Archive for January, 2009

Can You Picture Ronald Reagan Starring In “Casablanca”?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Believe it or don’t – our 40th President was announced as the star of Casablanca during the early days of that immortal film’s pre-production. And Sly Stallone was once slated for Eddie Murphy’s “Axel Foley” part in Beverly Hills Cop. Either movie might have turned out fine, but they certainly would have been different than the final films we know so well.

It’s almost impossible today to imagine anyone other than Clint Eastwood or Peter Falk playing those ace detectives, Dirty Harry and Columbo. But again, neither of them were the first picks for the roles. In fact – if the original casting plans had gone forward – both cops would have been played by crooners. Who? I’ll hum the answer, right after Today’s Tip:

As a rule, younger guests at a party are more comfortable with louder music than your older guests will be. So – whenever possible – plan your seating chart so that you leave a buffer of space and bodies between the PA speakers and Aunt Fanny. (She still might complain, but not quite as strongly.) Another option is to have Open Seating at your event, letting guests choose for themselves where they wish to sit. What you want to avoid – if at all possible – is having (a.) miserable guests all night long, and (b.) having the music volume for your event dictated by a few grumpy folks.

Now – who did the geniuses in Hollywood have in mind when they originally created Inspector Harry Callahan and Lt. (no first name) Columbo? Well, Frank Sinatra was slated to be Mister “Make My Day”, while the rumpled “Just One More Thing” Columbo was conceived as a role for – - – Ba-ba-ba Bing Crosby. (Like I say – that would have been “different.”)

Who Was Really Ticked-Off By “God Bless America”?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Since Kate Smith first sang “God Bless America” on November 11th, 1938, it has become our unofficial National Anthem. It would have made its composer, Irving Berlin, filthy rich – except for 2 things:
1. He was already filthy rich.
2. He donated every penny of the proceeds to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

So – how could you not like such a song? And yet, one American composer of that era hated it so much that, in protest, he wrote a bitter response called “God Blessed America For Me.” We still sing that melody today. What is it? I’ll answer that question, right after Today’s Tip:

If you are planning an upcoming event at which “Seasoned Citizens” will be taking part, remember that they operate on “Senior Time.” They will show up at (or even before) the announced start time, and will be among the very first to leave. So, to the extent that want them to enjoy the evening too, adjust your schedule to theirs. Serve all food (including dessert) and make all important speeches early. There will be plenty of time later for your younger guests to party.

Okay – which composer was offended by Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”? Folk singer Woody Guthrie, that’s who. He dashed off a response called “God Blessed America For Me.” It included angry verses about bread lines and dishonest bankers. We seldom hear those verses any more. In fact, Guthrie’s rant has become a patriotic, rather than a protest, song. And most of us today know the tune by it’s “other” name – “This Land Is Your Land.”

Not-So-Famous Names With A Very Famous Job

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

What occupation do the following men have in common: Leslie King, William Blythe, Hiram Grant, and Barry Soetoro?

I’ll tell you, right after Today’s Tip: When the economy takes a downturn, party professionals are on the front lines. Bands, deejays, and even venues are extremely sensitive to tough economic times (because – when money is scarce – folks don’t party). That’s why, if you have an upcoming event, you should have a “Plan B” regarding all of your vendors. What will you do if any of them go out of business? The last problem you need is to be caught at the critical moment without a key vendor. So stay in touch with those you have chosen, and – just for insurance – keep a list handy of those vendors who didn’t make the final cut. You may need one of them yet.

Now – what job did all those guys you never heard of share? Uh… that would be President of The United States. Leslie King was Gerald Ford’s birth name. You know William Blythe better by the name of his mom’s second husband – Clinton. Hiram Ulysses Grant later changed his name to Ulysses S. And Barry Soetoro? Well, Barack Obama attended an Indonesian school under that name as a child. (As Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.”)

How Well Do You Know Your Beatles Trivia?

Monday, January 19th, 2009

On most Beatles albums, John sang a few tunes, Paul sang a few, then they sang one or two together. George and Ringo, if they were lucky, may have gotten one lead vocal opportunity each per album.

With four vocalists to choose from, you might expect an album called Best Of The Beatles to feature a similar division of lead vocals. But surprisingly, on that album, every single vocal is by the same person.

My question for you is – who was it? Who sang every lead on Best Of The Beatles?

I’ll have the answer for you, just as soon as I pass on Today’s Tip: when hiring a band for your next big event, always try to see them in person before you sign the contract. The band whose photos look terrific and demos sound perfect may – when seen live – project no personality at all. They may take excessively long breaks, dawdle interminably between songs, or play at volumes that are inappropriate for your party. A bad band can ruin your night. So check them out personally, before putting your name on the dotted line.

Now – who was that singer on every Best Of The Beatles track? It was… (drum roll): Pete Best, the former Beatles drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr. Attorneys for the Fab Four tried to stop Pete from releasing the album, but lost. By his very name, he was indeed “Best” of the Beatles.

“If You Don’t See What You Want – Just Ask”

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Many brides have very specific ideas of how they want their wedding ceremonies and receptions to look and sound. Occasionally the irresistible forces of these visions crash headlong into the immovable object of reality. Usually, that reality comes in the form of “too expensive for our budget.” But in dealing with music providers, I’ve learned that the problem is all too often that the look and sound the bride has imagined doesn’t exist (at any price) in her town.

My job, when this occurs, is to work with the bride to create what she has envisioned. And time after time, together we have come pretty close to perfect.

For instance, one recent bride was determined to have a band who used no electric instruments or amplification. The problem with this – in her chosen venue – was that the music wouldn’t have been heard 15 feet past the bandstand. My solution was to create the illusion of being “un-plugged” – with no mikes, wires, or speakers in sight – but to really have very light sound reinforcement throughout the room. It worked great, and the bride was delighted.

