in advance,
  2. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    First of all we're "jazzoids". "Jazzbos" are something else, but let's not get into that here because we don't want to lose our G Rating.

    Second, any way I could get a look at a few pages of this music? If you could put them in .pdf format, for example or I could give you a fax number through private mail.

    You are indeed screwed, but I like your attitude. You'll likely come out a much better bassist on the other end. There are some tricks, but I want to see what you're working from.

    Oh yeah, and let me just get this out of the way...get a teacher. Peace.

  3. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    I have definately been in this boat before.

    The first thing I would do is find out if there is a recording available of this musical. Nearly all have one somewhere. If so, get your hands on it ASAP.

    Next, go through the music a figure what is really happening and make some notes in your own musical language. I have played through several musicals and cantatas. Typically, the scored music makes it seem more complicated than it really is. Often, there is significant scoring that reflects the same musical phrase. If you can get your hands on the CD, you'll figure this out quickly enough.

    I have recharted complete scores into lead sheets before just to make sure I knew what I was doing.

    Finally, reduce it to something you are comfortable with. You are much better off playing a simple line well than a more complex one poorly. If the whole show is root on one with basic leading tones into the changes, but played confidently and with good tone and time, 99 percent of the listening audience will never know the difference.

    You can do it.
  4. jady


    Jul 21, 2006
    Modesto, CA
    If all else fails you can play 1-1-5-5 over every chord. Boring but if it is 40's style swing stuff then that will work. also being a musical theatre gig, the bass line will probably be barely audible unless the singers are miked really well. Just keep it simple and play your butt off.

    A secret i learned for reading theatre books is if there are cuts made, take an evening and cut blank paper in the correct shapes to cover any measures that have been cut out. Its much easier to read that way.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I have some basic walking tips Here, and feel free to email me for a better looking PDF version. For now, to get through this, work up a few basic connection techniques that can get you through this show, and apply them everywhere you need them. When you emerge at the other end of this experience (most of us have been through similar ones at the beginning of our journeys, I can assure you), you'll be ready to move on from there. Hang in there, and good luck!
  6. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Drawing on my high school big band experience.. ;-)

    Listen to the score until you've really memorized it- like 10 times at least. That goes a long way in making sure you don't get lost.

    Play along with a recording, playing just the roots. When all else fails you can fall back on that. Do the same with the root and 5.
  7. isolated

    isolated Zenji Supporting Member

    Dec 7, 2004
    Bronx, NY
    First of all, everything previously posted is right on the money.

    Secondly, while you are no doubt in over your head, let me try to put your mind at ease a bit.

    Having played my fair share of musicals over the years, I can tell you that singers, especially those in the theater end of things, like it simple. Very simple. Nobody on those shows cares how 'hip' your lines are, they just need to get a sense of what's happening. You aren't interacting with these people on a musical level - you are providing them with accompaniment they can sing with. So while you have some work to do in terms of assembling some workable bass lines, once you find the way to constructing something functional, you're set. A good sound and a good feel go a long way to compensate for any other shortcomings you might have (and I speak from experience here....)

    Plus, you have the bonus of having rehearsals. And believe me, you learn things a lot faster (and your playing improves) when you're in over your head. I used to hate the stress of those situations; now I go looking for them;)

    Good luck. I'm sure it will all work out fine.
  8. Kam


    Feb 12, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    +1 on finding a recording, listen and follow the music a couple times. Then try to play along with the recording. It can really help you understand where the music is going and why..since musical scores are always somewhat frantic and bipolar.
  9. jady


    Jul 21, 2006
    Modesto, CA
    +1 I have always experienced a HUGE rush knowing that I am in way over my head and it could fall apart at any time.

    Enjoy it, its stressful but you will grow so much and when the show is over, you'll actually miss it.
  10. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    YES, simple. You're not at the Vanguard, you're not on the road with Freddie. You're playing for a regional theatre musical and they don't want to hear anything but where the ****in root of the ****ing chord is help me I'm so lost.

    Which brings to mind a funny story. Little resort area, has a dinner theatre does a buncha musicals. The MD is an aulden club date/accompanist piano player who has been doing this since before there was dirt. During rehearsals for one of the shows, some diva wannabe (who's resume is primarily a listing of NY road shows she auditioned for but did not get) had some "problems" with the way Our Maestro was playing one of her "features" so she is trying to cut him a new one. He puts up with it all pretty stoically, complying with her every little whim and request. On the night of the show, during her "feature", he would modulate every 4 bars in a random fashion, push and pull the tempo etc.

