Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Potted Palm Job?

A bleary-eyed but smiling man in a black suit, white shirt and yellow tie with matching socks, could be seen strolling into the Dakota earlier this morning. He was certain he appeared bleary because he didn’t want to hold more than one eye open at a time. Whiskey is a good agent for warming the bones after spending time playing a clarinet outside on an unnaturally frigid May wedding night, but it’s not a good beauty tip for your morning-after eyes. True story. And I’m the hero.

The Southside Aces played at the Dakota on this Brunchtide, a Mother’s Day shindig:

By the way, check out what I got to put in my pie-hole:
Family Style First Course
deviled eggs, apple+manchego scones, house baked mini muffins & breads, pickled green beans, fried green tomato, apricot jam
Sweet Creamed Grits –blueberry doughnut toast, roasted cippolini onion, glazed yam, crème fraîche, blueberry jelly
Banana Cream Tart
toasted meringue, peach butter, strawberry+tarragon salad
(Are you kidding me?!)

Ahem. Back to my story. The aforementioned “strolling” of the man in the black suit was an affectation to cover up what was more of a shamble. I was smiling out of that sense of security that comes with having made it to your destination. Once I was able to sit down peacefully in the green room backstage, I worked on forming connecting thoughts, so important when you’re playing jazz! After a half hour of that, however, I found out I’d only written down four songs on a piece of paper. At that rate, had I persisted, I wouldn’t have finished the set lists until it was time to leave. “I could go for some deep, untroubled sleep right about now,” I said out loud. 

But the other men began to arrive, and I perked up. Matt Peterson came in with his string bass in place of Erik and his brass bass. The rest of the band was made up of the usual suspects—The French Tickler, Psycho Stevie, Mr. Class, The Moral Compass and myself. Zack, Steve, Robert and Dave all seemed equable, despite the somewhat distressing hour of 10:00 a.m. Matt, on the other hand, actually went beyond that into a sort of eagerness. I didn’t trust it. Who was this man so hale and hardy of a Sunday morning? I would have to keep that one eye I had open on him. 

Dakota soundman Craig Eichhorn had instructed me of my brunchly duties. “You’re background, but not really background. A little bit more than background. But it’s not a performance either.” We understood each other. I think he wanted to make sure I wasn’t shooting off pyrotechnics and waving flags in attention-grabbing semaphore. The Moms just want to eat their brunch and maybe hear a couple of good tunes! 

Just for a second or twelve, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a little sidetrack right now. I like to call background/ambience type work the “Potted Palm,” as in, “Yeah, tonight I’m on a Potted Palm job.” You know, where your music makes things a little nicer without a person necessarily being able to pin down why. The other end of the spectrum would be a showcase or feature concert. I like to call those shows “The Big Shoe,” a loose reference to the funny pronunciation Ed Sullivan sometimes had when he introduced his “really big show.” For instance, I might say, “I can’t wait for the Big Shoe tonight.” Of course, when I’ve used this phrase, generally the only person I don’t confuse is myself. Maybe it’s because I have big feet, so people think I’m literally talking about a shoe. Or maybe these days Ed Sullivan is too far beyond the ken. I don’t care; I’m sticking to it! But what about this morning?  A show that falls between the two designations? I don’t yet have one for that. Maybe I could say I’m “Chopping Parsley.” You know, it’s definitely a flavor you’ll use in a dish, but it’s never the main flavor. Hey! Climb off! It was my first attempt!

At any rate, we did some fine work. The boys kept it subdued for most of the first set. This was good for everyone’s health, as it both served to slowly introduce the idea of a jazz band to the nervous systems of the diners, and to prevent we men in the jazz band from pulling a jazz muscle right out of the gate. We did, however, heat it up several times throughout the day with numbers like “Diga Diga Doo” and “Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing.” You say you don’t really remember those songs being in the Mother’s Day cannon, but I want to point out how it actually says the word “Ma” in the latter tune. My favorite moments, though, were the sweet ones. A Louis Armstrong-inspired “Red Sails In The Sunset.” Evan Christopher’s achingly beautiful composition for a dearly departed friend, “Waltz For All Souls.” But perhaps my absolute favorite was “All Through The Day.” It registers high on the Sweet-O-Meter, with Oscar Hammerstein’s story all about thinking and dreaming of your loved one the livelong day until you can get home to that kiss. We didn’t give it the Frank Sinatra treatment—just instrumental. But Jerome Kern’s melody tells that same story all by itself. I especially love when it comes out of the bridge, changing keys for just three bars, restating the main phrase in the new key. It’s as if your heart needed more room to hold all that love and yearning, and only by changing keys would you be able to keep it all together! Oh boy, I’m a sucker for the sweets!

I think I’ll leave off with that. I want you to hear Frank’s version of the tune. He really does it some justice, I think. And next time you’re around this bleary-eyed, smiling man, go ahead and inquire about hearing a jazz band play it. Happy Mother’s Day!

P.S. I'm also welcoming suggestions for what to call it when it's not background, but it's not performance. I may not be going with "Chopping Parsley"...

No comments:

Post a Comment