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R&B Band Here I Come

When I was first starting as a new gigging musician in the Atlanta music scene, I was offered a chance to perform with an R&B band called "4-True" which consisted of a lead male vocalist, drums, bass, and keyboard - with occasional other instruments (guitar, woodwinds, brass) depending on the gig. The singer was Castor Holiness, an outstanding performer who had an incredible voice, and tons of knowledge to share. He grew up in a large family of musicians who traveled a church circuit doing family concerts. He could command the stage without tripping over his ego. He patiently showed me the 'feel' of the songs, giving suggestions on style of playing. He was my tour guide who introduced me to the behind the scenes, the magic that makes a song really soar. This experience was full immersion baptism into songs by Al Green, John Legend, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, Motown, and it scared me silly. While I love this music, and listened to much of it growing up, it is another thing entirely to learn to play it. I kept running into the bass line in my playing - or doubling the vocal. I had to learn how to play in an ensemble, letting others do their part and playing differently. We scored a weekly gig playing at a very popular barbecue joint just north of Atlanta, and ended up playing there for nearly 2 years. Eventually the lead singer became 2 female vocalists and we continued in a slightly different vein - Respect, Neither One of Us, A House is Not a Home. Nearly the same set list would appear each week - Electric Slide, Mustang Sally, ending the show with Proud Mary. All of it ended abruptly when the restaurant we played closed in a cloud of suspicion and the band disbanded. I made my way from there playing jazz standards with a trio weekly and only retained maybe 10% of the R&B songs in my active repertoire. But the experience of learning how to play in a group stuck with me. About 3 years ago I got the call to perform with Nat George and the Nat George Players. This is an R&B band with credentials; a group whose reputation was burnished performing the "Sam Cooke Story", a musical retrospective of the life and music of that great songwriter that is written and sung by Nat. They tour around the country, have scored record deals. Two keyboards usually appear on stage - one for lead and another to play strings or organ. The sound is amazing. I grin from ear to ear, but just as when I had to find my way playing in an ensemble the first time, the new challenge was to be the second keyboard supporting the sound. Once again I am surrounded by seasoned professionals, people who have performed this music for decades, who know the tricks, and who very generously share that knowledge. I've rehearsed with this group - which for those who are pros is a sacrifice - to show me things I need to know; resulting in an investment in me. It looks like I'm now on the regular rotation for keyboard players - picking up gigs here and there. And after 4-5 years, now I get to play that funky music again that makes me smile.