Writing this in my Jakarta hotel room, just after my first rehearsal for our 2nd leg of the David Foster & Friends (DFF) Asia Tour. It was quite a long rehearsal (6 hours), but we covered almost everything in one session. That’s a tough feat for anyone but here’s what I observed about the way things get done with a top international act like this.
The first thing that struck me when I first played with these guys last year (for the 1st leg) was their attention to detail. Everything is performed in the right place, with the correct tempo, with the exact note-lengths (nothing held too long or too short), with the proper insinuations, and at the required dynamic volume. So although it was a relatively small band, it sounded big and tight!
Your ‘sound’ plays such an important part in a gig like this. No keyboard ‘factory’ patches, please! You make sure your sound is accurate, fat and impressive. I guess that’s the secret ingredient that makes a small band sound big.
Another key was preparation, right from the person who prepared all the charts to the musicians who all did their homework BEFORE coming in to rehearsal. With everyone knowing (roughly) what they were supposed to play, rehearsal became a ‘sharpening tool’ rather than a time to ‘learn stuff’.
Common courtesy is also very apparent in the way everyone always has a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ before and after every request made. There’s never a show of egos or tempers flaring although some of the band are certified music legends. Believe me, the number of local upstarts I’ve seen ‘losing it’ only prove that empty vessels DO make the most noise!
I talked about dynamics earlier but let me share something that happened during rehearsal. We were rehearsing a famous ballad right in the midst of a long grueling session, right about the time where it’s not closer to the beginning then it is to the end. Kind of like when you’re in the middle of a marathon where the adrenalin has worn off, and the finish line is nowhere in sight. Autopilot takes over and you’d be forgiven for going thru the motions, and this is a song that ‘everybody knew’. All of a sudden Mr. Hitman himself stops the music, and coolly says, “play with some dynamics, you m#&$*$!*”. Now, this had his Canadian dry humor dripping all over it, but the message was clear, and we never went into autopilot again. Not even during rehearsal!
Time! Now there’s another commodity that’s so treasured with these international acts. A 1pm rehearsal means we start playing at 1pm. I often wonder how come they can do this and yet most Malaysians just can’t? Is it really in our culture to be late for everything? Plus, there is hardly any time wasting. I found this next phrase quite amusing,
“OK guys, let’s take a long 10 minute break”.
10 minutes? Long??!
Here’s another interesting story. Before one of our shows in Genting last year, we were talking & joking about mistakes that happen during shows and how some bandleaders impose a fine on mistakes. So I casually mention how some of our local musicians offer to pay ‘up front’ for their ‘mistakes’ even before the show started. The buoyant mood quickly shifted into annoyance, as these 3 phrases quickly followed:
- “Obviously they didn’t prepare hard enough!”
- “How can anyone do a show with an attitude like that?”
- “I hate musicians like that, cos it makes us ALL look bad!”.
Talk about a change of perspective!
So that was a little glimpse of what happens behind the scenes at a DFF show. The funny thing is, it’s not just your playing skills that determines if you did a good job. Of course it helps that you have some skill on you, but it’s the other stuff I write about above that possibly earns you that second call. I guess that’s what differentiates the ‘1st call’ guys from all the others.
Maybe that’s what they call ‘professionalism’?!
Someone in the band commented, “If musicians came to the show, they would probably think this was an easy gig; but I think there are only a handful who would be able to pull it off.”
I’d certainly like to think so.
* Pic on top of page is me with keyboardist Boh Cooper, who is also MD to Peter Cetera. Top man, top musician!
David Foster & Friends has 2 shows in the Java Jazz Festival and another 2 days in the Motion Blue Club in Jakarta. We then move on to do shows in Bangkok & Tokyo.