Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

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    Default Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    You know like most wanna-be jazz players, I work on my jazz stuff but most of my work is in three piece horn sections for various groups. At times it can be OK but lately I feel like I'm just a stage prop. The guitar guy gets 1/2 the stage and the bass player the other 1/2 with a two hour mic check for the drums. Meanwhile the horn guys are stuck in the back shoulder to shoulder not sure if the microphones are even turned on and god forbid we ask for a monitor. Forget about solos - the sound guy has long left the building mentally.

    I know work is work but I guess I'm at a point in life where I'd rather take the jazz solo gig once every 2 months. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel differently.

    Tenor - '61 Mark VI w/Tenny Slant Tone Edge 7
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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    It sounds like time for a band meeting. How do the other horn players feel about it? Is it time to rewrite the arrangements and add more horns to the mix (backups, hits, and solos).

    You remind me of when I left my last band (15 years ago). I'd come home from rehearsals and gigs, grumbling so much that my wife finally asked "Why do you do it if it doesn't make you happy?"

    I'm loving my current band - great vibe all 'round.

    G'luck.
    Go for The Tone,

    g



    "When you are doing well, don't forget to do good." - Sichan Siv.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member 1saxman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    I feel your pain, brother! Unfortunately horn section work is all too often like background singer work - they want it, they like it but bottom line, it has nothing to do with their success, at least in their own minds. OTOH, horn section work can be wonderful IF you are of a certain ability along with the other horn players to not only do it without charts but to get that very elusive 'mind-meld' where you are doing 'head-arrangements' on the fly without any communication other than what you're playing. I've had that a few times over the years but mostly the other way, where I felt like the other two or three guys were just blockheads and were dragging me down to their level. But a gig is a gig.
    I had played a few gigs with a very odd drummer/bandleader around 20 years ago. It was like this: time to play, the combo is on stage, everything checked out, everybody got a little buzz, you know, 9:00 on Saturday night and you're itching to go; we all turn around to get the word from the band leader, who says, 'What are you guys going to do?' Anyway, on what I think was my last gig with him (he hasn't played since) he had hired a trumpet player who I knew was a competent player. When the band leader asked what were we going to play, I said 'Satin Doll' (tux job/country club). Nobody asked the key, he counted it off and the trumpet player (Mack) and I hit it in the same key and the same feel. The whole night went that way and that was the only time I ever encountered Mack on a gig. Hell, I'd pay him myself to come and play. But when you have two or more experienced, talented horn men with big ears, you don't need charts, rehearsals or anything else. This is actually the only way I like to do it if there's going to be another horn. I hate music stands which are to me the indicator of incompetence. I mean, do you know Mustang Sally after 50 years or what? One band I gig with uses tall 'fronts' for the horns but I just use the music shelf for the list, sunglasses, reeds and reed caps - handy as heck.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Wow, I could have written that first post and part of Dr. G's myself with very few changes. Sounds like us horn players don't get any love anywhere. I'm playing my last gig Saturday with a band who represents that scenario fairly well. I'm told constantly regarding solos, "in and out, that's it."
    "A lot of people are afraid of heights, I'm afraid of widths" ~ Steven Wright.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    I've been there A Greene, and I feel your pain. Somehow I'm reminded of the story Dave Liebman tells regarding working with Miles during his electric period:

    > One of my famous Miles stories is when I asked him why he even had a saxophonist at all during this period.
    > This was electric music, real loud, not subtle at all. Basically it was guitar and keyboard, electric bass, drums, percussion-oriented stuff.
    > Obviously, there had to be a trumpet there, but it seemed to me the saxophone was superfluous. So I asked him once why he had a saxophone.
    > He said, “Because people like to see you move your fingers!”

    Now, I'm certainly not comparing my bar-band experience with Dave's experience with Miles, but I know sometimes the crowd can't hear me at all when I'm moving my fingers!

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Certainly not under the conditions you describe, A Greene. What I do enjoy is playing riffs and lines with one or two other horns in a similar fashion to what 1saxman describes. NO charts*, some 'signature' lines/horn parts memorized, other riffs on the spot that the horns all pick up by ear, by listening closely, keeping it simple, and did I mention listening to each other, picking up on a riff or line and adding harmony in places. That's all a lot of fun, if and only if, the horns all pay attention, listen closely (can't stress that enough) and work together. By EAR. On top of that, the horns get solos, in some cases trade 'fours,' and participate fully in the music.

    With my own band, I'm the only horn player. But I do lines and riffs with the guitarist, which lends a big sound to a 4-piece band. And given there are only two of us that solo, I get more than enough solo time. If we could afford to add a second horn, that would be pretty cool I have to admit. But what we're doing now is working so we don't mess with it. On rare occasions, at the one jam I attend, when a couple other sax players or trombone player show up, we play parts together, depending on who they are (see paragraph above). When it's 'right,' it's a blast, otherwise forget about it...