On another occasion, my bride wanted the look of a classic Big Band. Her vision even included red music stands in front of all the players. But, since my musicians have all their charts memorized, I don’t have any music stands – red or otherwise. The solution: for a nominal fee, a local party supplier fabricated several bright red fiber-board “stands” to place in front of the band. They looked great, and cost only a fraction of the price of real professional music stands.

To accommodate a bride’s vision, most bandleaders will gladly alter both the size and look of their groups. And – if they won’t – there are others who will. So, to any bride who is either blessed or cursed with a crystal-clear image of how her band should look and sound, I can only repeat the age-old menu notation which forms the title of this entry:

“If you don’t see what you want – just ask.”

When “The Weather Outside Is Frightful” – Is Postponing An Option?

Monday, January 12th, 2009

I work in an industry where sick days and holidays are unpaid, so – if there is any way humanly possible – I always show up for my jobs.

But twice lately, the winter weather has been so severe that there was a very real possibility that – when I arrived at the engagement – I might be the only person there.

The first time it happened, my client’s arrangement with the venue made no allowances for bad weather. She was going to be charged full price, whether anyone showed up or not. So she and I (plus a few other stalwart souls) made the best of the situation. The show went on, while those who had paid for their tickets (but stayed home) lost their investments.

The second incident had a happier ending for all concerned. I was booked to appear at a residential development. Delaying the date of the party by one week was fine with the majority of the guests. And believe me, I was only too happy not to have to slip and slide all the way across town.

As it worked out, the party was held on a much better day for the guests and me.

Most contracts contain “Acts of God” clauses which limit liability for all concerned when unpredictable events (such as the “Blizzard Of The Century”) occur. Yes, your caterer and music providers expect to be paid. But – like me – they just might be willing and able to work with you. At any rate, it can’t hurt to ask.

As I write this post, the temperature in Montana is 47 degrees below zero. Minnesota and Illinois are also in the negative digits. And – here in Texas – we have a wind chill of 17. If I were booked tonight and had the option of moving the event to later in the week, I would jump at it.

So the next time Mother Nature throws you a curve ball that virtually guarantees your long-planned event is going to bomb, at least give your vendors the option of moving to a better date for one and all.

And in the meantime, I’d like to declare my position on global warming: right now, I’m for it!

To Enjoy Your Speaker – You Have To HEAR Your Speaker

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

A public address system and keyboard travel with me to virtually every job. At those venues where my musical equipment isn’t needed, I’m very happy not to have to drag hundreds of pounds of gear inside. But where I go – it goes.

My best guess is that most professional speakers don’t have a business card reading, “Have P.A., Will Travel.” Likewise, the chosen venue for your next event may offer limited access to sound reinforcement. So, assuming you want to hear what they have to say, what can you do to ensure that your program presenters’ words will carry throughout the room?

1. Put your presenter at the 50-yard line, not in the end zone. By placing your podium at the mid-point of the room, instead of at one end, you automatically (in most cases) bring the majority of the audience closer to the sound source. Less amplification is needed.

2. Check that all equipment works, prior to starting your program. At one gathering where I spoke last month, the podium itself had a small built-in speaker which should have been adequate for the room. But the service organization who were my hosts had draped a small banner of the front of the podium, rendering the speaker totally useless. All too often, other similar podium/speaker sets aren’t plugged in – again offering the presenter no assistance.

3. Quiet the room, before beginning. A presenter with a strong voice can usually be heard, even with no PA system at all – if the room is quiet. The difficulty is to get everyone to settle in and hush up. I recommend placing a few “shushers” at strategic points around the room, so that – as you prepare to open the program – a chorus of “Shhh” from throughout the room will bring a halt to the racket.

Presenters go to quite a bit of effort to conceive, write, memorize, and perfect their programs. With a much smaller amount of time and energy on your part, you can keep all their hard work from going to waste.

Happy New Year – Somewhere!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Continued success in the party business requires anticipating and adapting to the realities of your audience demographic.

And boy! – my employers for this past New Year’s Eve used both ingenuity and a solid grasp of reality to throw a perfect party.

The band and I worked at the Brook Hollow Golf Club, one of the oldest and finest country clubs in Texas. The club itself may be venerable, but that doesn’t mean there are no younger members. The trouble for the party planning staff is: those younger folks tend to welcome in their new years somewhere else. This means the event coordinators are challenged with putting on a gala that climaxes at midnight, when – in fact – they know fully well that most of the guests will have already left by then.

(As I’ve noted in these entries many times before, Seniors typically arrive at parties early, then are the first to leave.)

Brook Hollow’s solution struck me as absolutely brilliant. My band began playing as the first diners arrived, shortly before 7PM. By 9:00, the party was in full swing. Then – a couple of minutes before 11:00 (Central Time) – the big screen TV hanging above and behind the band was turned on. Suddenly, everybody in the room was transported to Times Square in New York City, where it was almost midnight.

Together, we helped Dick Clark count down the remaining seconds in 2008. (Dick – by the way – was looking remarkably fit for a septuagenarian who suffered a serious stroke only a few years back.) At precisely 12:00 – Eastern Time – the ball dropped in Times Square. Back in Dallas, the crowd filled the dance floor, sang “Auld Lang Syne,” and then promptly went home.

For them, it was the best of both worlds: they missed the worst of the traffic, but they didn’t miss welcoming in 2009. Thanks to the creativity of the Brook Hollow staff, they got the full New Year’s Eve experience.

And I’d be willing to bet that not a single one of them felt cheated by having greeted January 1st on “New York” time.