Warming Up

Warming Up

Monday, April 18, 2011

Random Gigs: Beauty in the Rain and a Heart Attack in Church

My apologies for the lack of posts last week (I know you were crushed); it was a really hectic week. All that needed to be accomplished was accomplished. I met my writing deadlines and managed to balance a crazy work week with a super busy family schedule (including almost six hours of Little League on Saturday). The rehearsals were made and the gigs were played. And speaking of gigs played, I had two really interesting ones this weekend.

Saturday night’s gig was at the RUBA Club in Philly with my friend Matt Davis’ band, Aerial Photograph. Like elsewhere in the country, Saturday dumped some crazy weather on the Philadelphia area. It rained and rained, and rained, and rained, and rained. And then it rained some more, because, hey, maybe we needed more rain. The radio told me on the drive down to my gig that we were going to get one to two inches total of rain. What?! We got at least two inches of rain during my drive alone. Turns out the totals were more like five to eight inches of rain in my area which tends to get more than in the city (some minor flooding in my basement while I was at the gig – fun). It was a pretty crappy night to have to leave the house. But Matt is my buddy and his band plays beautiful music. When I got to the gig (pretty soaked because I couldn’t find an umbrella at home) I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was actually an audience there to watch us and a fabulous band called The Blue Cranes from Portland, OR play our sets.

Aerial Photograph has been around for six or seven years or so, I believe. The genesis of the group came out of Matt’s undergrad experience of writing for a guitar trio plus a string quartet. The band soon added a saxophone and then a five piece wind section (Saturday we played without trombone). The music is all Matt’s. Kind of a chamber jazz vibe. Beautiful, quiet, moody, elegant, sometimes simple, sometimes complex music. It’s a really special ensemble. I’ve never heard another band quite like this one. And the juxtaposition between pouring, violent rain and Matt’s peaceful and calm music could not have been more stark. The band played beautifully on Saturday night, especially on Matt’s new one, Sol Soul, which is built off of the chord changes to Miles Davis’ Solar. Yours truly got to solo through the progression with just a pointillistic string quartet backdrop. It was a challenge and a lot of fun. We also had a special guest on cello. A fabulous Swedish player (I can’t remember his first name, but his last name is Kramer) who had just auditioned that morning for the New York Philharmonic. He was pretty good :) Gorgeous tone and obviously a good reader. He comes from a family of accomplished string players. I think he made us all step up our game, whether we realized it or not. And our audience seemed to notice. We had a real nice reception. All in all, it was a nice night of music and one of the better recent Aerial Photograph shows. Not bad for a really crappy night.

I had to get up pretty early on Sunday for my next gig – a Palm Sunday service at a Lutheran Church in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. I was told to arrive really early so that I could rehearse the music (almost all of which I was seeing for the first time that morning) with the organist and the choir. I had about 35 seconds to warm up before we ran through all the music, plus some of more difficult music we’ll be performing at next Sunday’s Easter service. I generally don’t play all that well first thing in the morning, but my chops seemed to be handing all of that playing ok, although by the end of the service my lips were pretty much shot. Maybe not a great idea to rehearse for a solid hour before the Easter Service. Especially if I’m supposed to hit all those notes in that Handel piece. But whatever, this isn’t what I’m writing about. I’m writing about the incident that took place about halfway through the service.

Right after the sermon I was starting to get ready for the next choir piece that I was going to play. Just mentally going over the music, making note of key changes, and any passages with weird rhythms or fingering. Then I heard the pastor say “And now we’ll sing some hymns while the paramedics take care of Phyllis.” WTF?! I looked up, through the huge palms, and over the altar. There were about four paramedics attending to an elderly African American woman, giving her oxygen, and getting her onto a stretcher. Apparently, Phyllis had just had a heart attack while sitting in the pew. Her husband, Alex had quickly and discretely called 911. To keep things moving along, but in a manner respectful of the paramedics and their responsibilities, the pastor and the organist just kept the hymns coming and I just kept playing along, transposing and coming up with harmony parts on the spot. I’m not sure, but the congregation seemed to be singing louder and more passionately than normal. Maybe to sing Phyllis back into a stable condition. It was kind of emotional and really surreal. Then the paramedics took her away and the service went back to normal – just extended by about 25 minutes. That was a weird church service and a weird gig. Life is precious and you never know what’s coming next. So sing louder. Put your heart into it. Good luck, Phyllis. And Alex.

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