    *p.s. Playing in a big band would definitely be an exception to much of what I said above. Charts and more complex arrangements with multiple 'voices' (instruments) make that a different situation. And I'm sure playing in a big band section can be very satisfying. One thing though, the Count Basie horn sections were known for their ability to improvise riffs and horn parts on the fly. Of course that was usually on blues changes; the "Kansas City sound."

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Quote Originally Posted by A Greene View Post
    Meanwhile the horn guys are stuck in the back shoulder to shoulder not sure if the microphones are even turned on and god forbid we ask for a monitor. Forget about solos - the sound guy has long left the building mentally.
    Last night I happened across a video of the Rolling Stones playing some gigantic stadium somewhere, and towards the end of the song I noticed ... hey, they have a horn section! You could see 'em back in the corner in the dark, and it looked like they were moving their fingers and blowing. Couldn't hear a thing they played, though, so I wound up wondering why anybody bothered.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Quote Originally Posted by MLucky View Post
    Last night I happened across a video of the Rolling Stones playing some gigantic stadium somewhere, and towards the end of the song I noticed ... hey, they have a horn section! You could see 'em back in the corner in the dark, and it looked like they were moving their fingers and blowing. Couldn't hear a thing they played, though, so I wound up wondering why anybody bothered.
    Watch "Concert for George" to see a back line that is part of the band.
    Go for The Tone,

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like? .....

    oh YES.....!

    its fantastic to play within a horn section,even with one other horn,....feels like heaven....!

    and listening to a horn section,is fantastic.....!

    the other band stuff,if its not working for you,****-it-off....!!!!!...life is too short,and unless you NEED THE MONEY,then ****-it-OFF......!!!!!

    i love horn section....!

    cheers,philip

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Quote Originally Posted by Secondhandsaxes View Post
    ..i love horn section....!

    cheers,philip
    Philip, I'm glad you chimed in here with this point. I was going to add a moderating note to my post above, but now I'll do it here in response to what you said. Playing in a section (even with only one other horn, as you say) can be a fantastic experience. I love the harmonies that you can use and the added power when playing in unison. And for some this might be more satisfying than playing solo, or playing a lot of solos. However, I also can see where playing the same background lines in a pop band, over and over, with no chance of improvising or soloing can get old. So really, like a lot of things, it depends...

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    I think some of this depends on your role in the band. If the horns are just an accessory to the rest of the band, it might be frustrating. I have been in that role in the past, where others decide which songs are in the rotation, when specific songs are played, and so on. In the covers band (bar band) I play in now, I have at least as much say as anyone else on what songs we learn and play. Our band does a lot of multi-part vocal harmonies, and I figure out most of the vocal assignments for our songs. In addition to playing the sax, I sing backing vocals, sing the occasional lead, and play some keys. I am not just an accessory, so it's fun to be in this band.

    As a bonus, my college-age son plays trumpet and trombone and sax, so he and I comprise the horn section, and we play horns on about 1/3 of the songs. He is less than an hour away, so he has been able to make all our recent gigs. If you are a father, it doesn't get any better than this.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    There is another thread around here, suggesting that the saxophone is an 'embarrassing' footnote in modern pop, since the days of 1980s classics. Ill-informed nonsense, of course. Apart from the jazz scene, horn sections periodically get mega-popular again when there a soul resurgence, maybe tied to a movie (The Blue Brothers, The Commitments etc). Nathaniel Ratecliff and the Night Sweats is the latest one I've heard with proper space for horns.

    I've enjoyed a few great times with section work, at festivals (Glastonbury, Roskilde etc) but endured some horrible ones! When the band make the horns (five of us!) share a mic, it's time to move on....

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    i love horn section work! although i enjoy playing and listening to jazz, i'll be honest and say that i prefer rock, funk, and other popular music any day. (not trying to put down jazz players, we all like what we like and hopefully have the opportunity to play things we enjoy).

    right now i'm playing with two bands, a reggae group with a three piece horn section (trumpet/sax/bone) and a soul band with a two piece horn section (trumpet/sax). in both, the horns as a valued part of the band and get plenty of the solos, and the tunes are chosen and arranged so we have more to do than just stand there and look pretty. i've had great luck playing with this type of group over the years, but that could also be since i'm not a pro and have a day job that pays the bills, so i have more leeway in taking only gigs that i'm excited about.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    The world has been guitar-centric for the last 50 years and will probably continue to be so. Actually, people would rather hear a horn than electric guitar, but guitar players are in charge. There is probably no more boring, less nuanced sound on earth than the electric guitar, but this is all you get. I won't walk into a bar if there are guitar amps set up. Not to mention that guitar players are generally musically illiterate. If you talk to them about music, their eyes glaze over.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Quote Originally Posted by lutemann View Post
    The world has been guitar-centric for the last 50 years and will probably continue to be so. Actually, people would rather hear a horn than electric guitar, but guitar players are in charge. There is probably no more boring, less nuanced sound on earth than the electric guitar, but this is all you get. I won't walk into a bar if there are guitar amps set up. Not to mention that guitar players are generally musically illiterate. If you talk to them about music, their eyes glaze over.
    i think you confuse what 'people' think with what you personally think. guitar players don't have some secrete cabal controlling access to gigs, they're everywhere since guitar is popular. (also since a performer with just a guitar and a mic can provide vocals and background music all on their own in the right setting, without needing a bulky piano).

