It’s Sunday morning, and I find myself here in the home office, or kitchen having been woken up at an ungodly hour by my own body, the filthy traitor that it is, with some heavy prompting to mount a dawn attack on the thunderbox. Who says romance is dead? Now I’m up, I may as well start on this week’s Plog.
It has been a week largely dominated by Richard Pite, who as well as being Europe’s #1 exponent of swing drumming, has donned the sheepskin overcoat, cigar and gold plated money clip and is now trying his hand at concert promotion. Later on today, the promotion in question will grind to a start in the grandiose surroundings of the Cadogan Hall down near Sloane Square, where he is taking the risk on the Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall show that I do. It is not the first time that Pitey has risked all on concerts at the Cadogan- in previous years, there have been wonderful presentations of all kinds of jazz there, most of which have attracted an audience of tens, resulting in the repeated loss of the Pitey shirt and, I would imagine, some stern looks from Mrs. P. As Mrs. P has a stern look which can bore through lead sheeting three feet thick, you will understand that the stakes in a Pitey Concert Promotion run very high indeed. In fact, if we let the loss of money on a given concert in thousands of pounds equal x, and the kilotons of energy emitted by one of Mrs. P’s hard stares equal k, we can see that x times k will equal w, where w is the point at which Pitey retires to the study to reach for the loaded Webley in the top drawer of the Bureau. Clearly, the point was reached in about 2011 where xk=around 6w, one of the many miracles of Richard Pite is that he is still here.
Happily, this time last year, the worm turned, and we played this very concert to a packed house. Concert promotion is a funny old bugger, in that if the house is full, the promoter can make trillions quickly. Within hours, w was less than xk by a significant factor, and so Pitey has had the gumption restored to continue his concert series, of which there are a further four this year.
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like tickets were going a bit slowly. Rightly fearing both x and k, Pitey hired a young chap called Rupert, who is something of a PR wizard. In my experience of PR wizards, all that usually happens is that International Stardom is guaranteed, they take a grand off you and then bugger off to an office in Soho, from where a maximum of three emails are sent out before a permanent state of being In A Meeting is declared to preclude against any further contact. Not so Rupert. In order to get ticket sales up, he organised a series of appearances on BBC radio chat shows for us which have resulted, effectively in a week of wheeling a trolley full of instruments around Broadcasting House to set up in one small studio after another playing the hits of the Benny Goodman trio. Cerys Matthews one minute, BBC Pig-Farmers Service the next, there we were cropping up on the airwaves with our trolley of goodies for flash-mob style period jazz recitals and erudite comment. Rupert’s plan did the trick. After a couple of days of this, we had oversold the concert. Extra seats have had to be put out, and xk=150w. At least.
During the preparation for our appearance on the Radio 3 magazine show “In Tune”, I got a brief glimpse of how it must feel to be a proper musician with a career. By this I mean a musician who can just play one kind of music and be known for it, rather than the kind of weird Star Trek like existence occupied by me and everyone I know where all of a sudden we find ourselves beamed into a hostile musical environment and the job is simply to survive! A musician with a career is one who has somehow managed to slip through the huge outer wall of public indifference into the inner area of public acceptance, and can therefore dictate the terms and conditions of their creative output. And, curiously, charge more for it. One of the hallmarks of this divide in our business relates to rehearsal time. Over on our patch, we are lucky to get a chat through before being shoved out on a stage. In the UK, incidentally, we have made a bit of a rod for our own backs with this. As this has been the status quo for many years, our musicians are known internationally for being extremely quick sight readers, and fabulous ear players. Because we can make a show with little rehearsal, rehearsal budgets don’t really exist. I have a concert to put together at the Festival Hall on Tuesday. The full orchestra has three hours on the afternoon to get it together. Your Career Musician, however, seems to be able to bend physics in such a way that rehearsal and preparation time is unlimited. You read interviews in the colour supplements of great artists spending months in preparation for one concert. How? When? Don’t these people get stuck in bad traffic going to Tesco’s like the rest of us? How do they manage to avoid the five hour journeys up and down the M6 to work? There must be a trick that I’m missing.
As I said though, we did get a brief glimpse of this strange alien landscape in the performance studio at Radio 3. It is a beautiful little room, with perfect acoustics and a fabulous grand piano. Clearly built for grand art, wheeling our trolley of drums in made me feel a bit like a bag lady who has strayed into the Vatican. We did the mike and line check, and then we were told we had forty minutes until we were on air. Forty minutes, you say? Not unpack here, play now and bugger orf? After a bit of thinking, we did what career musicians would do. We rehearsed our set. We had a new number to play, and so we played it over and over again. When we came to play it live on air, it felt comfortable and we could shape the performance as we’d have liked. Normally it feels like trying to land a Boeing with two engines shut down and a wing on fire. Curiously, as a direct result of that broadcast, we were approached by an arts festival to repeat the show as their jazz event. Proper nobby stuff that. Mind you, they’re not paying for a rehearsal!
Back in the real world, it’s been a diverse week. I’ve had to impersonate Benny Goodman twice, get a Crusaders set together in an afternoon and perform it that evening with, once again, the polymath that is Pitey and play backup to Her Indoors at one of her gigs. At home, there’s been precious little time on the seaplanes of the access powers diorama, as I’ve been doing my books, and re-orchestrating a load of old arrangements for the all new Ronnie Scott’s Soul Jazz Orchestra. As a brief diversion, Her Indoors and I settled down in the viewing terrace of the Home Cinema, or sofa, to watch that film “Quartet”, which is about a vast Downton-esque retirement home for musicians. Clearly whoever wrote it has no idea about musicians, how they think or their ability to earn. A retirement home? Paid for by who, exactly? Most musicians I know of retirement age keep on working, either because they have to, or in a lot of cases because they feel that they haven’t finished with music. It’s interesting to note that the old piano player in the film is a gentleman called Jack Honeyborn. He’s eighty six, and still does wine bars and jazz gigs to just about keep a roof over his head. Harrumph.