Jump, Jive, Wail…But Quietly

Well, last night I had a number of firsts. It all started last weekend when I got a phone call from a drummer who heard me play with Deception at the Church Of The Blues. He phoned to see if I’d be interested in sitting in with his 3-piece dance band, Cadence, when they played a dance, at a local community centre.

Cadence normally consists of a guitar, bass guitar, & drums, with all 3 guys doing vocals at times. The bass player also doubles on mandolin. On occasion, they do bring in a sax player from North Vancouver, but he is not always able to make it to their shows due to other commitments. So basically they were looking to have a backup sax player in their pocket should a show come up when they need a horn player, and their guy isn’t available. Since I was free last night, I said I’d come down and listen for a while, and then play with them for part of the evening.

Cadence’s repertoire consists of everything from foxtrots to tangos to swing to jive to waltzes to polkas and everything in between: Think ballroom dancing.

These 3 guys do an amazing job filling the ballroom with sound. Cadence is a very tight package, and has a loyal group of fans that follow them from venue to venue throughout the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland… And can those people dance! The age spread of the dancers last night was from 50 to 80.

Since I was going to be playing with a low-key band (compared to what I’m used to), when Rick asked if wanted to be miked, I said no, I’d go acoustic, since I can project really well. And since this was really more of a jazz gig, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to take  my 10M to its first show.

Cadence has been together a long time. The guys know each other very well, and coming in for the first time, as an outsider never having played with any of them (other than the with drummer for a few songs during a jam) really puts one at a disadvantage. 

They also don’t use charts, so standing beside the guitar player I really had nothing to look at other than maybe the vocal lines. Occasionally there would be a few chords listed, but more often than not, there wouldn’t even be a sheet for a tune.

By the end of the night, I’d played on about 25 tunes, and I’d only totally screwed up on 2 of them… And those were ones with killer chord changes. Not too bad for a blues rocker, who hasn’t played jazz in over 2 years.

We ended the night on a couple of jump/jive tunes. I couldn’t help myself… I guess it’s just my nature: I ended both of my last 2 solos with my signature altissimo climb into the stratosphere. The looks on the faces of some of the older (65+) crowd the first time I did it, was hysterical.

They didn’t know what to think. I’m sure they thought I was experiencing “technical difficulties”. After the song ended, I laughed, and apologized if I hurt their ears. I told them it was called rock and roll. The second time I did it, they just carried on dancing, and politely applauded at the end.

As I was packing up, I was approached by a number of people who told me how much they liked my playing. So it couldn’t have been too offensive to people’s ears.

What I noticed last night was how much growl tone has crept into my playing over the past 2 years. Before I became ill, and put the Bassic Sax Jazz Ensemble on hiatus, I played jazz as much as I played blues with Deception. My jazz tone was edgier than many players’, but it didn’t have a constant growl.

Last night I noticed that I virtually had a constant growl tone. For the jump, jive, etc. tunes that was fine, but when it came to the ballads, I really found that I was fighting with myself. All of a sudden a growl would start happening on the sustained tones, and I’d quickly have to shut it down.

I didn’t realize until last night how much my playing style had changed over the past 2 years.

As I mentioned at the outset, last night involved a number of firsts for me. They included:

  1. Playing with a jazz type band for the first time in over 2 years.
  2. Playing with Cadence.
  3. Using my Conn 10M for a gig.
  4. Sharing the stage with a mandolin.

All in all, last night was a really good experience. It got me thinking outside of the box I’m used to thinking in, and had me playing with different people. These are always good things to do. Also, it was just a lot of fun to play for a totally different type of crowd then come to see Deception.

All of these things help to grow you as a musician. Since becoming ill over 2 years ago, I lost a lot, and I have been working hard at regaining my skills. Events like last night are little steps along the way, which allow me to do just that.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2009, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

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