It's not unusual for a jazz musician to play a shit job for good money. We all do it. In fact the only cats I can imagine having the integrity to turn down a lucrative corporate gig are those with healthy trust funds. Personally I follow the Blues Brothers' lead and play anywhere, anytime, for anybody. (I also hold all business meetings in the steam room, which may explain my current level of employment.) But the sad fact is I don't get called for these jobs very often. The last time I did a corporate, the after-dinner speaker was OJ Simpson. Guests were doing the Macarena. Dessert was a cheese log. It's been a long time, I tell you. So when I got a call for one last week, I was quite looking forward to it.
I'd never heard of the Francois Hotel, but let me tell you, these are some swanky digs. Right on Central Park, their cheapest rooms go for $750 a night (I checked). Obviously I felt right at home. I presented myself to the concierge, who caught the whiff of Jazz and Desperation (Yves Saint Laurent I think), and bundled me unceremoniously into the nearest freight elevator. I tried unsuccessfully to strike up a conversation with a janitor on the ride up, forgetting that in the hotel social order, musicians are placed somewhere below soft furnishings. Like I said, it's been a while.
Often I've found that folks organizing these kind of knees-ups can be rather stingy when it comes to food and bev, so it's important to stock up before they realize who you are. I dumped my horn, met the band, then made my way to the bar. Doing my best impression of a man who belongs in the Francois Hotel, I got stuck into their impressive selection without being sprung. The evening was off to a fine start. (It turned out they were actually quite generous with us, but it doesn't hurt to be on the safe side.) Nicely lubricated, I strapped on the bow tie, grabbed my horn, and got settled on stage.
The bash was in honour of the departing CEO of a multinational investment firm. These were some cashed-up bean-counters. The venue was spectacular; the catering was lavish; the decorations were magnificent; and the band was hilarious. Clearly a last-minute addition to proceedings, they'd spent no expense on entertainment. Now I should say the musicians were a lovely bunch, and I'll happily work with them any time, but you can't fake this level of shonkiness. No bass player, so the keyboard player handled the synth-bass with his left hand, while channeling the Boston Pops with his right. The horn section was half the size imagined by the arranger, and the parts we had were naturally the ones without the melodies, the important harmonies, or the bits everyone knows. But what makes it almost worse, was that the singer was really quite good. He was a Tom Jones impersonator, and possibly the best one I've ever heard. And I've heard plenty. I was so impressed that on my way out, I shook his hand and respectfully handed him my underwear.
But the thing is, they didn't care. Those cloth-eared philistines loved every bungled bar, every cack-handed chorus. They got drunk and danced deliriously around their handbags as we crashed blindly through Big Tom's back-catalogue, making sure to dismember Delilah and mow down the Green Green Grass of Home. And to finish, we were treated to a video montage of pictures of the departing honcho, set to the song "Time of your Life", by American punk band Green Day. Organisers were presumably ignorant of the fact that the song's real title is "Good Riddance" , which to me improved the presentation no end.
A couple more sneaky cocktails and I grabbed my cheque and was off. Musicians complain about "society" gigs, and if you do them regularly, I quite understand; but I had fun that night. To paraphrase someone or other: good showbiz can disappoint, but bad showbiz never does.