Jewish Music Blog

July 5, 2005

Critique of a Midwestern Band

Filed under: Uncategorized — jewishmusic @ 3:23 pm

The first real post-

I was in a midwestern state this weekend for a friend’s chasuna. As is always the case, I made sure to evaluate the band.

Usually I get a feel for the band by how they play during the shmorg. The shmorg is a looser time for the band, and they are free take more liberties than they would otherwise be able to take the rest of the night. Therefore, the shmorg is a reflection of what the band is capable of, and is in a sense a greater opportunity to see the potential of the band.

Unfortunately, I missed the shmorg and arrived during the chuppah. The chuppah playing was very nice, although it was just the keyboard player – no flute or trumpet playing melody, just keyboard. From what I understand standard practice is, the keyboard player can either stay for the entire chuppah or leave after all the appropriate parties have walked down, and the horn players come to the chuppah during the last couple of sheva brachos and start playing Od Yishama after the chosson breaks the glass. This particular band didn’t follow what I consider standard protocol, and only had the keyboard player play when the chosson broke the glass. The keyboard player played for about fifteen seconds when the chosson’s friends stepped up the tempo of Od Yishama, at which point the keyboard player seemed to “give up”, and instead of increasing the keyboard player’s own tempo, the keyboard player stopped. Okay, this was unusal, but not necessarily a reflection of the band.

Some more background: This wedding was mostly modern but the chosson’s friends were yeshiva bochrim. I’m not sure what standard practice is, but to me it makes sense that the band would tailor its music to the crowd. Some bands may feel that they can play whatever they want, or perhaps whatever they feel they do best, and not abide by this practice.

After the chuppah the band plays dinner music. This band was among those who did not abide by this practice and played exclusively “yeshivish” music, which includes very recent songs, such as those from Shwekey’s latest album. There is nothing wrong with this, I just felt that it would have been nice if they would have at least played one or two songs that the majority modern people would have been familiar with.

The band consisted of a frum keyboard player, frum trumpet and trombone players, frum singer, a non-Jewish bass player and a non-Jewish drummer. I thought it was unusual for a band to have a bass player instead of a sax/flute player or even a guitarist, because in smaller Jewish bands the keyboard player usually plays bass with the left hand. Why put a bass player on the band if you can get a sax/flute player or guitarist instead?

The way the band played these songs, though, is worthy of critique. The keyboard player used an Alesis Quadrasynth plus Piano keyboard, which has a great electric piano sound and a decent piano sound. The keyboard player, though, exclusively used the piano sound, and played it consistenly at an octave too high, which had a very shrill sound and it interfered with the “sonic space” of the horn players. The keyboard player’s idea of comping was to simply play melody with chords underneath.

The bass player too seemed to play the bass too high, which had the effect of not driving the song at all. Even for ballads, there should be a groove; here there was none.

The drummer seemed to the best musician technically, but not at all stylistically. Although the drummer’s timing was fine, he would not keep a steady groove. Instead he added many eighth note anticpations and kept changing the style which had the effect of sounding like he was playing constant fills. Very disconcerting, and not very “band-like”. Of course, the bass player and keyboard player did not (or could not) follow the complexities of the drummer.

The trumpet and trombone players were not jazz players, and had a very yeshivish tone, which sounded Spanish-like.

As for the mix – the bass was so low as to not be felt. The keys, which was the only chord playing instrument, was also way too low for the room. The drums were not miked. The vocalist sounded muffled. Basically, the sound element of the band was horrendous. All you could hear was the trumpet and trombone.

This was only the dinner music.

The fanfare was Baker Street, a fairly simple and very pump-up fanfare. Of course, if the bass is too low and the drummer isn’t playing a steady groove, you aren’t going to have any pump-up. But that wasn’t all – the band actually played the fanfare significantly too fast, which furthered the destruction of a great fanfare.

