There were two more “warmup” dates after Atlanta, one in Chapel Hill and one in Charlotte, and I know I should know which one was which. But I have to apologize to the people of North Carolina for getting the names mixed up enough times that now I don’t know which was which. In my defense, in both places all I saw was the inside of a basketball arena.
In the second one of the cities we played in North Carolina, I finally nailed the intro I’d been working on, or maybe the audience was just much more into it and so it felt like it really flowed. The band seemed to feel it did, too. For some reason I was touchy about it, though, afterward, and when people were telling me they thought it had come out really sweet, even though I agreed, I felt myself getting irked.
Then after the show, I somehow ended up in the middle of an argument between Remo and Waldo. They were kind of hard to avoid, though, arguing in front of the door to the bus, which meant I’d have to go between them to get in.
“Be serious, Cutler,” Waldo said, “You’re not saving yourself anything by canceling that flight at this point.”
“What flight?” I asked, since I was standing there at that point.
“Charter to New York,” Remo said. “If we roll out now, we can be in the city by seven in the morning. That’s plenty early for what’s planned. As it is, if I go to the airport now, I’m not landing until two in the morning and then I still need to get into midtown, so it’ll be three in the morning.”
“When’s your first thing?” I didn’t have any actual input to give. I was just curious.
“Not until lunchtime. Seriously, Waldo, there’s zero reason to fly me ahead.” Then he looked at me. “Unless you’d like to come along, Daron.”
I blinked. “Wait, what?”
“The plane seats a couple extra. You could come, too.”
“Is there a point to the two of us flying to New York for no reason instead of just you…?” I was confused. “I mean, weren’t you just saying it was pointless?” At the same time I did a quick thought in my head: is Ziggy there now? Will a few extra hours in the city change the likelihood of seeing him in my favor at all? Didn’t seem likely.
“If you ever wanted to take a private plane, you know. He’s right, we’ve pretty much paid for it already, so…” Remo shrugged.
“Get your ass up there in case there’s anything Artie’s planned that we don’t know about,” Waldo said, with finality. “Don’t go changing the itinerary at this point. It’s too late to call him.”
Remo sighed. “All right. I’ll go grab a bag. What about you, Daron? You coming with?”
Why was I feeling all prickly and irked as shit? I didn’t know but I said, “No. You go ahead. I’m going to crawl into my bunk and pass out.”
He looked vaguely disappointed as he stepped aside so I could go up the stairs into the bus. Then I felt bad about it, but not bad enough to overcome how bad I worried I’d feel if I backtracked and changed my mind and it ended up turning into an even bigger emotional boondoggle. Remo wanted to spend some time with me, I guess? We were about to spend most of the next six weeks in each other’s pockets so I didn’t see how turning down his middle-of-the-night jet flight was a problem… So I had this argument in my head where I imagined what he might have said and what I might have said. Which ended with me thinking, wait, if he wanted me to go with him, why didn’t he just say that was what he wanted? Remo was not usually the underspoken one of the two of us.
I climbed into my bunk and lay there awake, wishing the bus would move. Maybe half an hour later it did, but I still didn’t get sleepy.
I gave up trying to sleep shortly after midnight, when I climbed down to see who else was up. Alan and Bernie–one of the horn players–were playing cards in the front lounge on one of the small tables.
“Who should I talk to about tickets?” Bernie was asking. He was a kind of chubby guy with his hair in overgrown ringlets, which meant he reminded me of Bart both superficially in appearance and in his music nerdery. “It’s normally not something I’d think about, but my folks are in Syracuse.”
“They haven’t come to see you play before?” Alan asked back.
“They’re not really rock concert types, you know? But it’s my birthday that night, so they want to be there.”
A little lightbulb went on in my head. “Your folks are coming to see you play on your birthday? We have to do a song for you.”
“What kind of a song?”
“You pick your favorite song and the rest of us will learn it,” I said. “Assuming it’s not ‘Inna Gadda Da Vida’ or something.”
“Oh that’s easy. The best sax part of all time is Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street.'”
“Oooh, yeah, we could totally do that,” Alan said, but he looked at me. “You think Reem will go for that?”
These words came out of my mouth: “Let’s do it as a surprise.”
“How is it a surprise if I know you’re going to do it?” Bernie looked confused.
“It’ll only be a surprise for Remo,” I said, warming quickly to the idea.
I could see Alan was starting to smile, too, but he said, “You think?”
“Remo’s about to have an insanely intense week of press where he’s going from radio station to reporter to TV and the rest of us are going to be sitting around with our thumbs up our asses. We should learn a song. This song.”
“True.” Alan nodded, then threw down his cards. “I was losing anyway. Let’s get working on it.”
Next thing you knew we were in the back of the bus with pretty much all the other musicians, and the only one who didn’t have an instrument was Bernie himself, but he already knew how to play it. The main question was whether he knew what key it was in.
