The remote recordings continue with the release of Remote Riffing: Volume 2 (CalBal Live), an EP of the five tunes Keenan McKenzie assembled for the CalBal Live virtual Balboa workshop in January, 2020. I’m singing on two tracks, both original swing tunes written by Keenan McKenzie – If I Wrote a Song for You with Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers and Transcontinental with the Keenan McKenzie Orchestra. I have previously recorded both of these songs for Keenan’s album Forged in Rhythm, but it was fun to revisit these, perform them now that I’ve had them under my belt a couple of years, and hear the new arrangements, particularly Transcontinental with a big band! Please go to Keenan’s Bandcamp page and check out the incredible lineups of musicians for each song – I know we have been weary of this pandemic for some time, but this is one of those silver linings, essentially being able to record anywhere and have someone create this alchemy of recordings.
The pandemic recordings keep coming – we had to be doing something this whole time, right? In non-COVID times, the Mint Julep Jazz Band would have performed over Labor Day weekend at Camp Hollywood, but this year Camp Hollywood put on a four day virtual event that was as close to the real thing as we can get right now. We decided to put together a remote recording with video and audio of the band performing “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet” to premiere at Virtual Camp Hollywood and now you can watch it on YouTube.
Keenan McKenzie (who not only appears in the MJJB video above, but also graciously coached us in how to put together a remote video) released his next in a series of remote recordings, featuring his original tunes and musicians from around the U.S. – “My Well-Read Baby” is one of those songs I love to sing and love to hear, so I hope you enjoy this fresh take!
Conceived and executed entirely during the pandemic, Michael Gamble has assembled four lineups of musicians from across the US for a remote recording project and is releasing four EPs, two at a time, on the September 4, 2020 and October 2, 2020 Bandcamp Fridays (where Bandcamp donates their share of the proceeds to the artists)! I’m excited to be the featured vocalist on each EP with an incredible lineup of musicians, so many I’ve met over the past decade of performing at swing dance events all over and, while we can’t make music together in person, it is so nice to hear these familiar “voices,” who have been such a wonderful part of my life.
Michael wrote a post that sums it all up nicely, so I’ll share that here and I’ll update with links as they become available:
“ISOLATION SESSIONS, PARTS 1-4
All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the obvious logistical hurdles, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections of music were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!
Be sure to tune in to “What Makes This (Swing) Song Great?” this Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. EST, where Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble, and I will reprise our panel discussion/musical geek out session from Cal Bal in an online format so that more people can enjoy this during these isolated times! Thanks to much to Pasadena Balboa and Jam for sponsoring this – the cost is $15, for more information and to register in advance, visit the Facebook invite.
A Bull City Holiday, an album of Keenan McKenzie’s original holiday swing and jazz music featuring 30 Triangle area musicians, will be out on November 25! You can pre-order the album on Bandcamp and check out one of the tracks as a preview of things to come. If you will be at the Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers show in Richmond on November 16 or at the International Lindy Hop Championships over Thanksgiving weekend, you can also pick up a copy there.
I am one of seven vocalists on this album, check out the incredible list of album personnel on the Bandcamp page – you can find me singing on four tracks: Santa’s Cap, You Can’t Lock the Chimney, As the Nights Grow Longer, and A Charming Winter Town. Enjoy!
Now that we’ve recorded A Bull City Holiday and can look forward to that release in November, 2019, I’m on to the next recording project! Looking forward to recording a live album with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at Jammin’ on the James in Richmond, VA over the weekend of October 18 and 19, 2019 – we’ll be working with sound engineer Rob Moreland (who we’ve worked with at Lindy Focus and the Nevermore Jazz Ball) to capture the energy of this band in a Craftsman era ballroom that will be filled to the brim with dancers. Thanks so much to the Jammin’ on the James organizers for conceiving of this project and going above and beyond to make it a reality!
As part of Durham, North Carolina’s 150th anniversary this year, the Museum of Durham History invited the community to submit ideas for community curated exhibits. I’m excited that I was selected to curate one of these exhibits, based on my Early Jazz and Swing in Durham, NC blog post! The exhibit will open on July 5, 2019 with a reception from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (with dancing under the gazebo to recordings of all the musicians and bands featured in the exhibit), and will be on display throughout the month of July.
