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  1. #1

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    Some folks like to solo and be front and center. I like to comp and accompany singers.

    Recently I had a call out of the blue from a nice gal who sang a few songs with my buddy and me a year or so ago at an art show. She is mainly a spoken word artist, but sang a few songs accompanied by a backup track and sang 2 songs with our guitar-piano duo. Her voice is deep and reminiscent of Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae. One of the songs was Summertime—she knocked it out of the park.

    We had talked about doing something together, but it didn’t happen until the call yesterday. She said she was planning some songs for an event, and when they asked her if she had a band, she said no, but I think I know where to get one. ;-)

    I am looking forward to this. Every new singer comes with a new set of songs and new interpretations, so it’s a great way to get out of a rut or at least the same-old, same-old with the usual group.

    Our main singer for 5-6 years has been a guy who idolizes Frank, Nat and Tony. I would say he sings most like Nat and Johnny Mathis. Great, great singer, but not one to move outside the Sinatra songbook much. The good thing is that he is a pro—knows how to sing to a crowd, knows the arrangements thoroughly, dresses sharp, etc.

    Recently we have had a friend sit in with us. She is an untrained singer with a high voice which to me sounds like Blossom Dearie. She likes a bit more pop...especially country-oriented stuff like Patsy Cline. We are having to “train” her, as she is not used to singing in a group setting. Yet her voice is so nice—if she wanted to she could belt it out of the park, we just need to get her out of her “comfort zone.”

    We have also played with a more classically-trained singer. Many people, OK, mainly older people, love her because she’s attractive and sings operatically. Our group has been moving away from that style, though, and we only play special events and holiday gigs with her. Some people, e.g., my girlfriend, think she sings just a bit off-key and can’t stand her voice, so there’s that issue to contend with.

    There’s another gal who comes to some local open mikes that I have been trying without success to get to sing with us. She is more singer-songwriterish but has a great, very strong voice. She’s a bit shy, which I think is her main reservation. Maybe someday.

    Finally, we have had a number of people sit in with the group over the last few years. Some of them were very young kids who sang in local rock groups. Sometimes the results were very interesting. Our go-to song is Summertime—which everyone knows—and it’s fascinating to see how so many singers with so many different backgrounds and styles approach this song.

    Anyway, I feel lucky to have had so many nice singers to work with. A great instrumentalist is one thing—generally somewhat threatening for those of us with middling skills TBH—but a great singer brings out the best in the backing band, in my experience anyway.
    “Without music, life would be a mistake”--Friedrich Nietzsche

    Current lineup: Gibson ES-135 ('02), Peerless Sunset, Harmony Brilliant Cutaway ('64), Godin 5th Avenue, Alvarez AC60 A/E classical, Kay K37 ('56), Fender Squier VM Jazz bass, several ukes. Amps: Fishman Artist, Fender SCXD, Pignose 7-100.

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  3. #2

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    When our singer retired a few years ago due to health reasons the leader of my big band decided to work with several outstanding singers, all seasoned pros, and it's led to excellent results for us. Not only have they all been great to work with, but they each have their own repertoire to give us variety and they each have their own followers that come to our gigs in addition to our usual fans.

    During the '80's and '90's I led a pop/rock group that nominally had two singers, but sometimes as many as five. The results were variable, but always fun.

    Danny W.

  4. #3

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    "Civilians" (i.e., non-musicians) love singers, and seem to prefer them over only-instrumental groups [my theory is they can relate to words, but have a harder relating to "blowing over changes"]. So if you want gigs, it's good to have a singer! [And if you can find a good one (who knows what key to sing in, and -- even better -- has charts!), that can be golden.]

    Enjoy!

  5. #4

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    It takes a very good instrumentalist to as communicative as a mediocre singer.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by marcwhy View Post
    "Civilians" (i.e., non-musicians) love singers, and seem to prefer them over only-instrumental groups [my theory is they can relate to words, but have a harder relating to "blowing over changes"]. So if you want gigs, it's good to have a singer! [And if you can find a good one (who knows what key to sing in, and -- even better -- has charts!), that can be golden.]Enjoy!
    You're excepting a singer to join your group and be able to sing songs in the key the band typically plays the song in?Of course I'm an amateur so I only play with singers at my "level"; but all ask us to play a song in a key that works-for-them.

  7. #6

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    I normally don't like a lot of the singers I hear these days, but not all, there's some good ones.
    Our regular singer is excellent but is recuperating from cancer.
    Our organist is a very good singer, doesn't know a ton of tunes, but he can do enough during a gig so the crowd doesn't get sick of instrumentals all night.

