Sunday, March 16, 2014

Versatility is Our Specialty Pt. 2

 So how does this hard earned versatility translate into gigs?

In this past year, clients have hired us for a number of themed events that put our skill and commitment to the test. We played a show at Greenburgh Public Library where we put together a 90 minute set of songs from 1963 (to celebrate the library’s 50th anniversary) the set included covers of Martha and the Vandellas, Johnny Cash, The Drifters, Leslie Gore, The Ronnettes, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. This was concert presentation that included some story telling, song histories, and some history of the period, and great renditions of wonderful classics. During our post-show "meet and greet," our audience members had a chance to reveal to us some of their own memories we helped evoke.

We played a couple Gatsby themed fundraising events this year as well. Dolled up in tuxes, gowns, and spats we played music from the era in the early parts of the evening (beginning with a cocktail hour that featured some great stride piano renditions of 20’s and 30’s music) and then morphed into dance music that included Motown, Big Band, contemporary, and some ballads for the couples. We traveled to Lancaster PA to play a sock hop party, where we dressed the part again, and gave a rollicking show that included 50’s and 60’s rock n roll, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, and some of that 1963 material.

In the summer we were called on to play the Hyatt Dialogue (for the 12th time) where we performed hits from the 70’s for an international crowd of travel agents and event planners that included tunes from Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, and, of course, plenty of Disco. Other themes we have done for the Hyatt have been 1920’s, country, Big Band, and Classic Rock.

Of course, when we play a wedding or an anniversary, we are thinking about the whole crowd—the couple, of course, sets the tone with their taste in music, but there are a lot of people to please, the young crowd, the extended family, folks from different parts of the country and overseas. We have our repertoire of ethnic music that includes horas, polkas, and Italian (Donna sings in several languages). Our New Year’s Eve gig at the Four Seasons caters to a largely international crowd, and we know how to please them as well.

We have traveled this year to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, the Finger Lakes Region in New York, Connecticut, and still do plenty of playing in New York and New Jersey. When you get around like that, you better be versatile.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Versatility is Our Specialty, Part 1

We are, oftentimes, asked by clients and guests at our gigs, “What is your specialty? What do you really like to play?” This used to be a difficult question to answer because we felt the answer needed to fill the box the question posed.  So we would try to come up with favorite songs, artists, grooves, styles, etc.

The fact is we have spent our whole musical lives (and thus, much of our lives) exploring all genres of music. We got into music because we fell in love with the sound made by some singer or band or song and we wanted to know, “How do they do that?” We studied our instruments, sang along with the radio or the record or CD, put together a band, started recreating recordings we heard and loved, and began playing for people and, voila! They liked it!

As we grew as musicians, learned more about our instruments and voices, we got exposed to all kinds of music; old rock ‘n roll, new hits on the radio, jazz from some crazy saxophone player’s collection, and dance music from the parties we attended.  It all seeped in and became a part of our musical selves.

As professionals today, our approach to this wide range of material is more calculated and efficient—“got a gig coming up, have these song requests, have these styles to play, learn these tunes, pull out some we have done for years, and keep the party rolling” but that magic of discovery never faded.  Someone asks for a new tune by Jason Mraz, we check it out and say, “cool, we can pull that off, sound good and add it to our repertoire.” If someone wants to hear an obscure old Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald duet, we find our own spin and fall in love with it all over again.  We hear buzz about the new dance floor sensation by Pink or Cee Lo or Avicii, learn it, rehearse it, refine it and reap the rewards when the dance floor fills with folks whooping and hollering. Sometimes we decide it’s time to run that Motown set, our Prince medley, ABBA tunes and we see young and old react in the same way…. leave their seats, run to the dance floor, and become one with the music we play.  Those experiences are fun for the crowd, pleasing to the client, and gratifying and exciting for us.

So, now, when folks ask us “What is your specialty?” we say “Our specialty is our versatility” because we approach the music with the same commitment we did when we were slaving over the recordings of our favorite bands, trying to get that lick or turn of phrase just right. We have studied and perfected our approach to a wide variety of sounds, styles, and grooves and we, literally, feel a thrill making all this material sound good.  Frankly, it amazes our audiences to hear the variety we play, and how well we do it.  It’s also cool for us to see and hear the great reaction we get to the wide variety of material we do.

Next week we’ll talk about how this approach to versatility works in different situations, such as a themed event focusing on a certain style or genre, or at an party where we play the soup to nuts kind of variety that works so well when you have a wide audience to please, such as at a wedding or fundraiser.