If you’re already in town or will be in town for the Bull City Swingout, swing by the museum and check it out! I’ll also have an interactive downtown map that you can pick up if you’d like to do a self-guided walking tour of some of the locations named in the exhibit.
EDITED to add that the museum exhibit got a little love from IndyWeek with a featured article in their Music Issue.
As we approach the end of 2018, I have some great gigs coming up, some new, some familiar, but always enjoyable – hope to see you on the dance floor or at a holiday soiree…
November 2-3, 2018 I’m performing with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders and Orchestra at The Nevermore Jazz Ball, in St. Louis, Missouri. Nevermore always cultivates an inviting and local event that draws dancers from all over the U.S. and beyond, with top instruction, great local bands at their Saturday afternoon jazz crawl on Cherokee Street, and some fantastic venues, like the historic Casa Loma Ballroom.
November 24, 2018 The day after Thanksgiving I will board a plan to San Diego to perform with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at the San Diego Jazz Festival. This is my first time at a west coast jazz festival and really my first time at a jazz festival that focuses on traditional jazz – of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this long-running festival has incorporated dance-focused concerts into its lineup, which is where you can find me, both singing and dancing!
December 1 and 8, 2018 The Mint Julep Jazz Band will be performing a private holiday parties – we still have some open dates if you’d like to book us! Email email@example.com. Otherwise, I’ll use that free time to decorate and make holiday cookies. 😉
December 27-31, 2018 I’ll be with the Jonathan Stout and the Lindy Focus All-Star Orchestra and with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at the Disney World of Lindy Hop events, Lindy Focus, in Asheville, NC. As I’ve posted previously on this blog, we’ll be debuting the newly transcribed charts of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra (who featured a very young Dinah Washington in his band in the 1940’s) and his all-stars and smaller groups, thanks to the generosity of the swing dance/music/fan communities that help support live music via the Indiegogo campaign and keep these charts in the hands of musicians who can continue to perform them. If you can’t be there, you can tune in and hear the orchestra on the Lindy Focus live stream!
Cheers and Happy Holidays!
You’re floating high on the dreams of planning the perfect wedding and reception, which is essentially a big party to celebrate the union of you and your significant other. People who do not normally engage in event planning are suddenly thrown into the position of entering into contracts with a bunch of different event service providers – a baker, a caterer, venue managers, a florist, and maybe even a band to provide live music for the event. This can all get very expensive very quickly and most couples are trying to get the most out of their wedding budget.
But you think you can swing getting a band, because your friend’s garage band made like $126 in tips at their last gig, this should be completely affordable, maybe even cheaper than a big name wedding DJ, right?
You start sending out inquiries to bands that look like they might be a good fit for your wedding reception and are blown away at the responses. How dare they? Your friend’s band was grateful for that $126 in tips, why can’t these bands play your wedding for something comparable?
This example is an exaggeration, of course, but I do find that some responses to my quotes for wedding receptions have an air of indignation.
Charging more for a wedding just because it’s a wedding is something I hear people say about wedding vendors. While I can’t speak for the other service providers, I can give you some insight into why bands charge more for weddings and it’s not just because the event is labeled “wedding” – there are a number of factors that go into a band’s decision about what to charge for a couple’s special day.
The odds are fairly good that if you are researching bands and finding them in your searches or on wedding planning websites that these bands are made up of professional musicians whose base non-wedding pay is already more than the tips at your friend’s garage band gig. You hire professionals because you don’t want to worry about the music – you want it to sound good, you want the musicians to be experienced, you want them to conduct themselves professionally and be able to roll with all the unexpected punches that go along with any wedding reception. You don’t want to look up mid-reception and think, “Why is there no music right now?” or “Why is this drummer so loud?” or “What the hell is this song with depressing lyrics?” Bands who are experienced professionals are going to anticipate your wedding’s needs and deliver a product that is appropriate for the day.
WEEKENDS ARE PRIME TIME
Most weddings occur on a weekend or holiday, when people are already off work and ready to have fun and relax. These are also the same days that restaurants, bars, festivals, and lots of other events also want to hire bands to draw people to their establishments and events. With supply and demand comes an increase in cost, as well as musicians maximizing their prime time, since weeknights can be tricky for musicians to get gigs (depending on the area).