The first-set dance music was more like the first-set sleep music. As I mentioned before, both the bass player and drummer were not Jewish. It seems that non-Jewish keyboard players and drummers, and to a lesser degree bass players, have a difficult time getting the freilach feel. This drummer didn’t have it at all, and played so many fills and changed the groove so often that one could barely tell that it was freilach. The bass, keys and drums were way too low in the mix, so there was basically no rhythm section. The song selection consisted of very yeshivish songs, and the singer sang most of them with a chasidish accent. This was clearly not tailored to the crowd.

The second set had the same problems as the first and then some. Disco and hora is all about the groove – the solidity and “movingness” of the music. The people dancing want to able to have a great groove to dance the hora to. Not only did this band not have any groove, they started the set with Chaim Dovid’s Ya Ma Ma. This is most possibly the worst song to start a second set with. The people dancing want a great groove to get them moving into the second set so they can dance the hora. Because Ya Ma Mai starts off slow, this effect was totally lost. I would love if they had done Ya Ma Mai at the end of the disco portion of the second set – that’s a great place to do it, but alas. The band also played all the discos too quickly, making it almost impossible to dance a hora to. A hora feel song was played as a backbeat rock, and on and on.

I heard afterwards that this particular band is very popular and people from other midwestern states actually bring them interstate to play. I talked a little to the band, and I strongly got the impression that this was their core group – the first call. I don’t know why and how people could settle for such ______(fill in your choice of expletive).

To their credit, this band did not have any problems switching songs and the players always played togehter. Also, the pitch of the band as a totality was almost always on.

Perhaps solidity and not groove, is all you need to be a popular band.



  1. Great Post. One thing:Gadi bodinger used to start hora’s with yamamai and the crowd really likes it, because he starts off like a slow song, than does a bar or two of drums and then goes into a wild disco

    Comment by Shmuel — July 6, 2005 @ 2:18 pm

  2. Okay, I hear that. But I also feel that if Yamamai is done at the end of the horas before a rock or freilach it provides an opportunity for the dancers to rest for a couple of seconds.

    Comment by keyboardguy — July 6, 2005 @ 2:31 pm

  3. Steiner,
    I gotta say I also Play for a big east coast band and I’ve never seen you- but I’m very impressed with you assessment of the band. Very thorough and informed. I would like to hear you play,

    Comment by saxy dude — July 6, 2005 @ 6:04 pm

  4. Thanks for your words of encouragement, Saxy dude.

    Comment by keyboardguy — July 6, 2005 @ 9:12 pm

  5. It’s amazing how once you leave NY the quality generally (I’m certain there are exceptions) just isn’t the same. I was hired to sing at an affair in Baltimore. The chasson had hired myself and Carmine D’amico. The band was horrible and Carmine turns to me and says “it’s a good thing he hired us”. I know Canada has some good bands but what is it about the other states?

    Comment by Jewish Blogmiester — July 6, 2005 @ 9:52 pm

  6. I was just in Toronto for a wedding and the band was very good. Of course, it’s ‘out of town’ so the bandleader made some bonehead mistakes and generally oversang the entire night. He also had the annoying habit of singing drum fills like this: “Diga, diga diga diga diga”- in 16th notes. Hey, if your drummer can’t play 16th note fills, don’t call attention to it. But, they were tight. I believe it was Zemer.

    Comment by Anonymous — July 7, 2005 @ 1:56 am

  7. I’m sure anybody can find something wrong with any band if they look hard enough. Even bands from NY (especially if it’s a busy date).

    Also, not sure what you mean by “oversing”.

    I can hear why imitating drums is over the top.

    Comment by keyboardguy — July 7, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  8. “over-singing”: Perhaps the yidish “krechtzing” is better. Not singing straight. Adding bluesy Christina Aguilera lines over every ballad. Basically straying from the melody too much and too often. It’s ok in moderation, but if done too much it becomes oversinging

    Comment by Anonymous — July 7, 2005 @ 12:24 pm

  9. I am going to have to disaree with Jewish Blogmeister by saying that the three worst band performances I have experienced at weddings were all by NY bands while the three best, were by out-of-town bands. Just curious, keyboardguy, in your opinion, based on your experience, which bands do you feel are really the leaders in terms of good, quality, heartfelt Jewish music?

    – Jack

    Comment by Anonymous — September 30, 2005 @ 12:53 pm

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