Margaret Hair: Sitting in with Steamboat Swings
For the past two months, I have been relearning how to count.
I didn’t forget how to do simple arithmetic – though journalists are kind of notoriously bad at math.
I’ve been relearning how to count so the Steamboat Swings saxophone section can stop being annoyed when I play a rhythm wrong, or when I somehow lose track during someone else’s solo and jump back in way too early.
Sitting in on second alto with the band for a couple of rehearsals, I’ve started to remember all the big band rhythms that made me want to play in jazz bands through high school and college. I have the saxophone sound quality of a sixth-grade band student with freakish technical proficiency (for a sixth-grader). But it’s coming back slowly.
It took about three seconds after hearing the band existed for me to decide to get involved in Steamboat Swings. A community big band that has spots open for alternates, that’s in it for fun and that somehow has a full book of swing standards? I have no problem letting you know I basically begged to be a part of this.
Community stage bands are rare. In larger cities the paying gigs are going to go to professional ensembles with fewer members and fewer checks to write. You might find a reading band that occasionally plays benefits or private parties in a medium-sized market – I managed to sit in with the Greensboro (N.C.) Big Band in high school and college – but seats usually stay in the same players’ hands for decades.
For a town the size of Steamboat to have a band like that, and for that band to have as many solid, professional players as it does, is incredibly unlikely – and for me, a great chance to get back to being involved with music outside of listening to it and writing about it.
I’ve always loved playing in ensembles, but I tend to let everything else get ahead of me. I’ll work through rehearsal or put off practicing. When you’re playing regularly, it might be possible to get away with that.
But before this winter, I hadn’t picked up my alto saxophone in about four years. And it shows, big time. I can’t imagine what the people within earshot must have thought about the first Swings rehearsal I came to, but it was sure nice of them not to say anything.
The band has its first gig Saturday at the Steamboat Grand – don’t worry, swing dance enthusiasts with perfect pitch, I’ll be out of town – and plans to play a few sets of swing classics such as “All of Me” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
Everyone on stage will be there because they love big band music and likely because they haven’t had the chance to play it in years. It probably won’t be perfect, but it should be fun.
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As the snow melting off the peaks surrounding Steamboat Springs feeds the Yampa River, rafters, canoeists, kayakers and paddle boarders are trying to make the most of it.