Play Well Together

Play Well Together

Want to hear a word that really bugs me? It’s “outro.” You know why it bugs me? Because it’s not a word. At least it shouldn’t be. It first materialized in 1967, in a song called “The Intro And The Outro” by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Everyone who heard the song knew the title was a joke, and yet just a few years later “outro” found its way in to the vernacular of garage bands nationwide. They just figured “outro” had to be the opposite of “intro,” right? Wrong. If “intro” is short for “introduction,” then “outro” must be short for — what? “Outroduction?” I don’t think so. And yet you can now find the word in (gasp) the Oxford Dictionary, of all places. So even though I’ve decided to get used to the idea that it has entered the lexicon, I still think of an outro as the “end of the song.”

To be fair, I’ve been known to mangle a phrase now and then, too. For example, having come of age in the rock era, I grew up calling singers and guitarists the decidedly genderinsensitive term “front men.” Drummers and bassists were the “rhythm section,” which I’m sure drove my dad crazy. He was a composer and arranger who specialized in big band music, and from his perspective the rhythm section included more than bass and drums.

Back in the big band glory days, the players at the front of the stage were the sax and horn sections. At the back was the rhythm section, made up of a pianist, bassist, drummer, and possibly guitarist, whose jobs were to collectively lay down a foundation for the melodies and harmonies being played by the rest of the band. Well, guess what? It’s still their job in 2016, even when there aren’t horns.

See, everybody on stage should play in the groove — a fact that is too often lost on today’s guitarists and keyboardists. For instance, I played with a guitarist for years whose musicianship looked impeccable on paper. He studied with many renowned guitarists, had remarkable chops, an impressive grasp of theory and harmony, and would practice incessantly.

But he never practiced with a metronome. He didn’t think he needed to. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t his job to keep time. That’s why he hired drummers and bassists, after all. So if you happened to be on drums or bass, gigging with him felt like a musical wrestling match where no one wins — especially the audience.

And that’s the real shame. After years of study and hundreds of hours of practice, as you polish your technique into a shining jewel, it’s easy to imagine that the audience comes to marvel at your awesome chops. That may be true for a fraction of diehard fans, but the rest of the audience just wants to dance, and they simply can’t unless everybody on stage grooves together.

So if you happen to play with musicians who believe it’s the rhythm section’s job to maintain the groove, just leave this column flopped open on their amps. Maybe they’ll read it after the outro.

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