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Me and Herb Ellis

10/23/2001

I needed to add to the randomness of my web site, so I dug up an old photo from the gig I did with Herb Ellis.

This is from about 1993 or so. I was playing in the house band in a club called the Drum Room (now extict). The owner (Todd) was a musician, and also the leader of the house band. We played five nights a week mostly, but every month or so, he'd bring in a national act, adn we got the night off. So one Thursday night, the legendary guitar man Herb ellis was playing the Drum Room, and I was relaxing at home, enjoying a rare Thursday night to myself.

The phone rang.

Apparently Todd had booked a duo to back Herb, and Herb wasn't happy at having to comp for his own solos. He more or less insisted on a piano player, so Todd called me up. Hell yes I wanted to play with a jazz legend. So I raced down to the club so see what was up. There were no charts, no set lists or anything, Herb would just call out a standard, and the guys would start playing--sometimes he'd just launch into the intro and let us figure it out. The bass player and drummers were local guys who were totally up to it, but I felt pretty out of my depth.

I wound up just laying back, and playing very sparse accompaniments when there were openings. Maybe I played about one fourth as many notes as I typically would. Herb was calling up stuff like "I Could Write a Sonnet About Your Easter Bonnet" and some real old-timey standards, tunes I had heard a number of times but never played actually. So I really focused in on the bass player, who was laying it down completely. I only committed when I was positive about what was happening--I usually laid out completely for one time through the form, and then jumped in. I would also feed some of Herb's melodic figures back to him, which he seemd to dig a lot, and started getting really playful about doing it.

Well, it worked out great. Herb was so cool, after the show he thanked me for giving up my night off, and complemented me on my accompaniment skills. "Most guys overplay so much," he tells me. It was one of the only gigs I ever did for no pay, but it was sure worth it. I got Herb to autograph a CD for me, and I got this nice picture from the gig, but mostly it's a priceless memory of playing with one of the true greats of jazz.


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