    "We have also played with a more classically-trained singer. Many people, OK, mainly older people, love her because she’s attractive and sings operatically. Our group has been moving away from that style, though, and we only play special events and holiday gigs with her. Some people, e.g., my girlfriend, think she sings just a bit off-key and can’t stand her voice, so there’s that issue to contend with"

    she's in key, your girlfriend probably doesn't like the 'attractive' part




  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    You're excepting a singer to join your group and be able to sing songs in the key the band typically plays the song in?Of course I'm an amateur so I only play with singers at my "level"; but all ask us to play a song in a key that works-for-them.
    Probably means they know what key they sing songs in

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    You're excepting a singer to join your group and be able to sing songs in the key the band typically plays the song in?Of course I'm an amateur so I only play with singers at my "level"; but all ask us to play a song in a key that works-for-them.
    Our pianist has a “low voice” Real Book that he brings for our newest “amateur” singer. She has a high voice but prefers to sing songs in a lower key than usual. Not a problem for a guitarist!

    Interestingly (and off-topic), I read that one of the reasons Led Zepp won’t play together again is that Plant can’t sing many songs in the original key and Page doesn’t want to transpose them. Also, same story with Chicago—Peter Cetera wouldn’t sing unless they played in a lower key, but the horn guys refused.

    Quote Originally Posted by wintermoon View Post
    I normally don't like a lot of the singers I hear these days, but not all, there's some good ones.
    Our regular singer is excellent but is recuperating from cancer.
    Our organist is a very good singer, doesn't know a ton of tunes, but he can do enough during a gig so the crowd doesn't get sick of instrumentals all night.

    "We have also played with a more classically-trained singer. Many people, OK, mainly older people, love her because she’s attractive and sings operatically. Our group has been moving away from that style, though, and we only play special events and holiday gigs with her. Some people, e.g., my girlfriend, think she sings just a bit off-key and can’t stand her voice, so there’s that issue to contend with"

    she's in key, your girlfriend probably doesn't like the 'attractive' part

    You may be right about the latter part...I have learned over the years never underestimate the potential for a gal to become jealous. TBH I don’t know if our singer Tammie is really off or not...my upper level hearing loss probably prevents me from making an adequate assessment of the situation. Most of us don’t really like her style because she’s too formal and doesn’t swing enough. But she helped start the group, and as I’ve said she’s a hit with the crowds we play for, so hard to kick her totally out.
    “Without music, life would be a mistake”--Friedrich Nietzsche

    Current lineup: Gibson ES-135 ('02), Peerless Sunset, Harmony Brilliant Cutaway ('64), Godin 5th Avenue, Alvarez AC60 A/E classical, Kay K37 ('56), Fender Squier VM Jazz bass, several ukes. Amps: Fishman Artist, Fender SCXD, Pignose 7-100.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    You're excepting a singer to join your group and be able to sing songs in the key the band typically plays the song in?Of course I'm an amateur so I only play with singers at my "level"; but all ask us to play a song in a key that works-for-them.
    No, I "hope" the singer knows "a" key, and again, ideally has charts in that key (as I'm not good enough to transpose a lot of standards on the fly, and more of the singers I've played with -- especially at "jazz jams" -- don't even know what key they're singing in!).

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by marcwhy View Post
    No, I "hope" the singer knows "a" key, and again, ideally has charts in that key (as I'm not good enough to transpose a lot of standards on the fly, and more of the singers I've played with -- especially at "jazz jams" -- don't even know what key they're singing in!).
    ever hear this one?

    "can you bring it down a little? a little more....a little more....no, that's too low, can you bring it up a little?

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by wintermoon View Post
    ever hear this one?

    "can you bring it down a little? a little more....a little more....no, that's too low, can you bring it up a little?
    Exactly!! That's what I'm tryin' to say here, and unfortunately, some singers are notorious for that! [you would not hear a horn player do that!]

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by marcwhy View Post
    No, I "hope" the singer knows "a" key, and again, ideally has charts in that key (as I'm not good enough to transpose a lot of standards on the fly, and more of the singers I've played with -- especially at "jazz jams" -- don't even know what key they're singing in!).
    Got it. Yea, that has happened to me also; I can play a song I know, in any key, if there is a chart in that key, but, yea, most of the time the singer doesn't have any charts, and also doesn't know what key they sing the song in. I have been able to get around this at jams at my home, since I have a computer and software that can change songs into any key. BUT picking-the-key takes time; I.e. the singer has to just start singing,,, and then I play the chords,,, I'm off by a step or so,, change the key,,, try again, until we 'match'. So much quicker if the singer had just said '"in A"!

  14. #13

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    all professional singers should have charts, 99% don't which = unprofessional
    we did a gig w/a singer a few weeks ago, no charts, no microphone!
    what the heck is that? the organ player said "you're a singer and you don't have a mic!?"
    her response..."oh, no one told me to bring one...."

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny W. View Post
    When our singer retired a few years ago due to health reasons the leader of my big band decided to work with several outstanding singers, all seasoned pros, and it's led to excellent results for us. Not only have they all been great to work with, but they each have their own repertoire to give us variety and they each have their own followers that come to our gigs in addition to our usual fans.

    During the '80's and '90's I led a pop/rock group that nominally had two singers, but sometimes as many as five. The results were variable, but always fun.

    Danny W.
    That reminds me of a gig I did in a club, where the leader would only hire a singer who had a following of some kind, so he could keep his gig at the club. The singer could be the next Betty Carter, Ella , etc...but if she couldn't bring friends, family or followers to the club, she got the boot!