    anyways, i quite like electric guitars! not saying you have to, but to say their sound is categorically boring and un-nuanced seems unfair to me. also, some guitar players are musically illiterate, sure, but i've played with many who are excellent musicians, with great jazz chops and lots of knowledge of theory. i've also played with horn players who don't know any theory and improvise only by ear. at the end of the day, if it sounds good then i'm not going to quibble over how the player got there.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    I occasionally play in a band that started off as a group of equals associated with a radio station, where eventually a majority decided that there was a "core band" and "the others". Myself and another sax player were put into "the other" category along with a female singer, beginner acoustic guitarist, a banjo player and occasional guests. Yeah, we have some interesting instrumentation and a lot of people on stage when we do get out.

    The "core band" usually gets together for practices before "the others" even know there's a gig. By the time we get added in, it's a scramble to figure out arrangements for the songs that have already been decided upon.

    Why don't I quit? Hell, I don't get out enough as it is, so I don't want to turn down any offer to play.

    One way I did react to it was to create a short lived radio show (that's another story) that focused on songs with horns in them. It was about 50% R&B, with all kinds of other genres added in. As long as the song had a horn in it and I liked it, it was eligible for play. I started the show with the opening "Now put down that six string cheese slicer and pick up your nearest lip-powered soul screamer." My subtle dig going out weekly to the "core band"

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Quote Originally Posted by lutemann View Post
    The world has been guitar-centric for the last 50 years and will probably continue to be so. Actually, people would rather hear a horn than electric guitar, but guitar players are in charge. There is probably no more boring, less nuanced sound on earth than the electric guitar, but this is all you get. I won't walk into a bar if there are guitar amps set up. Not to mention that guitar players are generally musically illiterate. If you talk to them about music, their eyes glaze over.
    Speaking of ill-informed... My goodness!

    FWIW, I recently heard Progger in concert, a group led by SotW member HeavyWeather77 - yes, the saxophone player is the leader. This whole band is talented - including the guitarists.

    Give 'em a listen:

    Go for The Tone,

    g



    "When you are doing well, don't forget to do good." - Sichan Siv.

    As a Veteran for Peace, I am already against the next war.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    Quote Originally Posted by farnaway View Post
    I occasionally play in a band that started off as a group of equals associated with a radio station, where eventually a majority decided that there was a "core band" and "the others". Myself and another sax player were put into "the other" category along with a female singer, beginner acoustic guitarist, a banjo player and occasional guests. Yeah, we have some interesting instrumentation and a lot of people on stage when we do get out.

    The "core band" usually gets together for practices before "the others" even know there's a gig. By the time we get added in, it's a scramble to figure out arrangements for the songs that have already been decided upon.

    Why don't I quit? Hell, I don't get out enough as it is, so I don't want to turn down any offer to play.

    One way I did react to it was to create a short lived radio show (that's another story) that focused on songs with horns in them. It was about 50% R&B, with all kinds of other genres added in. As long as the song had a horn in it and I liked it, it was eligible for play. I started the show with the opening "Now put down that six string cheese slicer and pick up your nearest lip-powered soul screamer." My subtle dig going out weekly to the "core band"
    This type of thought process isn't all that uncommon with larger bands. The 11 piece funk band I play in has 3-4 folks (lead singer, drums, lead sax (directs and takes most of the solos), and bass) who need to be available for us to do a gig since they are very difficult to sub for. Sometimes economics comes into play as well. If you have someone who is only going to pay $500 no matter how large or small the band it may make more sense to show up with 5-6 than 10-12 if you can play the gig with fewer people. That way everyone gets a reasonable cut. Many of the agencies will actually charge this way for bands where the core group is so much per hour and any extra instrumentation (horns, percussion, back up vocals) add to the cost based on some formula or other.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    yes....
    Quote Originally Posted by saxonabike View Post
    i think you confuse what 'people' think with what you personally think. guitar players don't have some secrete cabal controlling access to gigs, they're everywhere since guitar is popular. (also since a performer with just a guitar and a mic can provide vocals and background music all on their own in the right setting, without needing a bulky piano).

    anyways, i quite like electric guitars! not saying you have to, but to say their sound is categorically boring and un-nuanced seems unfair to me. also, some guitar players are musically illiterate, sure, but i've played with many who are excellent musicians, with great jazz chops and lots of knowledge of theory. i've also played with horn players who don't know any theory and improvise only by ear. at the end of the day, if it sounds good then i'm not going to quibble over how the player got there.

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    Default Re: Horn Section Work - Is it something you like?

    seems to me that this is the crux of why saxophone and horns in general are getting less and less jobs...and has been for years,well here in australia that is....
    pubs/clubs/etc want more and give you less as the years go on....

    anyways,life goes on and its good to be alive,(no war here thank god!)....!

    cheers,philip
    Quote Originally Posted by KeithL View Post
    Sometimes economics comes into play as well.

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