Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday Quartet

Wow!  Another amazing night playing with my friends.  Tyrone Jackson on keyboard, Kevin Smith on bass, and Marlon Patton on drums.

Tonight we tried a new tune of mine (twice).

Here's the audio:

Here's a few photos of the very hip backdrop:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Loft

Yacht Rock played a gig last night at The Loft on West Peachtree (part of the Center Stage/Vinyl complex).  I'd never played there before (I played a sad little solo sax gig out front years ago), so I was excited to see the inside.  The Loft, it turns out, is a big concrete bunker--not a great room at all.  It makes me wonder why the front of house added so much reverb on everything when we were basically playing in a cave.

The gig was for Have a Heart Foundation.  While we were setting up, a few speakers told their stories to the audience.  It was pretty incredible stuff.  While I was plugging stuff in, a woman told of how her son died in the hospital and gave away his organs (and he helped something like thirty people because of it).  The next lady got up and said that she was walking around with THAT GUY'S HEART!  Wow.  Amazing!

The sound on stage was not very good.  I don't know if it was because of all the concrete or the fact that the stage was hollow or just bad mixing, but there was this low-mids ring that roared through every song.  Once we got up to volume, it was difficult to hear very well because it was so prominent (at least to me) on stage.  My other thought is that sound guys these days are so used to hearing two guitars, bass, and a thrashing drummer that they don't quite know what to do with a band like us.

Ganesh got tripped up again on the beginning of 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and Kevin Spencer took a wrong turn (vocally) on Ride Like the Wind.  We spoke on the break about how the mind really starts to mess with you on stuff like that.  It's the same thing for me in the breakdown of Lonely Boy--because I messed it up a week ago on the Schooner gig, now the voice in my head REALLY goes crazy as we approach that section and I can't shut it up.  I start analyzing what I'm playing, and suddenly I'm paralyzed and can't remember what I'm doing.  I wonder how many times I have to play it correctly (on a gig--practicing it doesn't fix it) before I can get past that.  It's a hurdle that must be cleared.  Same thing with Sailing--we really need to play that song about a dozen times so that I can erase the fear of the intro.  Playing it on my own a million times (which I have done since the Variety Playhouse disaster) will not cure me.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Last night was extra exciting for me--it was my big debut playing Lonely Boy with the A band.  Up til now I've only played it (twice) with the B band at Wild Wing Cafes way outside of the perimeter.  Since Nick was not there (Kevin Spencer subbing), we were able to add it to the set list.  It went really well, if I do say so myself!  The spot in the breakdown where'd I'd messed up last weekend came and went without a hitch (as we approached that part of the song, I was suddenly very aware of how much I was sweating!).  No problems, though.  I was pumped.  It was fun.  

On saxophone, I had one of those "do no wrong" kind of nights.  My solo on Biggest Part of Me was definitely one of the five best attempts I'd ever had at that song.  Everything I played sounded right and logical, and I had no technical hang ups.  I felt like I could have gone on another five minutes and still played meaningful stuff.  It was very cool.  

It's worth mentioning that Mark Dannells played some really terrific stuff in his solos on How Long.  Later on in the evening he had a "so bad it's almost good" note in Ride Like the Wind.  You've got to go for it!

Kevin dared me to do something to destroy Baker Street, so the last time through the sax part, I played my part a half step higher than the band.  I assure you, it sounded unbelievably bad.  Don't try it.  It'll make your toes curl.  We loved it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Monday night I played with the Schooner on a gig for Sam Adams, brewer/patriot.  These gigs are super easy for me, because my only responsibility is to show up and play saxophone.  The Schooner guys pack all the sax songs into the first set, so I usually show and blow, and I'm home before the gig's over!

Once again, I played very well with these guys backing me up.  I could hear really well, and I just went for it on every song.  It was really fun.  The band sounded really good.  Shannon Pengelly in particular played some really rippin' stuff, especially on the second solo on Peg.  Yeah, man!