    She was very nice to him after that...
  11. Michael,

    I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago. Since I had the chords - and time - I just notated my own lines in advance (after listening to the songs on tape). To offer some basic guidelines (if not wild generalizations), play quarter notes for the swing tunes and half notes for the ballads. I'd avoid playing fifths unless the song was Latin or country flavored, but maybe that's just me.

    Anyway, there's been some good advice posted so I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

    Ed's right, it's community theatre. While you should always play as professionally as you can, you should be able to get away with playing as little as possible.
  12. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Thanks for all of the great input (and a little perspective) so far. I will do my best to get a copy of the recording, though I'm not sure if there is one available.

    Many of you made a very good point, though - all eyes and ears will be on the actors, and what I'm doing will be somewhat inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It makes sense that as long as I avoid any majors fubars that I'll come out of this pretty well. Keep it simple, stupid.

    Chris - I'll definitely start working through your lesson, which I've seen before but now really need to start playing through!

    Thanks especially for all of the encouraging words. I'm starting to get a little excited about playing the show now. :) Who knows, it may even lead to more jobs in the future.
  13. Lots of great advice. I would add to bring a small recorder and more than enough tape for the rehearsals face the mic away from your amp. that way you can practice later with the actual ensemble as the tempos,keys, feel etc., may be different from on the recordings they have, (if any). Also you can refer back to the conductors comments as you may forget to make notes.
    good luck SuperDuck!
  14. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    It WILL lead to more jobs in the future.

    Still willing to look at a chart sample if you'd like to send me one.

    Let us know how it turns out.

  15. I cut my teeth in the high school musical pit orchestra (How To Succeed in Business). I did play upright, but up to that point, strictly with the bow. This particular musical was about 90% jazz-style pizz -- no amp. Daily rehearsals and nine shows. Blisters on blisters, but when the smoke cleared, I had some nice callouses!
  16. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    I forgot to mention before - I will bring the music in to work tomorrow, and we have a scanner that can output .pdfs that I can email to you.
  17. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    I figured I would post an update for any interested parties now that the smoke has cleared and all performances have ended.

    All in all, it went very well. I practiced quite a bit before going into it, and most of you were right: it really wasn't so bad after all. Once I got a feel for the songs, I was able to do fairly well for myself. I wasn't even all that nervous when the shows came around. I was able to play confidently and calmly, and didn't find myself rushing to catch up very often. I got lost a few times during rehearsals, but didn't have any moments during where I was completely off of where we were in the music.

    I learned a lot not only in terms of walking skills but also in working with musical theater. It was a trip!

    Some highlights:

    -Learning to turn pages while playing. That was a new one for me. Open notes are a good thing, though that didn't always work in the flat keys.

    -Being asked to walk quarter notes over "Bye Bye Blues" at roughly 1,549 bpm. The tempo they wanted was just insane.

    -Playing through a rehearsal of the first act by myself with just the vocalists, because I arrived early and no one else in the band was there. That really taught me how to follow the charts carefully. (Or not to be so damn early.)

    The absolute BEST part of this whole experience was at the end of the first show in Friday night. The band played well, but to put it shortly the singers did pretty poorly. They were missing harmonies, cues, skipping measures, botching lines... everything that could go wrong did. This is also the part of the story where I tell you that they were all wearing small wireless headset microphones. Can we see where this is going?

    The show ended, we played the bows and walkoff, and then the director lady came back on stage (she was in the musical), and started talking about the wonderful programs. This is when you hear the disembodied voices of the cast maligning their performance and how much the show sucks. The sound guy had decided to take a powder, and they didn't realize that their mics were still on.

    So the MD shoos me off stage (I'm closest), and I burst into the room to tell them that their mics are still on. The looks on their faces was worth the entire week alone. Priceless.

    Hey Troy - I spaced on getting you the music. Between working overtime and rehearsals and my other band, it just slipped my mind! But I still appreciate your offer.
  18. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Michael, having been in your shoes before, I'm really glad to see you came out the other side of this in good shape. The unknown is what will kill ya, for sure. Once you've had a taste of it, it gets much better and a lot more fun.

    Good luck on your next theater gig!
  19. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Thanks! That reminds me of one of the cool parts I forgot to mention - I was already asked to play in the next production they do, and the drummer asked me to play in a jazz combo with him!
  20. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Good for you man! I'm glad it was a good experience for you.

    Now go put yourself in over your head again. It's a great way to get better.


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