In March 2017, former LA recording studio executive Nick Bogden and I formed a musical ensemble. Our original concept was to create a jazz / swing combo; however, the kind of a band one gets depends on the musicians who answer the call. |
For the case at hand, reality dictated a vintage rock band; a group that began with a two-fold vision: 1) have fun, and 2) be inclusive. The only rules were: regular attendance at weekly rehearsals; and show up prepared. In the main, the players adhered to those rules, and always enjoyed each other’s company. Synergy was excellent. Most recruits were experienced country and/or rock musicians, but couldn’t read music; and relied instead on following chord progressions. The plan was keep-it-simple; i.e., stay away from complicated musical arrangements. With guidance provided by the keyboardist and original bassist, the strategy worked well. We did have fun, and included almost anyone who could make a contribution. The band was locally popular and in demand. We were dubbed as A BAND WITH NO NAME by guitarist Jan Polansky. By-and-by, a few conflicts developed, which ultimately resulted in other musical groups being formed. I always counted that as a plus; the more music, the better—at least that’s the way I look at the world.
Not everything was easy, however. Including vocalists, the band typically played with 10 members. To have nine to 10 ready to play, the roster ballooned to 22. We had to cover work incidences, neglected wives, family vacations, snowbirds, etc. It wasn’t an easy task to have the band ready to perform at (almost) any time. Part of the rotation included four drummers, and a half dozen bass players. Still, we managed to keep continuity, thanks in large part to the foresight of those who advocated the keep-it-simple strategy.
Fast forward to the second half of May 2018. We played three gigs during that period, the last being May 27. Those of us in the band had one heck-of-a-lot of fun, and so did the audience. A neighborhood café asked the band to appear once a month for the rest of the year during a Friday happy hour. Everything was upbeat and positive. Then it happened: May 30 was our final rehearsal. A BAND WITH NO NAME pulled up stakes—at least for a time.
Odd how the geometry of the universe seems to align and affect worldviews of individuals. The end wasn’t a day-to-night occurrence. It was like dusk sneaking up on a cat. Here’s what happened: We did not have the usual planned playlist for what was to be the last session. Coming off from three gigs in less than three weeks, we decided to kick back, relax, and work on a few songs our vocalists wanted to perfect. Five songs into the rehearsal, the band never sounded so good. We exchanged satisfied looks and took a break. There was no way to tell what would follow.
But before I finish the story, let me describe what was to become the “dusk’ furtively sneaking up on A BAND WITH NO NAME. You see, Nick and I never let go of our original vision of forming a jazz band. In November 2017, darned if we didn’t collect a group of excellent musicians who are terrific sight readers (of musical charts) who wanted to play jazz. (I call this group the LOUNGE LIZARDS until they come up with something better.) Some charts were purchased; and the drummer, a former music teacher who can play anything, also began arranging for the combo, writing the parts for all instruments. The jazz pianist, with 12 years of classical training, was (coincidentally) also the main vocalist for A BAND WITH NO NAME. She had been unhappy for months at the rock band’s performance behind her vocals. Another female vocalist was also less than content. She has a long resume of west coast band performance, and international chorale experience. The jazz bass player, who also plays guitar, classical guitar, and classical piano, occasionally subbed in the rock band on bass and guitar. He was on lead guitar for the rock band that fateful night.
There you have it: oil and water. Self-taught chord players on one side and we-can-play-anything chart-reading musicians on the other.
There’s a bar in the same building as the rehearsal venue. After the five aforementioned songs, a number of patrons sought me out during the break. They wondered why A BAND WITH NO NAME sounded better than usual. It looked like we had achieved a breakthrough of sorts. Before the band started up again, the guitar player, the bass—a pro I brought in for the session—the drummer, and the female vocalists started a so-called complicated jam tune that turned into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. It sounded freaking terrific! The leader was miffed, and began packing up his keyboard—WHAT?
The music stopped, and a meeting was convened about how to approach sessions going forward. There seemed to be accord until the keep-it-simple edict was reinforced. That was the impasse. The chord progression side wanted to continue as always, but the players from the jazz band wanted to explore new, more complicated charts. Everyone packed up 20 minutes before the end of the session, and left. Frustrated, I resigned that very night.
The nucleus of A BAND WITH NO NAME remains, but they decided to take some time off before considering whether or not to reconvene. I hope they return although neither Nick nor I will be with them.
Meanwhile, five of the jazz players have joined the female vocalists from A BAND WITH NO NAME, and a studio bass player to form a new jazz-rock fusion band called, ESTRELLA MOUNTAIN BAND. The LOUNGE LIZARDS will continue as usual. Although EMB and the LIZARDS will gig separately, they may on occasion play together as a combined band. The future looks exciting for those musicians. Unlike A BAND WITH NO NAME, these men and women are all jazz, classical, and concert trained musicians with long resumes of accomplishment. However, as an ensemble will they be able to add the intangible fun factor that the band that spawned them did? With that in mind, this is a warning for EMB: Musical competence can only take you so far. If you cannot connect with an audience, and draw them in you may not be remembered. ENTERTAINMENT is the key.
The legacy of A BAND WITH NO NAME is rich. As the original band from our community, they spawned four other bands: 1) JaZmin, a soft jazz trio; 2) Country Reign, a country band; 3) the Lounge Lizards; and 4) Estrella Mountain Band. Since they started the musical renaissance, my hope is that they recharge their batteries, and come back stronger than ever.
By Gene Myers, broken-down pianist, rookie trombonist, BUT excellent on slide whistle, and old man nose whistling. (Also working on backwards yodeling.)
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