Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 28, 2010

Hack’s Dream Gig Comes True

I’m a hack. I’ve been playing guitar — more or less — for forty years. I spent endless hours in my teenage bedroom strumming away. Played in some garage bands. Truth to be told, I didn’t bear down very hard and never got very far. I switched to bass because the band didn’t have a bass player. Later, I got hooked on the blues, and I learned to play the harmonica. I was lucky there: I went to a week-long music camp and learned the harp from a couple of the world’s greatest blues harmonica players.

So much for reality. Your mother was right, kids. If you don’t practice, you don’t get anywhere.

But in my dream …

Global Jam Johnny B Goode 0372 (640x427)

In my dream, I stand onstage before an excited audience, hundreds strong. Bathed in the spotlights,  I point to the drummer, who hits four beats, and the music roars out. To my left, three lightning-fast guitar players pound out massive power chords. Behind me are two keyboard players — one at a Hammond B-3 organ — laying down a massive wall of sound. As I start singing, on either side of me, four beautiful women are backing me, a soprano and an alto on either side. And to my right, an immense horn section: saxes, trumpets and trombones, putting shimmering highlights on top of every line. Behind us all, the iron man, the drummer, with a heart of steel and hands of quicksilver, blazes away.

Incredibly, though, this is a mere dream no longer. Thanks to some brilliant colleagues of mine, I’ve had that very experience, with great musicians from across the globe, who also are now friends of mine.

Several years ago, some colleagues of mine who had gotten to know each other not just through work but through music had the inspiration of finding fellow musicians all over the world. We would be called The Global Jam. And we would all show up at the company’s annual conference and perform. It was a crazy idea. But they made it happen.

Here’s what they set out to do: find two dozen musicians representing every continent to fill out a full-on stage band: singers, keyboards, rhythm section, guitars and horn section. Some strings and percussion would be nice, too. Oh, I forgot to mention: all of them must be employed by our company. Then, having found the talent, they had to select a set of songs, assign parts and get this band ready to play. And they did all this in their spare time, not company time.

As I said, the goal was to assemble this band for a performance at a big company conference. Once everyone flew in, we had a day or so to get acquainted and run through the numbers a few times. Then we performed in front of a crowd of hundreds of colleagues. And it happened. It worked. A group of people who had mostly never met each other played well enough to have the joint jumpin’ for a two-hour set.

This kind of thing happens all the time. With the right connections, you can go to any city in the world and assemble an orchestra of master players to perform Beethoven or Bach or Bon Jovi … whatever music you set before them. But these are not members of the local musicians’ union; they’re employees at a technology company. They’re not paid to play music; instead, they’ve devoted scores of hours to learn the material out of their love for the music. And, for most of them, it is an experience not quite like anything they’ve ever done.

This year, I count 25 musicians from 11 countries on 6 continents. (Darn it, we KNOW we must have someone working in Antarctica!)

Now that we’ve been doing this for a few years with excellent success, and had an opportunity to refine the preparation process, it’s a little less terrifying now than in those first couple of years. But it’s still a massive amount of work, both collectively and individually, as everyone works to learn their parts well enough to just show up and play together.

Over the next few months, I’ll post occasional blogs about how the band is progressing toward the early June performance.

What’s happened so far:

First, we added a few new members this year, from Brazil, Australia, Netherlands and Vietnam.

Then, at the end of 2009, each member of the band proposed a couple of songs to be considered for the set list. These suggestions were put into a custom database (these folks are all technologists, after all) which allowed everyone to vote for a specified number of songs.

With the voting complete, we now have a set list. A list of songs goes into a special Wiki, with a page for each number listing instrumentation, vocal parts, lyrics, lead sheet and comments.

Each song has a music director and a vocal director. The music director is responsible for determining what instruments are required for each number. The lead singer for each number serves as the vocal director, and recommends the number of vocalists required and the arrangement of the vocal parts. We had our first conference call last Sunday, and that’s where the music director assignments were made. This past Friday, all directors owed their lists of instruments and vocals.

These calls are pretty well-organized now. In the first year or two, it was controlled chaos, with people all across the world who did not know one another learning to work together. It’s still a big job, but there’s a lot better definition about how things flow. Calls happen on Sunday, very late on Sunday in Australia, and, for me, the lone West Coaster, at 5 a.m. The sun never sets on the Global Jam!

Now, with instrumentation and vocal needs determined, it’s time for every member in the band to put in for which parts on which songs they’d like to play. That’s where we are now. We have 35 numbers to assign parts for and then master between now and June. We’ll follow the band’s progress as we move toward the Big Show!

The photo shows the band in 2008.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017

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Responses

  1. […] We’ll probably have a call soon enough about this matter. It’ll probably take place at the end of the evening for me. Since he is in California. The other thing I have to do is Contact my Australian colleague since we still have stuff to do on our entry.  As my blog-brother stated in his post about the jam: ‘ hacks-dream-gig-comes-true‘ […]

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