Gig Journal

The Wine & Jazz Bar at Michael Timothy's Urban Bistro. Nashua, NH. June 8, 2003

Another great gig. This was my third time in this room, and the last two had been fantastic. The acoustics are rich, the crowd is appreciative. The bartender, Karen, is friendly and it seems that she seems to know all the regulars sitting at the bar. She manages to find time to talk with them while not only serving their drinks, but pouring the drinks for the dining room. Through all that she remains calm and chipper. A pleasant contrast to many bartenders in the Boston area, who seem to think that customers are just an annoyance. The rest of the help is excellent also, and they often smile appreciatively as they listen to the music.

So it was with a great feeling of anticipation that I sat down to play the first tune -- a feeling that the evening once again proved right. I thought of breaking with tradition and not opening with "Here's That Rainy Day," but against it. There's something comforting with always starting with that tune. Sometimes I think I should open with a more recognizable tune, but maybe that would cause the listeners to focus on the tune, not the player.

There were only a few people at the bars and tables, but they all applauded after the first number. In fact, they applauded after almost every number in the first set. That still surprises me. This audience is so much more appreciative than Boston audiences.

I had printed out a set list, and I decided to follow it. Usually I just pick the tunes as I go along. The downside of that is that while playing one tune I tend to start thinking about what tune to play next, and that breaks my concentration. As the night progressed, I found that having the set list allowed me to focus on the tune I was playing.

I had set up a the amp just a little differently, leaving it on the wheels, angling it a little, and placing it a little further from the wall behind me, all in an attempt to project the highs better. With the first few notes I was surprised with the tone. I was warm and full, as always in that room, but there seemed to be an especially soft attack to each note, which I found pleasing. Maybe it was just that I'd been practicing with my Peavy amp and I was getting re-accustomed to the sound of the Ampeg. During the first set I lowered the bass a few times and raised the treble a few times, ending up with bass on 3 and treble on 7, rather than the more nearly flat settings I'd used before in this room. Even so, I found that when the audience was talking a lot, I had to work hard to get the melody notes to ring out, and I had to lighten up on the low E string to keep the bass from being too loud. Overall, though, the sound was a pleasure.

I improvised a little on Dminor to Gminor as the applause died down before going into "Softly," and then played my usual vamp for that tune, but I decided I didn't like that. It sounded like two introductions. The tune itself went well. I improvised a few choruses, and felt that the improv was well-balanced.

Again on "Black Orpheus" I improvised an intro, and this worked out better. Just a sparse single line over the changes. I think I'll make that my standard approach. I also do a vamp on this tune, Amin7 Bm7b5 E7b9, but somehow the "two intros" blend into one. It feels right. On this tune and many of the bossas, I played a chorus of what amounted to "rhythm guitar," just comping with slight melodic movement in the melody and bass. Usually I avoid this, because I'm concerned that the listener will feel a lack of melody, but I'm changing my views on that. This kind of comping chorus seems to work out well. It's something I'm very good at, so why not use it?

The rest of the set went well. There was one couple at the bar that was listening closely, and they led the applause after each tune. The rest of the audience applauded with more than politeness, a few smiling and nodding.

I improvised a rubato intro to "Satin Doll," similar to what I'd done on "Softly," and this worked much better. I played Bill Leavitt's arrangement of "Prelude to a Kiss" as an intro to "Don't Get Around Much Anymore". That felt good. But my improv on "Don't Get Around" didn't feel too good. I had some ideas, but my hands were just not cutting it. Need to work on that.

I had planned the sets with the idea that the crowd would be larger for the first two sets and taper off in the third. As it turned out, the second and third sets were most crowded, and the crowd for the start of the last set was larger than the start of the first. So I had put too many of my strongest pieces in the first two sets. The ideal solution for that is to work on the weaker pieces, which I'd put in sets three and four, and to add some new, solid pieces.

I started the second set with "A Foggy Day." Played a rubato chorus, then into tempo for another statement of the tune, then some improv. I played one chorus that was mostly walking bass, and that seemed to go well. The single-line improv needs work. "Skating" came out well, with a nice groove on the solo section. I always work in that descending bass line (see the comping lesson during the solo section; sounds great. I improvised an intro "Blue Illusion," (an original). Single line, blues licks. The audience was a bit loud at this point, so I was able to crank up and dig in a bit. The tone was luscious and the licks felt great. On the head I play stop time chords alternating with the melody. The trick to it is to hold the chords long enough to give the impression that they are still ringing behind the melody, so that the single-line melody doesn't sound empty. I think it worked. "Dindi" came out well. I sometimes have trouble holding the chords, getting the flow, but I had no trouble this time. I must have practiced enough for this gig. "Stella" was not too good. Need to work on a fresh approach to it. On "This Nearly" I usually just play one chorus, but it was weak, so I played a second chorus, just the same arrangement again, and it sounded good. I love the bass line on that tune. The next two tunes had a nice bluesey feel. I decided not to end the set with a ballad, so I left "Embraceable" for later.

I opened the third set with my medley of "Moonlight" and "Misty." The improv was good on "Misty." During this set a young guy and girl came in, and I could see that the guy was really listening and enjoying my playing. That went a long way toward making me play better. My arrangement of "How Insensitive" has some lush chords and I could feel that he was digging the voicings. After the third set the guy came up and introduced himself. He said his name was Kevin, and that he was going to attend Berklee in the fall, and that he'd read about this gig on the Internet and had come to hear me. He mentioned he'd been listening to Van Epps lately. There's nothing like having a solo guitar enthusiast in the audience to bring out the best playing! So the third set went very well. The high point was "Days and Nights Waiting." "Milano" also came out well. This is a fairly new addition to my repertoire. I'm able to get real independence between the chords, bass line and melody on the A section. Kevin was clearly digging this. Of course, Van Epps was a master of this, but I take some satisfaction in being able to do it on a six-string, with pick-and-fingers.

On "Once I Loved" I played a comping chorus, similar to what I played on my solo CD. Often, when I do this, I creep up the tempo a lot, and the out chorus sounds rushed. This time I crept up a bit, but noticing it, I threw in a rallentando at the end of the improv, and was able to make a smooth transition back to a more relaxed tempo on the out chorus. "Scotch 'n' Soda" was one of my favorites of the night. Once again the crowd was a bit loud, so I dug in a bit and played it with a more bluesey feel than usual. This fits well with the opening IVmaj7 - bVII7 progression, and the II7 chord, which always have a blues connotation in my mind.

The end of the last set was a little disappointing to me. Not a great selection of tunes, and I didn't play them too well. I need to work on having a stronger fourth set.

Once again, a very enjoyable night at Michael Timothy's. My next gig there is in August, and I'm looking forward to it, as always.

Last Update: 6/14/2003