After my set, I stayed because they had free Sam Adams.  I drank at least a six pack.  I was very entertaining.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Saturday and Sunday

I found this clip of us playing Careless Whisper at the Reagan Rock prom .

Saturday night I played with the Yacht Rock Schooner (our b band), covering the second keyboard part as well as the sax/flute duties.  Also subbing in were Mark Bencuya and Greg Lee.  I asked Greg if it was difficult to sing without playing bass at the same time--I remember Sting saying that some songs are very difficult to perform if he is used to playing at the same time.  He said no--it was difficult to sing songs he's never sung before!

Since it was the Schooner, we got to play Lonely Boy, which as you might know is one of my personal favorites.  It's a fun song to play, and I like the fact that I get to be an essential part of the band on that one. The usual mode of operations is for Bencuya to handle the most essential keyboard part;  I am am much better suited to string parts and things of that sort which cannot derail the band when I suffer the inevitable disaster.  Lonely Boy is a rare moment when I get to be "the man" and Bencuya's responsibility is in the strings.

So...last night?  Three mistakes--nothing horrible.  In the first verse, the piano fills in between the chords in the progression with a repeated A.  I started thinking about it too much and tripped a little bit.  The other two mistakes were a bit uglier--between the guitar solo and the final verse is a break down to just the piano.  I was sailing along just fine, and then I started thinking about the chords (up until then I was just playing, and not consciously thinking).  Once my brain (and its annoying little voice) started in--right in the spot where I REALLY wanted to be perfect, I was toast.  It was kind of like the GPS on my phone, which is messed up and tells me to turn right as I pass through an intersection.  "You are currently playing an A minor triad, though the chord here is really F# half diminished."  This little monologue caused me to play and E Major triad and then a cluster of some sort, instead of B sus  to B.  My apologies.  Just like my Sailing episode, I can play it just fine twenty-nine out of thirty times.  You caught me at number thirty.

That was a little disappointing, but nothing that crushed my soul.

I got into some pretty good sax solos last night--I wonder why it is that the Schooner inspires me to better stuff?  My guess would be two things:  #1, we are on a small stage and nowhere for me to move, so I focus more on playing and less on showmanship;  #2, we are on a small stage and I can hear my monitor well, so I tend to not overblow.

One thing I've noticed in the past (and again last night) is that the drummer tends to end songs in the middle of my phrases.  I think in eight measure phrases, and I assume that everybody can hear the "sentence structure" of what I'm doing.  On more than one solo last night, things were brought to a halt on the third measure of a phrase--it feels like I'm stopping in the middle of a word!  Very strange.  I don't know if he cannot hear me or maybe is listening to something else, but ending in the weird spots like that is very uncomfortable.

Tonight's church gig was a medley of frustrations.  When we were setting up, the hand drummer informed me that he turned himself way up because a member of the congregation said he was inaudible.  I'll check it out, I said.  Once the mass began, I was making my adjustments (one of which was cranking him up even more because I could hardly get any sound from his microphone).  When I walked past the band to go hear how things sounded in the middle of the cathedral, I noticed he was playing his drum with two fingers.  No wonder he cannot be heard!  The solution is not to turn him up, but for him to play a little harder.  I was flabbergasted.  He usually wears headphones--he's hearing the main outputs from the board--so how can he be unaware of whether or not he can be heard?  I have his microphone so hot it was picking up more of the piano than him.  If you want to be heard, you've got to give me something to work with!

There were multiple vocals solos last night that came without warning.  Is it really that difficult to turn around and say "I sing a solo on verse two."  Can you give me a heads up?  Do you want me to bump you up or not?

The evening was too amateurish for me to tolerate.