After a brief argument between him and one of the backup singers about the key I just waved my hands and said, “Everybody just shut up a minute and I’ll figure it out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on. It’s a song I heard a million times when I was growing up. I know what it sounds like. Just, shhhh.” I closed my eyes, listen to the playback in my head, and then whistled the sax solo that opens the song. Then I plucked out a chord to go with it on the downbeat. “Am I right?”
Bernie looked unsure. I flipped open the staff notebook from the outside pocket in my gig bag and penciled in what I was thinking, humming out loud as I did it. “A minor, right?”
“Pretty sure it’s in C,” Bernie said. “C major.”
“Right, that’s fine. C major and A minor are the same thing,” I said.
I held up my hand to cut him off. “To everyone who hasn’t been to conservatory like you and me, they’re the same thing,” I amended.
“I think the song’s higher than that, though,” Martin said, sitting down on the banquette next to me.
“Close your eyes, sing how it goes,” I said. Martin was the person, possibly, who first showed me the trick of memorizing pitches with songs I’d heard a million times. I didn’t have “perfect pitch” like a lot of musical geniuses. But I did have a kind of memory bank of notes. Honestly, all the years of tuning guitars in the traditional tuning meant I could always pick out an E. But almost nothing is in the key of E.
Martin sang it a little higher, a little faster. “Huh. That’s a half step up.” I frowned.
“Wait, why’s it matter which key we pick?” Alex cracked his knuckles. “I’m sure we can handle it.”
“Because the sax solo is the point and I don’t want to accidentally transpose that entire thing off by a half step or a whole step and then Bernie have to re-learn the entire thing, which he already knows in whatever the original key is.”
Bernie looked nervous. “I had it in sheet music in school. I swear it was in C.”
“You’re sure it wasn’t just written in C because it was a simplified version for schools?” Alan grilled him a little.
“I’m sure. I played along with the album.” His cheeks had turned quite red. If he was ten years older than me, which I assumed he was, then he must have been in music school when the song came out.
“When you were pretty sure your professors couldn’t hear,” I added and he chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Was sax your first instrument?”
He shook his head. “Oboe. But you can’t get anywhere with the fucking oboe,” he said somewhat vehemently.
He was reminding me more and more of Bart all the time. It was kind of weird. But I put that out of my mind. “Was this song the reason you took up saxophone?”
“Kinda,” he said with a shrug.
Martin thumped him on the back. “And now you’re the Sax Meister! Okay, cool. C it is.”
So the next thing you know, we spent the next three hours working out parts for doing a blues-jazz version of Baker Street with extended solos, which was perfect because when you think about it, that song is pretty much a template for rock-song-with-jazz-solos. It’s more in the standard jazz vein than blues a la Eric Clapton and not as avant garde as Steely Dan. Alan had a battery-power Casio keyboard in his bag, Alex had a four-string banjo he’d restrung as a bass for fun, I had an actual guitar (because I always do), and Martin just used the table and his own lap as percussion. Charlie, the flugelhorn player, had one of his horns. He was a tall, skinny man with short iron gray hair and glasses.
I had to teach the words to the singers because they didn’t know the song as well as I did. Why I remembered the lyrics so well I’m not sure. I guess I learned them at an impressionable age. Ten or eleven.
When we decided to quit for the night, Charlie leaned over to me and said, half-jokingly, “hey, you know my birthday is coming up during this tour, too.”
“I don’t know if this group can pull off Chuck Mangione,” I said half-jokingly in reply. Then more seriously, “Got something in mind?”
“The Beatles, ‘For No One.’ The part’s more of a fill, but.” He shrugged and rolled his eyes, as if afraid to suggest it seriously.
I couldn’t remember that song, which meant it was on one of the Beatles albums I didn’t have, i.e. not the White Album, Sgt. Pepper, or Yellow Submarine. “After we nail this one,” I said. “Let’s get on that.”
“Keen.” He gave me a little wink and a thumbs up and then went off to his bunk.
At that point I was alone in the lounge, everyone else having gotten into their bunks or preparing to. So, to no one I said, “I may have started a trend.”
Then I lay in bed and did the not-sleeping thing. The humming of the bus in motion was lulling, but I didn’t doze off all the way. Not for a couple more hours. Which meant when they dumped us off the bus at a hotel near LaGuardia I was at my very best.
(Site news: it’s official, you have voted, and by a 4-to-1 preference, I’ll be cutting back to one post a week just for the months of May through August instead of going on complete hiatus for July/August. This means that on the Thursdays of every week, I’ll be offering the slot to all of you to post something cool or interesting! Whether you produce some fanworks, you review books or music that other DGC folk might enjoy, you write essays, I’m open to all kinds of suggestions. The May 7th slot is booked, but I’m now opening up all other slots to be claimed! If you’re interested in providing a fill-in post of any kind, please let me know! The following dates are up to be filled:
May 7 • May 14 • May 21 • May 28 June 4 • June 11 • June 18 • June 25
July 2 • July 9 • July 16 • July 23 • July 30
August 6 • August 13 •
August 20 • August 27
Comment with your idea or drop me email! -ctan)