Big Band Gig With No Drummer

Some things should just never be attempted – read to learn why this is one such example

I once played a big band gig with no drummer.

Turns out, earlier in the day of the gig, the band’s drummer parked illegally and his car (with all of his gear stored inside) was towed to some far off/remote garage that he had no way to get to in time (and no cash to bail his car out)

He called the director 5 min before downbeat explaining that he wasn’t going to be there and that he couldn’t find a sub to fill in on such short notice.

Our only percussion was the guy playing conga – and I can assure you he was no Tito Puente.

It was a restaurant gig, so, sans drums, we muddled through a scrambled together set-list of big band charts in his book – mostly medium swing tunes with opened up solos making us sound like the world’s largest 17 piece jazz quartet.

Things were actually starting to fall into a “groove” as best they could, (it was a band mostly filled with solid New York, New Jersey and PA pros and we were making the best of an unfortunate situation) until…

The director (the Piano Player) called Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing.

Now you have to picture the scene on big band gigs when the setlist is being called song to song, there’s a moment when, after the previous tune has been put away, the musicians freeze in a hunched over state, fingers at the ready to quickly flip through the book to find the next tune.

Imagine 15 heads simultaneously cocking slightly to the left upon still frozen, hunched over bodies as they all process what they just heard and then slowly realize the absurdity of hearing a “drum feature” called on a gig that has no drummer…

A couple of diminutive “are you sure’s?” are then uttered, followed by a look of stoic commitment from the director. Yup that’s what I said…


The best way to say how it turned out…

Mr conga player, in addition to not being Tito Puente, was MOST DEFINITELY no Gene Krupa.

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