The clincher came at the end of the mass when the priest gave away gift certificates to two dads--one with the youngest child and one with the oldest.  I had the youngest child, and then a man in the front row volunteered that his child was younger--still in the womb!  So, of course, being a Catholic church, the father of the unborn (and thus younger than my five year old) won the prize.  Ain't that a bitch?  That guy should be ashamed of himself--as my wife pointed out, the only thing that guy's done at this point is impregnate his wife, and there's a big difference between that and fatherhood.  Afterwards, the priest said to me "you almost got it!"  I should have kicked him in the nuts--he doesn't need those to be a "father."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Yacht Rock plays pool

Yacht Rock played a post-rehearsal dinner party at a place in Buckhead called The Pool Hall.  A pretty grungy place it was--no door to the men's room--you just walk around the corner and there's a urinal.  Nice!  The back room had four pool tables (only three functioning last night).  It's the kind of place where trash is dropped on the floor and picked up at the end of the night.

The stage was approximately thirty feet wide, but only about eight feet deep, so we set up shoulder to shoulder.  I assume Mark Bencuya played the gig, though I never saw him when we were on stage.  Actually, the set up was not bad.  I could hear everything ok.  I'm not sure how it sounded to someone walking the length of the stage.  You probably got a good shot of whomever you were standing near.

We played the same set list that we'd played the previous night.  Not much saxophone--I think I played sax on two songs in the first set and one in the second.  It was mostly keyboard with some EWI thrown in.

We had to load out down a hallway next to the bar because going in or out of the front door was impossible.  That worked great for us--the hallway spit us out right in front of our vehicles.  Greg Lee helped me pack up.

While we were waiting for the gig to begin, we hung out at Bencuya's car, listening to the board tape from our gig last Saturday night.  Pleasantly surprised were we!  Everything sounds good.  Nice to know that sound guys took us seriously and gave us their best shot.  When we played the Variety Playhouse last December, they acted like we were on our first gig--too much telling us what to do (instead of the other way around).  This time, they were much easier to deal with.

After that, we did play pool.  Mark Dannells and I were doing well in our first game against Greg Lee and Mark Cobb, but not so hot in the second game.  We were unable to finish because of the gig, however, so the Dannells/Freeman combination remains unbeaten!

Friday, June 18, 2010


Last night was the usual 10 High gig for Yacht Rock.  All in all, not a bad gig!  The crowd wasn't interested in what we were doing, and I think that kind of wore on us after a while.

We went through some of our Reagan Rock stuff again.  Still got it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Full Tilt!

I did a gig last night with Full Tilt at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead, for the same people for whom I had played Sunday night.

The first set (the "dinner" set) was totally bizarre.  The keyboardist and bassist are a duo, and they would play the keyboardist's original smooth jazz tunes--the rest of the band was ignored or just expected to wander along with them.  Very strange.  The keyboardist would tell us the key, but most of the time it was not the correct key.  We finally played a standard (Wave), but they played it in C instead of D.  Fly Me to the Moon was on the setlist, and when we got to it, the bass player didn't play anything--the keyboardist played left hand bass.  It was a very frustrating hour and a half.  Lots of glissandi.  Bad news.

After we came back from the break, we went into the dance set, and things were much more normal.  What a relief!  I don't think I could have taken another hour of dinner music.

Here a few more Reagan Rock prom pictures from last weekend.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday Quartet

I played a quartet gig at the Intercontinental Hotel last night.  Unfortunately for us, it was an outdoor gig--yet another opportunity to sweat profusely!  Other than the heat and humidity(which was only bad for the first hour), things were pretty good.
The band for this one was Tyrone Jackson on keyboard, Fuji Fujimoto on bass, and Kinah Boto on drums. For whatever reason, I felt like I was struggling to light a fire under Kinah.  I played with all the intensity I could muster, but I don't think he had much to say about it.  I felt at odds with the band--the more I tried to lead them in the direction, the more I was pulling against the vibe of the group.  Should I have laid back more and gone with them?  I don't know.  I didn't say anything to him because I would rather not tell him how to play;  rather I would expect him to listen to my playing and follow me (at least when I was playing).  Ultimately, the fault lies with me.  Either way, I was kind of frustrated.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Yacht Rock at the Variety Playhouse, Day 2

I'm back!