As an added factor, bandleaders also want to hire the best musicians for the gig and want these musicians to have a financial incentive to keep this gig. If a musician is offered a different gig on a weekend that pays more than the gig you offered them, that musician will often take the higher paying gig. This results in more stress for the bandleader and could result in a reduction of quality of the music, depending on the proximity of the musician’s cancellation to the wedding date and the availability of good substitute musicians.
Last-minute, unanticipated requests are a wedding specialty. I have a template questionnaire I send to engaged couples to assess how much work and how much time the wedding in question will take. Inevitably, there is always something that the questionnaire didn’t anticipate or that the couple didn’t know at the time they filled out the questionnaire. This can be anything from a venue change to unanticipated electrical access issues for outdoor weddings to the bride’s cousin wanting to sing a song with the band that the band doesn’t have in their book to a completely different reception time. Sometimes the engaged couple will forget that they need an emcee and someone in the band is drafted to do this job, or they forget to tell you that they need your PA for an hour in the middle of the gig so everyone can do toasts. Part of paying more for a wedding band is that you are paying for the flexibility to make major changes to a contractual agreement that the band has to rely on in order to prepare and schedule their day around your wedding. It is rare that there are not changes to terms set forth in the wedding/band contract at some point between the date of signing the contract to the date of the wedding.
Unless a band is a dedicated wedding band that only plays weddings, chances are that a wedding gig will require some extra preparation beyond a normal gig for the band – that may be in the form of custom charts for the band to perform (i.e. a special first dance song, the groom’s favorite song, that cousin wanting to sit in who sings a certain song in a certain key, etc.), working in extra players/musicians/sitting in, additional rehearsal(s), and, perhaps the most time-consuming for me, communicating about the wedding. Weddings require a lot of attention to detail and all of that is done via phone and email over the course of the months between the booking and the event, usually increasing in the week(s) prior to the event. Weddings necessitate a written and signed contract for me, which isn’t always the case with other venues who book us regularly or people with whom we have worked before. Some weddings have wardrobe requirements in terms of colors or formal attire, which means some or all of the band have to plan ahead to acquire these items and spend money to accommodate that request. Weddings are a one-shot, don’t-mess-this-up kind of event, so it’s important to take the time to get the details right; but this means more time and work from the band, who, conversely, can show up to their weekly/monthly gigs with minimal preparation.
Weddings often have difficult and/or lengthy load-in or load-out scenarios. Weddings are frequently held in locations that do not regularly accommodate live music, which makes it difficult to plan for things like the following:
- Access to electrical outlets (in relation to wherever the bride/groom/wedding coordinator want the band to set up)
- The logistics of loading in and out (access to stairs/elevators/ramps, traversing long hallways and multiple levels, loading in/out through high traffic areas like kitchens or the reception crowd)
- Dealing with traffic/loading zones while loading in
- Locating (and sometimes paying for) parking
- Outdoor logistics (grass/hills/rocks/bugs/critters/standing water/weather)
- Gatekeepers, which can literally mean a person at a gatehouse for a gated community and they won’t let you in because someone forgot to put the band on the guest list. This can also mean other people at the venue who take up more of your time and prevent the band from timely loading in, such as an indecisive or absent (when the band arrives) wedding planner who isn’t providing the band with information they need or someone at the venue forgetting to leave space for the band to set up and the band has to wait while someone goes and gets someone else to move the chairs/tables/whatever that are blocking the area where the band is supposed to set up
If the ceremony is at the same venue as the reception, this almost always necessitates a load in that is anywhere from 2 to 6 hours before the band actually reports for duty to perform. This is additional time that the bandleaders and, usually, the drummer, have to take out of their day to go to the venue and set up and then either hang out at the venue or go home and come back during the interim time, as opposed to a regular gig where the band would simply load in about an hour ahead of time and play almost immediately after loading in.
Ultimately, it usually takes longer to load in/set up and break down/load out than the typical band gig. Sometimes we can anticipate what logistics are involved in advance and sometimes we can’t. If we do a walk-through prior to the wedding day, then that is additional time we have added to preparing for the wedding gig.
I have yet to work a wedding that stayed on the schedule I was given ahead of the wedding, if I was given a schedule at all. The band is expected to roll with the shifting priorities and requirements of a wedding, which, in turn, affects the amount of time we have to play, sit and wait, and the beginning and/or ending time of the band’s performance.
