(or, The Music Business is Tough Enough When Amateurs Aren't Involved)

The star of the show was, and is, a somewhat annoying human being. That being said, tolerance is learned in the music business early. Placing people before personalities is key to being successful in an industry populated with many eccentrics. About two months ago he proposed that he "come out of retirement" to play a gig.

Normally, a demo disc is auditioned by one or more of us, and a decision rendered. The decision in this case was a rare one; based upon the caliber of the talent that this individual had hired to join him on the club date. Often snap decisions with regard to booking talent have produced remarkable results. It was valid enough to assume that the same would be true in this case. (A soft heart, eager to give as many musicians as possible the distinction of performing at our venue, also played a part in the decision.)

Despite his abrasive personality, this individual worked diligently on publicity. He provided plenty of photographs so that it was easy to produce a very professional, polished-looking poster and flyer announcing his performance. He'd contacted the media on his own, therefore making the p/r chores related to the show a breeze. It turned out, in fact, that the evening's show at the restaurant was heavily publicized on radio and in the press.

The sound-check went very well. The seasoned professionals in the backup combo were a delight to work with; on-time, set up early, and very, very nice guys. Whilst engineering the blend of musicians, the keyboard player played a riff from a tune that I like very, very much. When asked to play it through, not only did he oblige; so did the rest of the combo. There are few things that are as rewarding to a singer as working with players who seem, somehow, to read the singer's mind. The key selected was perfect; we aced the tune. Only a few knobs on the mixer were adjusted, and the microphones were in just the right position. It seemed as if this evening was going to be the kind punctuated with spine-shivers and goose-bumps; these fellows were that good.

The usual introduction was given to the players, and the leader came running onstage right on cue. The beginning couldn't have been more professional and polished.

It went downhill from there.

This vocalist (who also plays trombone) was off-key. Badly off-key. Worse, he forgot the correct lyrics to songs that everyone in the audience could've sang along to, the material was that popular. The icing on the cake was that his command of melodies versus chords was so lacking. Imagine listening to a CD on which the vocal track was intentionally laid down a bar (or two) behind the chords played by the backup band.

Okay, we said amongst ourselves, the poor older fellow had indeed come out of retirement to play the gig, and was understandably anxious. But the cacaphony and sloppy lyrics persisted long after the allowable three songs to get his footing.

Two by two, not unlike animals plodding up the gangplank of Noah's water craft, the crowd began to leave. The servers desperately tried to get a second drink order out of those who remained. This worked on about one in five of those who remained.

The break found our leader chugging Scotch in the bar. This was not a good sign. He also pouted when an error was made by a waitress with his (complimentary) dinner order. Very unprofessional. Very, very unprofessional. Frank Sinatra, after all, this guy was not.

As the evening neared its end, I took yet another sedative followed with about four aspirin. Headaches are rare for me. This wasn't a headache; it was more like being in a train wreck.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, they sure did. Our "songbird" obliged a request that I sing a couple of tunes with the band. This obnoxious moron not only stayed on stage, but punctuated our efforts with what I guess he thought were improvisational highlights. They were more like sounds that brought to mind the random honkings of geese during mating season. My own singing was poor; I was distracted and dropped a few lyrics myself, but recovered alright. It was, nonetheless, downright embarrassing.

We seemed never to have been so eager to get out of that place as we had tonight. Arriving home, Shirley Horn was promptly put on the stereo, and we were therewith reassured that indeed, there were people in this world who could sing well. If this writeup is still here in the morning, it will confirm that the goings-on of the evening were indeed real, and not just a bad dream.

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