All musicians have gigs that are, for one reason or another, more memorable that others. This is a list of performances that stand out in my memory for good reasons. Maybe I will add a list of the all-time worst gigs! (That list may take a while to compile. Stay tuned!) Here they are, in no particular order, even though they are numbered.
First, the atmosphere was electric, maybe 5 or 6,000 people. I went there the year before to see Sonny Rollins and that was an event. Second, the music. John Coltrane's Africa Brass performedby a large ensemble and choir, transcribed by Charles Tolliver. Third, I remember sitting up on the stage, looking east at a full moon over the Manhattan skyline, and thinking "Wow, here I am in NYC, playing some of the greatest music in the world, in front of an enthusiastic, appreciative audience and working with the hero of my teen years, Charles Tolliver."
Actually this project has had several great performances including a rapturous thing at All Soul's Church on a rainy day in Washington, DC (later broadcast on NPR) and a memorable performance in a Philiadelphia church with both Alice and Ravi Coltrane.
This was the next to the last gig on a six-week US and European tour. The band was tight and payed an amazing 10 PM set. The rhythm section Leon Pendarvis (p), Charles Fambrough (b), and Gene Jackson (d) had locked like Fort Knox. Yeow!!! Of the major festivals, North Sea is definately the best hang.
This tour included some other amazing moments, including a bizarre gig in Milan where we were booked to play a private party for the owners of a club that was not yet opened. also the club was not yet finished! We arrived for soundcheck at a building with not only no doors, but no front wall either. Jack hammers right up until the downbeat. Another hit that stands out was playing at Yoshi's in Oakland on New Year's Eve 1999/2000 live on NPR.
Is it because of I played the gig on a borrowed tuba that was barely working? Is it because we were playing "out" music in front of a "downhome" crowd? Is it because we had a midnight rehearsal in the festival hotel ballroom the night before the hit? I know it was because it was the first time I played Frank's amazingly original music. It was alos my first exposure to the controlled(?) chaos that is Frank Lacy. It was a great night.
Okay. Jimmy Heath's music and arrangements are fabulous. Everyone knows that. Jimmy is a wonderful person. Everyone knows that. And the band had great players: Jerome Richardson, Danny Bank, Bill Milliken, Virgil Jones and what a rhythm section Tony Parrone, Sir Roland Hanna, Ben Brown, and Albert "Tootie" Heath! But for me it was the trombone section. Slide Hampton, Benny Powell, Britt Woodman and me! Yes, yes, yes.....
Yeah, part of the glow is that I was young and it has a magic aura attributable to the wonder of youth. But to paraphrase Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, "We came, we saw, we kicked ass!" I have a tape to prove it. We sounded amazing. We played the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto, The American in Paris and Gustav Mahler's Symphony #5. On the tape we got a like a 15 minute standing ovation. I had a cold sore and before the concert and at the interval (as they say over there) I used copious amounts of Listerene to numb it. I will never forget the goosebumps and rush we all felt at the end of that concert wile we were receiving that never-ending adulation from an audience that included a lot of our peers from the other youth orchestras. I also will never for get the low g I played near the end of the Mahler (11 bars after rehearsal number 33, if you have the score.) That had to be the most powerful note I ever played. ( I looked at the score, and I can see why it was so powerful!!!) The tape bears me out on this too.
We had a number of other cool moments with the DCYO, far too many to recount here. But among them were a performance of the last two movements of that same Mahler 5th at the National Cathederal in Washington, DC. I can remember the echo from the last note in that huge building. And also a performance at St Mary's College in southern Maryland of Aaron Copeland's A Lincoln Portrait with Copeland himself performing the narration. We never did finish it, because twice the power was knocked out by lightning!
Anyone that has been in a high school marching band knows how much fun that is. If you saw the film "Drumline," you may be aware of the dichotomy in the world of black bands between musicianship bands and booty-shakin' bands. The musicianship bands shake plenty booties too, but place more emphasis on playing, even if that means playing Sousa marches and the like as well as Earth, Wind and Fire. Our band, under the direction of the late Peter D. Ford, was a musicianship band. (Our arch-rivals, the more famous Cardozo High School Band, was a classic booty-shakin' band.)