My previous post was probably a bit dramatic...I'm not dying, or folding, or in need of therapy.  Last night was the Reagan Rock Prom at the Variety Playhouse--our second night there, this time playing music from the early 1980s.

Writing in my blog about my disasters and frustrations is cathartic.  Once I put down how disappointed I was about Friday night, I felt much better and was able to focus on kicking ass Saturday.  I let it go.

So here we go...I got up around noon on Saturday and started cramming for the gig that night, mostly going over a couple of tunes that were bugging me:  the Top Gun anthem, True, and Hello.  I headed over to the Variety Playhouse, set up, soundchecked, and practiced some more.  It was really hot and muggy in there, but I assumed they hadn't begun cooling the room yet.  

As we got closer to show time, we heard that the air conditioning was not working!  It was unbearably hot. Everybody was sliding around on their instruments, and we were sweat soaked by the time we STARTED!  The crowd was awash in runny mascara and hairspray.  Everybody was uncomfortable.  At intermission, Pete and Nick spoke with the head of the venue, but he was totally unapologetic about it.  The argument from our end was "the first thing anyone will mention about this event was how awful the heat was."  His argument was "people are enjoying themselves and nobody's complaining, so deal with it."  Nice.  Way to work with us, dude.

I played much better.  I had fun and felt really in control of what I was doing.  It was a disaster free night!  That said, I did have a few funny things happen with my EWI set up.  In the second song, I was playing keyboards and I tried to wake my laptop up, but it would not--it had come unplugged and the battery had run out!  I plugged it back in and hit the power button, thinking it would wake back up, but instead it made the Mac start up chord (through the house PA during the song!!!!)  Oops!  I didn't think about that.  Once I got it booted up, things were fine.
Towards the end of the first set, I started hearing weird noises coming from my amp--a low rumbling noise.  I woke up my my computer and noticed a sound was still playing.  Weird....I hit the space bar to kill it, but it came right back on.  I played something on EWI, and then there were two sounds playing (one much softer).  My laptop is screwing up!  But no--it dawned on me that it was so super hot and super muggy, the EWI was playing itself!  I picked it up and fingered notes, and it played without me blowing into it!  The heat and humidity were so much that it was activating the breath sensor.  I turned down the sensitivity and everything was fine.  How crazy is that?!

We all looked like we'd played in the rain--everybody was soaked!  Even an hour after we finished, sweat was still rolling off of me.  When I got home two hours after the gig, my shirt was still wet.  The heat was nearly unbearable.

Here are pictures:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yacht Rock at the Variety Playhouse, Day 1

Is it right of me to allow a 30 second brain fart on one song to ruin the good vibes of an entire gig (and several weeks of hard work that led up to it)?  Probably not, but it's still happening, and for some reason the anger and embarrassment will not release their grip.

A recap of the end of this week:

Thursday:  Yacht Rock played our normal Thursday night gig at the 10 High as a final tune up before we went into the Variety Playhouse for the weekend.  Things went very well.  
By the time Thursday morning had come around, the anxiety about performing all of this material (and the potential disasters lurking inside each song) had reached sky high levels.  I set up my gear and worked through every song on the setlist, and by the time I left to go to the gig, I was almost comfortable.

We borrowed Jason Pellett from our Beatles tribute in order to create a horn section for some of the Yacht Rock stuff.  I made charts of anything where we could use him, and then killed a thousand trees printing an editing charts!  He did pretty well;  maybe a bit stiff, but it's getting there.  For me, it was a weird experience because I played acoustic saxophone on songs where I would normally play EWI.  Half the song might be a keyboard part for me, and then I would jump up and play next him, and then turn around and go back to the keyboard--pretty schizophrenic.

