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The Mort Report

Getting Ready For Showtime – When You’re The Show

By Published: June 5, 2012
OK, time to eat. It's about 12:30 p.m., and the ribeye has worn off. Now having a good meal before a concert is very very important: Playing a show is a very physical thing, and it gets harder to do as one ages—especially if you play a wind instrument like I do, with no microphone attachments. I want to hear a clear, pure clarinet sound until the house sound system picks it up. That's only one generation removed from what I put into the horn, so I can't have just eaten with food in my stomach and hit high, loud notes with a lot of air pushing on my diaphragm. I think most of you get the picture: It could get messy, just like life itself!

Now, it's back to the hotel to lay down for an hour. Tried to sleep, but that was a no-go. Got out my horn practiced for one hour, but I never met the other cats that I was going to play with. It doesn't worry me, though, as I've been in these situations countless times: This is where all those thousands of hours spent (back in the day) in jam sessions pays off. Many was the time you didn't know the cats and the tunes, but you stayed and played and learned, just by being a part of the haps.

I knew that my set was from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and that my driver would pick me up at 6:30 p.m. So, shaved, showered, got dressed—kinda neo-hip like. (I felt a little pang of fear, then, so I killed a half pint of Jack Daniels. No, no, just kidding! I didn't kill it, just slightly wounded it. No, no, still kidding!) Went to the mirror, tweaked my hair a little, practiced looking kinda cool and sexy—though that's hard to do with a clarinet stuck in your mouth. I made out a list of tunes and the keys that I put in my pocket. Then it was off to the festival grounds.

I was ready to rip it up! As we pulled up to the gates and go through security, I can see the crowd: It's packed, with what had to be over a thousand people there. KMHD is doing a simulcast and I can hear one of the bands playing through all the great speakers all over the grounds. Man, I wanted on that stage! The cats up there were the ones who'd be playing piano, bass and drums with me. I had put my trust in Joe Beeler to have gotten me the best, and he did. There was a tent, a green room of sorts, with all kind of goodies to eat and drink. I autographed 25 posters that they would sell at one of the booths. I was feeling good.

When one has been doing this sort of thing a good part of their life, one learns to read crowds within 30 seconds—clubs, concerts anywhere—and this crowd read real good. Then, there's a voice: "Mort Weiss, you're up next." I move to the wings, and I start to get that feeling of the people, though it's a hard thing to explain. Whether it's 10, 100 or 1,000 people, they all seem to come together as one—and you feel them as one. You play to them as one, too. And like sex, even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

I turned to the guys and said: "My name is Mort Weiss. How about 'Bye Bye Blackbird' in F?" "Cool, I'll count it off... 1-2 1234." Every thing went great. It was a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon... one I'll never forget.

This column is shared with our good friends at Something Else Reviews—where you can also find daily jazz, progressive rock and classic rock reviews.

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