|Pep Band gig, 1971. I'm in the middle|
front row with the groovy neckstrap.
In junior high, I organized a combo that was called the "Burnished Brass" and we played a lot of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass songs. Our claim to fame was playing for Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 at the Iowa State Fair when he was running for president. That was a cool gig.
With few exceptions, for most of the last 50 years I've had a gig to look forward to. A concert band gig, a Dixieland gig, a rock n' soul band gig and like tonight, a big band jazz gig. I've played in glorious auditoriums, on football fields and baseball stadiums, in tawdry bars and smoke-filled nightclubs and in hotel ballrooms. In the Skybox suites at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE, in city parks, Elks Clubs, Moose Lodges, Legion clubs, and small town ballrooms in the middle of nowhere. I played the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa where Buddy Holly played his last gig. I've played at weddings, funerals, birthday parties, dances, and at pretenous county club and high society affairs. I've played for pay and I've played for free.
I've played Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" so many times I can play it in my sleep. At an Elks Club gig years ago, a crusty old tenor player sitting next to me named Tuffy Epstein muttered under his breath as the crowd squealed with delight when this song was announced, "I hate this F'ing song". That pretty much sums up how I feel about that tune.
Same thing goes for Mustang Sally or Midnight Hour when I played in an oldies band a few years back. These are classic songs until you've played them one too many times in front of an inebriated crowd where the drunk guy tries to convince you that "you play better than Clarence Clemmons" as you head for your car.
But for everyone of those comical, routine and nonchalant experiences,there have been grand and glorious musical moments. Playing Carmen Dragon's classic arrangement of "America the Beautful" never gets old. Nor does Percy Graingers's "Irish Tune from Couny Derry", which never fails to give me goosebumps.
Tonight, I'll be playing in an 18 piece big band at an event in downtown Omaha from 9:30 to midnight. I've played with this group, the Swingtones, since 1988. These are old friends as well as fellow musicians. The crowd will be dancing to the sounds of "Fly Me To the Moon", "Pennies from Heaven" and "Moonlight Serenade". There will be a waltz or two, a polka, a samba, even "The Bunny Hop".
|Swingtones Big Band, mid 1990"s|
I'm the second from the left in the front row.
Truth be told, there is a part of me that would just like to stay home with Georgette and Grace to bring in the New Year in a quiet, warm and serene manner. But I'm also aware that these gigs won't last forever. Someday I will play no more. Whenever and however that last gig comes to be, I will have had a marvelous ride through this musical life of mine, playing the saxophone and looking forward to the next gig.
So if you are still up at 11:55 pm, CST, hum a few choruses of "In the Mood" as we play that song, one more time. And as I usher in my 51st year of playing the saxophone.
Unless of course, you hate that F'ing song.