Saturday, May 3, 2008

Loud and Louder: More Absurd Gig Stories

The last two nights have been a study in wackiness out there in gigland. Thursday night I played with a jazz quartet at a posh downtown hotel. We were human ambiance for a group of about 200 corporate types in a small ballroom. We were playing some nice quiet standards, minding our own business as usual. At several points during the first set some cheese from the "end client" came rushing up to the bandstand to tell us that we were too loud. This was utterly ridiculous. First, we don't play loud; we have been doing this kind of work for decades and the prime directive of this kind of gig is to play sotto voce enough for the guests to be able to converse normally. This usually results in there being a dull roar of voices accompanied by a barely distinguishable music track. Music for an ant farm, one of my friends calls it. Also, I was observing people right in front and to the side of the bandstand. None of them were leaning into one another to be heard or shouting or showing any signs of aural distress. It got to the point where we were practically miming.

Then tonight I played an event at a large, well-known store in downtown Chicago. I will protect the guilty by withholding the name of the place. We were on a small stage in a sizable open area. This was a piano, bass and drums jazz trio - not a very powerful group, volume-wise.

As the festivities were about to commence, we noticed that the recorded music was still "on" in the room (in fact, it was the second movement of Beethoven's 6th Symphony). We asked our contact to see if it could be turned off and she got right on the horn to call the A/V dude. We sat there on stage waiting for a healthy ten minutes. Finally, we were asked to start playing and assured that the recorded music would be terminated momentarily.

So we played a tune. As we were finishing up, the final chord was swallowed up by the sound of some song by Prince. Apparently, the classical music had been replaced by dance music and was, of course, much louder and more obnoxious. So we sat there again for ten or fifteen minutes, waiting for the aforementioned engineer to, you guessed it, turn off the music. Again, and this time less pleasantly, we were asked to start playing regardless of the utter absurdity of trying to make music over this din. But - we're pros, so we soldiered on.

Eventually, someone high enough on the managerial food chain managed to find the "off" switch and we were left to our own sonic devices for a few minutes. Suddenly we were interrupted yet again, this time by the sound of the DJ literally blasting from the center of the store. It was teeth rattlingly loud. We were well over a hundred yards away but we could barely hear ourselves think, let alone play anything coherent.

I flashed back to the previous night and pondered the philosophical implications of just what, exactly, too loud might mean. Clearly, anyone even close to the DJ's speakers couldn't possibly hold a conversation above that decibel level, but we were told that this is what the store wanted. They wanted to create the impression that the people over there were in a dance club. Meanwhile, we were supposed to be playing in an intimate jazz bar or some such silliness.

Luckily it was only a five hour gig.


David A. Rogers said...

From a talkbass comment by calivox:

>>As a side note, it has been my experience (and I've done thousands of these kinds of gigs) that if you are playing at an event where you are background entertainment, the lower the band volume, the more compliments about how good the band sounds you will get. Interestingly, the volume of compliments will increase until it hits a maximum when you are actually miming playing. Sadly, I am only partially kidding.<<

Gig Stories said...

I've been in quite a few situations like this over the years. Maybe you should submit this to Gig Anecdotes' Gig Stories section. They'd probably post it.