One of my biggest complaints about wedding gigs is that, because the wedding runs on its own schedule without consideration for the band (which is fine, for the most part, this day is not about us!), the newlyweds do not often maximize the band’s playing time and we ultimately play less than anticipated, overall. We really do want to perform for you! However, you are paying for our time in its entirety (playing or not playing), so if we’re contracted to play from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and the party just really got started at 7:00 p.m. because of toasts/photos/arrival/cake cutting, I’m sorry, we have already been at your wedding for a good portion of the day and our contractual obligation is over. Often this is upsetting to the bride/groom/other person in charge, they may get angry at us, give us a guilt trip, or they may even offer to begrudgingly pay us more money to stay longer. This is a very awkward situation and everyone feels terrible – we want to provide the wedding with something of value, but we also want our time to be respected.
In a similar vein, you can’t expect the band to make up for the delays by playing for two hours straight – this is brutal to people who are hitting/plucking/strumming/blowing, essentially using their bodies to create music, without a break at some point (usually somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour of playing).
There may be specific instructions for where and how to enter or when and how the band can leave and we are waiting and paying attention for these things to happen, looking for certain cues to indicate action on our part. With these delays we may be checking in multiple times with the wedding coordinator to get updates on how to proceed or what the new plan involves, since the paper plan is out the window. If there is no wedding coordinator, there may be multiple people telling us different things about what the band is supposed to be doing at any given time. We want to do this right and whoever has the plan, we are willing to go with that new plan.
The stakes are high and there’s no dress rehearsal for this show, we are all striving to deliver the best possible services; inevitably, some things will go awry at weddings and there are always people who will get emotional about it and project that onto the staff or whoever may be nearest to them – wedding planners, grooms, brides, fathers of the brides, mothers of the grooms, caterers, whoever has a stake in the day and/or a job to do.
There are always extra costs, some surprises, some known, such as the aforementioned specific attire or any additional sound equipment that may be needed to accommodate the requests from the bride/groom or the logistics of the venue. I would also note that another difference in wedding v. regular gig is the absence of merchandise sales, CD sales, and tips; obviously, this would be super tacky to hawk our wares at your wedding or pass around a tip jar, but it is one consideration among many in the added cost. There are also fewer intangible rewards, such as creative license in the gig itself and applause – I don’t know that I’ve been to a wedding where the crowd burst into applause, but I have been a part of many weddings where the guests either generally ignored the band or, if they are dancing, didn’t clap after songs. Perhaps applause at a wedding reception is not necessarily appropriate, but it’s one of those things that can add to the feeling that a wedding gig is more work.
This is one type of gig that is at great risk for cancellation, as we certainly can’t control matters of the heart. I always build in some sort of deposit and cancellation policy, because there is risk in taking a gig like this, as we are often holding this date months, maybe even over a year, in advance and turning down other gigs. It’s also risky dealing with people who are not used to booking bands – there are certain norms in the professional music community that may seem odd to someone who is not a professional musician, but are necessary in order to accomplish the gig; if they are not willing to see the necessity, to accommodate the basic needs of the band, or to communicate the necessary details requested, then the gig and/or preparing for the gig can quickly become a nightmare.
To sum everything up, it’s simply more work to accept and execute a wedding gig for a band and, for this and all the specific the reasons stated above (and probably some I’m forgetting), this is why your average professional band will often charge more for a wedding than they would charge for a regular gig. That said, while a wedding is more work, that does not mean that bandleaders avoid wedding gigs. The examples listed above don’t all happen at the same time, there are a lot of wonderful aspects of performing at a wedding, and I don’t know of many bandleaders who would refuse a wedding gig with appropriate compensation – there’s a lot of love that is shared, with families and friends coming together, and we’re all here to have a big celebration and contribute to that celebration in some meaningful way.
Battle Axe is featured in the August, 2015 episode of the Hey Mister Jesse Podcast on Yehoodi.com – check it out! If you aren’t hip to the Hey Mister Jesse podcast, you might like it if you like swinging jazz and blues, music to dance to, emerging and established swing/jazz/blues artists, and the classic swing era artists we still love so dearly.