Club Date Musicians, by Bruce MacLeod
I wracked my brain to remember this—I recalled a long article in the New Yorker about club date musicians, but then I remembered Google.
New York-area club date musicians play from memory, often drawing on repertoires spanning fifty years of popular music to produce arrangements on the spot. Impressive as their skills are, though, they occupy an ambivalent position: their art must be background, never overshadowing the event, whether a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or a debutante ball. Their artistic and musical skills, finely tuned for club date gigs, are rarely even noticed, much less remarked upon, by their audiences.
Club Date Musicians is a pioneering ethnomusicological portrait focusing on the three hundred to five hundred New York musicians whose primary income is derived from playing private parties. Interviewing more than a hundred musicians and observing more than forty performances, Bruce MacLeod lets the musicians speak for themselves.
MacLeod examines the relation of audience to performer, the ensembles’ social and musical organization, the musicians’ economic and social status, and the process of change within the musical culture. The reader will discover why New York club date musicians don’t use written music, how rock and roll has affected the occupation, and why the stereotypical picture of the bored, inept club date performer is unfair.
It was fascinating reading.
Somehow I’m reminded of the scene of the comics sitting around a diner table in Carnegie Delicatessen, their stories acting as the frame for one of Woody Allen’s good movies, Broadway Danny Rose, talking about the old days, how many venues were available in New York and just over the river in New Jersey. They were bemoaning how many had closed, and one said his last dates had been in Philadelphia and then in Baltimore. “To be a comic today,” he said, “you have to have a good set of tires.”
I wonder what the club date scene is like today.
Broadway Danny Rose is, I think, a movie about forgiveness.