We took our little (35 players!) band down to NOLA in 1974 and marched in 6 parades in 8 days. We won 1st place in the Zulu parade, which is the one that counts for us since it was the parade on our side of town. Lets see, we played Standing on the Verge of Gettin' it on (Funkadelic), Skin Tight (Ohio Players), Jungle Boogie (Kool & The Gang) and Mighty, Mighty (Earth, WInd, and Fire) as well as Maple Leaf Rag and National Emblem.
We did so many great things in our high school music program. Our music department did our own local TV half-hour program for Christmas (Pre home VCRs, unfortunately)featuring our choir, brass ensemble and chamber orchestra, played for a musical (Purlie), played in a jazz festival, played for banquets in hotels, played at halftime at a Washington Redskins football game, a ton of parades, the list is very long!
We had a nice little band at Pitt, even though I was a student at Carnegie Mellon. We had Geri Allen, Jothan Callins, Dale Fielder, Marshall McDonald, and several other fine players there at diferent times. We went on this bus tour in 1978 to New Orleans (with a stop in Birmingham, AL (where there was a girl at Birmingham Southern College that I will never forget!). In New Orleans we stayed at, of all places, the Milne Boys Home. This was the still-functioning juvenile home where Louis Armstrong got his start in music. So despite our staying in dormitories that were really lockdown units, it was kind of cool. For me the musical highlight was a hastily scheduled concert at a more modern juvenile correctional facility. I remember that they had both boys and girls in this place, and that they also had a really good young drummer in stir (no, actually this kid was at the Milne Boy's Home). It was our third hit of the day and was a revelation for me. Thats the day I learned the value of repetition. By that third hit, we were so cohesive. I remember that we played Milestones (the second one) and that the rhythm on the head, dat, dat, dat, dat, was like one voice.
The first time I played with the Mingus Band was the most memorable. To understand how I felt, you have to understand my personal relationship to Mingus' music, which there is no way you could understand. The first time I played the Mingus band, I played lead trombone. Imagine playing lead with Brit Woodman sitting next to you! By the way, this makes me one of the few indivuduals to have performed all three trombone books in the Mingus Big Band. I bet that Clark Gayton has also done it.
One of those multi-act arena shows. Let's see... Sister Sledge, Patrice Rushen (why didn't I get to meet her?!?!?), Frankie Beverly and Maze, and Kool and the Gang. Met Clifford Adams (trombonist with Kool) that night. We rehearsed at 10 am under the direction of the legendary H.B. Barnum. Hit the stage a 1:20 am! That was a long day, but I was young back then. Playing with Aretha Franklin was worth 6 graduate school credit hours!
Before the show she wandered into our dressing room where we were busy eating the fruit and drinking the drinks. We were cordial to her and she to us and then she left abruptly. Within in mimutes a guy comes in to lead us to our dressing room, the one used by the Washington Capitals during hockey season. Excuse us please, Miss Franklin.
My first being called for a same day rehearsal and hit gig was 1983 for Gladys Knight and the Pips at the Warner Theater in DC. Come downtown late Friday morning for rehearsal. (If you play poorly enough in the rehearsal, they will get someone else by showtime!) Some of my DC mentors were on the gig: Whit Williams and Bill Reed among the saxes, Calvin Jones was the other trombone (Calvin Jones taught me how to play pedal tones when I was in the 6th grade) and Peter Ford and Fred Irby on trumpet. Six shows for good money. Marion Barry making a late night visit to see Gladys backstage. Gladys having no voice at all on the Sunday afternoon show but sounding great on Sunday night.
I got to work with her again recently. It was my first time at Carnegie Hall. What a thrill. I enjoyed just looking at the house while waiting on stage. Gladys Knight's book was a lot harder than I remembered from the '80s. We were warming up on stage a little as there was some kind of delay. I started softly playing my composition Shamba. I turned to Alfred Patterson and said "do you know what that was, Alfred?" He laughed, since he recognized the tune (he is on the original recording) but he didn't get it. "That's the sound of my music being performed at Carnegie Hall!"