Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jazz: The Music of Un-enjoyment

The improvising-guitarist-who-will-not-be-named had a post last week detailing some of the most horrific gigs he/she/it had ever experienced. Call it coincidence, but fellow blogger Peter Breslin had a similar post that went up at about the same time.

They are both fantastic, funny, agonizing, and all-too-familiar reads. Highly recommended.

I for one hope the jazz blogosphere picks up on this meme in the same way that it picked up on the Bad Plus questionnaire last year. Whether or not that happens, here's a brief list of my own favorite shit gigs (I'm sure if I thought about it I could dig up more). I'm going to skip over the question of my own playing, which I think is always pretty second-rate anyway, and focus mostly on logistical and conceptual problems. And just plain bad luck.

Names have not been changed, because none of the people involved were innocent.

1. Bar band hell.

For a very brief time in the late eighties, I played keyboards in this band. Do I really have to say more? God love 'em, they did what they did really well -- but what they did was not my cup of tea, and I'm not exactly sure how I got roped into playing with them. Every gig sucked, but during one show in particular I actually had the nerve (and the lack of professionalism) to get so pissed that (for the first and hopefully last time in my career) I walked off the stage in the middle of a song -- the band was veering that far from anything that I could recognize as musical interest or integrity.

2. How does this thing work again?

During the first incarnation of the band that would eventually become The Evelyn Situation (circa the early nineties), I started dividing my onstage time between piano and acoustic guitar. Though I had always been a capable amateur guitarist -- with an emphasis on the "amateur" -- by the time I did my first guitar-heavy gig, I still didn't even realize that the strings can sometimes break. (What do you want? I was a pianist, and as such was used to my instrument remaining more or less intact for the duration of a performance.) Imagine my astonishment when, during the course of some maudlin tune or other, a string simply snapped. Duh. I had never changed my strings before. I literally sat there staring at the instrument for a while, more or less at a loss as to what to do next.

3. You want me to wear what?

After I got my jazz mojo together in the late nineties, I joined a "trad jazz" outfit with the unfortunate moniker of Casey Jones and the Engineers. We dressed like, uh, engineers (red bandanas, overalls -- do I have to paint you a freakin' picture?!). Our drummer (who was also the band's manager, and who was also the leader's boyfriend -- so many bad ideas coming together in one place) had a sense of time that could only be described as, uh, recalcitrant.(Wait -- you want the beat to be where? Fuck you! I'm gonna put it over here.) Once the novelty of getting to play "jazz" publicly with a group wore off, every gig pretty much sucked (aesthetically, interpersonally, fiscally...).

4. Unnecessary roughness.

There have only been two times when I have consciously been in the immediate proximity of a firearm because of a gig (both were IJG gigs -- one occurred in Rochester, and one in San Francisco).

Still, neither of those incidents was a violent as a show I did with my favorite of the groups-I-have-played-with-that-were-not-my-own: The Nourishment. The time: near-Halloween, 2000. The place: the California Institute for Abnormalarts (aka CIA). The scene: lead singer Jason Polland was in his cross-dressing phase, and apparently this bothered an inebriated audience member so much that fisticuffs ensued. During the middle of a song. I can't remember for sure, but I think broken bottles were involved. I know poor Jason ended up on his back at one point.

Jason Polland channeling his inner punk rock girl.

Everything happened so fast that none of us on the stage were sure that this wasn't part of the act (things were always a little edgy with this group). And since Jason quickly went back to singing, we finished the set anyway.

It was only afterward that we learned that the confrontation was genuine. Thankfully no one got hurt.

Yes, that's me next to the violin-playing gorilla. I can't explain the bull's eye on his crotch -- something in the camera, I guess.

5. The gig that never was.

Funny that the "worst gig" was one that actually never had a chance to occur. During the IJG's first tour of the east coast (June 2005), we were scheduled to perform at CBGB -- this was the actually the first of the east coast gigs I had booked for what turned out to be a five day tour.

CBGB cancelled less than a week before we were scheduled to play. The email from the booking agent, “dee pop” (if that really was his / her name), had the subject heading “please read - cbgb's gig cancelled,” and went exactly like this:

I'm truly sorry to have to tell you this but the show next wednesday has been cancelled. this is sudden to me and there is nothing i can to do to change it. i am truly sorry for the inconvienence this may cause you guys. dee pop

My first response was even briefer than that:

Hey Dee:
Huh? Why?

Then I thought some more and sent off another email:

Do you have any recommendations for a venue nearby that we might be able to play at on such short notice?

Then the ire started to kick in. Email number three from me:

Also, is the club prepared to do something to compensate all of the people who might unwittingly trek across town (or in from NJ) to see us? This show has been fairly heavily promoted, and there's no way I’m going to be able to get the word out about the cancellation at this late date.

I'm not trying to be a jerk or anything, I know this is not your fault, but the situation is completely ridiculous.

Dee didn’t really respond to any of these questions when he / she wrote back:

club decision and truly out of my hands.

My reply to this cold comfort:

But it doesn't make sense. Again, I know the situation is out of your hands, so I'm not blaming you, but you’re my only contact with the venue. There’s got to be some reason. Is the club closing? Are they hosting a private party in that room? Are they afraid the show wouldn’t cover their expenses?

I probably wouldn’t be as pissed if we weren’t coming in from out of town (pretty fucking far out of town) and I hadn't put so much time into promoting the show. And I'm really concerned about potential fans who are going to take this out on us, assuming it is somehow our fault.

I sent that off, and then, just because I couldn’t shut up, I added:

At the very least, how about if I send you some flyers that the club can give to anyone who shows up to see us? The flyers could offer a discount on our Bloomfield, NJ show two days later.

I would appreciate it.

This whole exchange took place on Thursday, the 9th of June. Dee did take me up on my flyers offer, and attempted to find us an alternate venue (or so he / she claimed), but in the end I never heard more from him / her.

Needless to say I hardly got any sleep that evening. A good amount of promotional energy had gone into getting the word out about the CBGB show, and to have that simply evaporate because of the arbitrary decision of some asshole without a name (note that no one actually claimed responsibility for the cancellation, and no reason was ever given) was irritating, to say the least.

As it turned out the day was saved by Beth, who hooked us up with the guys in (the amazing) Jerseyband, who were in turn kind enough to allow us to join them on their bill at the (now-defunct) C-Note the same evening we would've played CB's. So all was not lost. But for about 48 hours there I was in hell.


Jeff said...

I didn't know you played in Street Hassle... or whatever they called themselves back then...

I did enjoy their website's massive typo:

"Steve H is the founder ... Street Hassle and the Brass Balls could and would never be with him."

And yet they are... the PARADOX!!!!

Jeff said...

Oh, and to refresh your memory ... scanning thru the Street Hassle picture galleries, I stumbled upon all sorts of blasts from the past; but the notable one was our fellow Pressler & Pressler alum, Anthony S. in some of the publicity shots... so my money is on him dragging you in there.

KRIS TINER said...

What?! No mention of that shirtless redneck run-on rock band we double-billed with in podunk New Jersey at that stinky-ass sorry excuse for a coffeehouse which was across the street from the worst pizza joint I've ever been to but I had plenty of time to deal with the indigestion because the first set lasted for damn near two ear-splitting hours?

THAT was the worst gig of MY life.

All the other IJG gigs have been a lot of fun.

Andrew said...

Kris: Glad I was able to oblige.

Jeff: Ah, it's all coming back to me. It was Stramaglia. In fact, I also just had a flashback of you and I sitting outside a SH rehearsal and cracking jokes about Gloria Estefan.