Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gil James and his Sounds of the Decades

I landed my first "professional" music gig early in 1987 as the bass player for Gil James and his Sounds of the Decades, a popular Big Band dance music group. My teacher, mentor, and friend, Mr (Kurt) Hargleroad, had lined up the audition for me. I had been studying electric bass and double bass technique with him since my sophomore year in high school and he felt that I had "the chops" that would be needed to land the gig and, more importantly, he thought that the gig would challenge me to become a much better player.

Boy, was he right!

The band had a repertoire of 500+ songs. Songs ranged from classics like Glenn Miller's In The Mood, Count Basie's Jumpin' At The Woodside, Louis Armstrong's arrangement of On The Sunny Side of the Street to songs like Mr Sandman, Blue Moon, Theme From New York, New York, and anything in between. Every 4th of July, we also played all the patriotic standards like The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America.

During rehearsals and shows, any number from the 500+ song repertoire could be called to be played. Paul J Giltinan, the band leader, would yell out a number and you had about 10 seconds to pull the sheet music before he would count off the start of the song. As a 17yr old, 11th grader whose musical tastes included Electronic, Alternative, Metal, Progressive Rock, Experimental, and New Age, Big Band was not a genre that I was very familiar with. For me, I had to depend on my music sight reading skills to get through the charts. It was "trial by fire" and, thankfully, I had been well taught and prepared by Mr Hargleroad (and previously by Howard Bly).

I was with the band until I left for college (IUP) in the Fall of 1988. For the 1 1/2 years that I was part of Gil James and his Sounds of the Decades, I was challenged to learn new music and become a better bass player. I met those challenges and, along the way, I expanded my musical vocabulary, gained a greater appreciation for all music, and accumulated a lot of memorable stories from my road travels with the band. I have a lot of those stories to share and I'll do that in later blog posts.

P.S. Of course, I can't end this post without commenting on the picture above. This shot was taken for the band's 15th Anniversary Show program in April of 1988. What can I say? The suit that I'm wearing in the picture is the least embarrassing of the all of the "costumes" that I wore with the band. I'll post some of the less "formal" pictures in future posts. I still laugh every time I see my "cheesy" high school mustache!


Thee SUB ONE Genius said...

Interesting. At any point, did you learn 'How High The Moon' from Les Paul or 'Nuages' from Django Reinhardt?

Steve-o-lution said...

I never knew this about you man! Cray-Z Kool!