Have you ever played in a band, and with all due respect, I’m not talking about your conventional high school or grade school band? I mean, have you ever seriously played, in a band, for money? Do you know how and what it feels like to play a guitar, a sax, a piano, an acoustic or electric bass, the drums, or a trumpet, or any instrument, in a band, on a stage, while the crowd claps, sways, and yells to every note and beat that’s being played? You can’t buy a pill, or any dope, or alcohol that will give you the high, the rush, that playing in a band gives you, specially when you’re 16, 17 or 18 years old. At that age, it’s a high you can’t forget.
I reluctantly joined my high school’s big band jazz band when I was a freshman, in 1957. I was pretty good on the trumpet, but I was still anxious to find out if I was good enough to play with them. The band was fashioned after Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Our high school band director wrote all our arrangements and was the guy, who made our sound, sound so great.
I’ll try to explain the rush I experienced when I played with them the first time. On stage, with the curtain closed, I heard the crowd milling around. I was nervous. As soon as the crowd heard us taking our places on the bandstand behind the curtain, playing a few notes just to stay warmed up, they started clapping and whistling. The clapping got louder and louder. The curtains were still closed when we started playing our theme song The Baby Sitter Blues. After about 5 or 6 bars, those tall red curtains began to slowly open. We played a little louder, then as loud as we could; we had to, just to hear ourselves. Maybe I had led a sheltered life, but the emotional rush virtually overwhelmed me. Really, I had a hard time blowing my trumpet; all I wanted to do was just sit there and smile and savor and listen to everything that was going on. I almost, not quite, but almost couldn’t believe I was a part of what was causing the uproar.
Our sound and beat was complete and big.
I don’t want to even pretend, or give you the impression; our jazz band was as great as Duke Ellington or Count Basie. That was just not possible. However, there’s one dimension of our band’s sound that we had in common with The Duke, The Count and the other great jazz bands. Our sound, their sound was based on natural sound. Like the great jazz bands, there was no tall wall of Peavey speakers and amplifiers stretched across the back of our stage. No one was at a control panel, out of site of the audience, camouflaging, manipulating the sound or the balance of the various instruments and making the band sound louder (or quieter) than we were. Like their bands, our sound was right in your face, unaltered, projecting from the instruments (not speakers), right in front of you. What we played is what you heard.
Today, when big jazz bands play live, the power of their all-natural sound is still intense. My 2 sons will testify to their intensity, as a result of me escorting them to a Count Basie concert when they were still in high school, in the 80s. They actually enjoyed the concert and were stunned at how loud The Basie Band could play, minus the “amplification”. Today, no one is at a control panel and there still is no wall of speakers and amps. What you hear is what the band plays.
To prove it, listen to this… DIMINUENDO AND CRESCENDO IN BLUE by Duke Ellington. This arrangement is 15 minutes of unaltered, high energy, penetrating rhythm, astonishing musicianship and audience participation. What The Duke’s band plays, is what you hear. Again, this is honest sound, no wall of speakers, no manipulation. DIMINUENDO AND CRESCENDO IN BLUE becomes more spontaneous with each beat and each note. Recorded live, at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI., means there are no studio touch ups/dubbing on this tape, either. Towards the end, the crowd is almost as loud as Duke’s bank; saying the crowd is excited is an understatement.
Turn up the volume…if you don’t like it you can always turn the volume down or stop it…
The following video is from a concert in Amsterdam, Holland, 1958. It’s the same piece, however, the arrangement is a little different. The point; notice the lack of speakers. You see a few microphones scattered about, but that’s it. That’s a lot of great, natural sound, without a lot of manipulation.
Time marches on, but what would be most enjoyable is to have time march to the beat of big band jazz.