Friday:  Thursday ended when I got home around 2:30 AM.  Friday began at 5:30 AM, when my alarm woke me up.  Yacht Rock played on "The Regular Guys" morning show--a 6:15 AM call!  Ouch!  We played You're No Good and Heart of Rock and Roll.  I stumbled a little bit on the solo for Heart of Rock and Roll.  On You're No Good, I hold one chord for the entire chorus, and I think I stepped on the sustain pedal and put my hands behind my head.  Now I hear there's video of us...oops!  Why is there video of a radio show, anyway?!  Here's the audio, complete with one of the guys making lewd comments about Alyssa Olson while Pete (her husband!) stands right there.  I guess it's good radio, but I don't think I could have been as cool as Pete was about it.

As soon as possible, I went home and went to bed for a few hours.

We loaded into the Variety Playhouse around 1 PM (I was late, so I got there at 1:30).  I set up my stuff, warmed up, and we meandered through a soundcheck.  A shocking development:  someone in the band actually asked to have me in their monitor!  It might be the first time ever.  I'm kind of pissed, and for some reason this feels like an achievement--like someone else in the band might actually want to hear what I'm playing.

Pete blew all of these up.

Mark Cobb soundchecking.

Greg tunes the radio.

After that, there was food and a nap, and we were off!

We opened with Please Pleaserock Me, our Beatles band.  It sounded great, and we had a really good time with it.  That's a pretty easy gig for me because there are (of course) minimal horns, so I play tambourine on a few songs and clap on a few songs.  Hell, I even get to sing a little bit on Paperback Writer!  How cool is that?

Yacht Rock came out after that and rocked it.  We played great.  I'm sure everybody in the band was pretty exhausted by the time we got into it, but every person gave his all.  The crowd was pretty good--probably 600 people in total attendance?  The room was pretty full, and thankfully they mostly moved down to the open area in front of the stage, which made it feel full.

Things were going well for me--a little hiccup for me when I skipped a song and had my saxophone in hand for 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, but other than that I was making it happen.  Stayin' Alive kind of bit me in the butt--actually, I'm not sure.  That was one where I was playing sax instead of EWI, and I could hear whether what I played matched the trumpet or not because I was also playing keyboard at the same time.  Let's say I got 95 percent of it right.  

Daniel Songer came out and danced on You Should be Dancing.  Awesome!

And then...I crashed.  We played Sailing by Christopher Cross.  I play the introduction on strings.  I've played it hundreds of times with no problem.  For some reason, I drew a blank and couldn't think of it at all.  I started playing (hoping it would happen), but once I hit a wrong note, then I really couldn't think of it, and then I panicked.  I ACTUALLY STARTED THE INTRO OVER.  That was terrible.  I really wish I could have gotten up and left after that.  What the hell is wrong with me?  

That pretty much ruined the gig for me.   We played a few more songs after that and I did my best to shake it off and enjoy myself, but my little disaster destroyed my psyche.  If they'd asked me to leave the stage and never come back, I would have agreed.  

I'm not sure at what point in my career everything became do or die, but I can see how some day I will retire from performing--not because I physically cannot do it, but because mentally I cannot handle the stress of what could go wrong.  I am definitely lacking confidence at the moment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tuesday Quintet

Tuesday night was an amazing experience.  I played a quintet gig with four friends at the Aquarium, and every second of it was a joy.  The band was Dan Baraszu (guitar), Tyrone Jackson (keyboard), Kevin Smith (bass), and Marlon Patton (drums).  We played eight of my tunes (that, with a break, took up the two and a half hours of the gig!).
I could gush about how freakishly creative and musical each of my friends is, but I think the recording from the gig says it all:

I definitely need to use a camera instead of my crappy phone camera.

I have a HUGE weekend ahead, and I am woefully unprepared.  Tomorrow is going to be really bad.