Is one of your saxophone goals to get out gigging? Whether you want to sit in on a jam session, join a band or start one of your own, we’ll help you get there!
Many Sax School members are already playing gigs large and small, and they’re eager to share what they’ve learned. One of those gigging Sax School members is Sam Kirby, who’s busy hitting stages all around her hometown of Helston, UK.
Sam starts gigging on saxophone
Sam started with classical flute and piano as a child, wisely switching to the sax at university. Since then, she’s played tenor, “on and very off,” for 28-ish years. Ten years ago, she took the leap and began playing with bands, starting with blues jams on open-mic nights. “I went because a boyfriend who played harmonica dragged me along, and for weeks, I only took my flute because I was scared of making the wrong noise too loud on the sax!”
Soon enough, Sam swapped the flute and started gigging on saxophone. “Nearly everything was in concert E which is F# for me, so I had to learn the F# blues scale pretty quick. Once I had that down, I was away and could even improvise a bit, which was something my classical training had left me totally unprepared for.”
Finding the right band
Those blues jams gave Sam the confidence to join the horn section of a community soul band. “Think The Commitments and you’re about there.” She found it fun, but after the freedom of the Blues gigs, a bit too regimented.
Today she gets her gig fix with Go Go Skank. “We play 80s classics with a real mashed up style – take some synth pop, add ska chops and horns, chuck in some reggae and rockabilly. Occasionally we keep the songs straight. We mostly play local pubs and birthday parties, with the occasional wedding or bigger event. I don’t get nervous, just excited.”
The Band Buzz
Some gigs pay well, some not at all, but there’s more to gigging than money. “I had a lipstick called “I’m with the Band,” and I wore it to every gig. I actually got to say that once early on and it gave me a real buzz. During breaks at pub shows, people come up and say how much fun they’re having and how great we are. Guilty secret – I always keep my sax sling on so people can recognise me as being in the band!”
Getting Gig Ready
Great gigs start in the practice room. “I definitely listen to myself more. I realised how hard it is to actually hear yourself on stage, so now I practice with my mic. I’ve set up a small monitor at ear height to practice with. I also realised I need to get my sax serviced regularly. It deteriorates slowly, you don’t notice until you get it serviced.”
Even great gigs have challenges. “We have our own sound guy – the drummer, my partner – so most shows go well, but if it’s a bigger gig with a tech setup there can be problems. At our last big gig I couldn’t hear myself at all and just had to go with it and try not to let that frustration show in my face.
Getting home from gigs is hard, I’m often exhausted, sometimes on a bit of a downer if it doesn’t go perfectly – does it ever? – and I can be a bit harsh on myself. But my partner is also in the band so we help manage each other’s post-gig slump. It really motivates me to rehearse more.”
A Gig Mindset
As musicians, we know it’s important to play well, but we also tend to be harder on ourselves than we should be. “At gigs, people want to have a good time and they’re on your side. They don’t care if the arrangement is complex, original, new, challenging – you can play the whole lot in a register you’re comfortable with and the crowd won’t judge you at all. But you might want to get more daring for your own satisfaction as you get more confident. They will NOT notice minor mistakes, especially if you smile and keep going.”
Learning with Sax School
An active Sax School member, Sam pushes herself to improve. “I want to keep learning, but I’ve never been able to keep up the discipline of fitting in face-to-face lessons around anyone else’s schedule. I dip in and out of Sax School for things I want to learn – like improving my altissimo and getting my fingers faster. I’ve also enjoyed content on improvisation and this year I probably got the most out of the Masterclasses, especially the Roxy Cross one.
Advice for getting gigging on saxophone
Thinking of starting gigging on saxophone? Sam has a bit of real-world advice. “Definitely do it! But be aware that everyone works differently. Some people want to free flow and improvise, others want everything notated. Some want you to stick to the script, others want creative impact. Take care which band you join and who you gather around you so that their way of working fits as well as possible with yours.”
2022 will see Sam playing more hot gigs with Go Go Skank, and she plans to continue stepping out of her comfort zone. “I’ve started doing a bit more last-minute, fill-in work for other bands, often with little or no rehearsal, and hopefully something to sight read. This is both terrifying and exciting in equal measure… and I love it!”
If you’ve been inspired by Sam’s story, and you want to get out gigging on saxophone, Start today with Sax School!