Anatomy of a House Concert

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Not just “atmosphere”: the Christmas house concert is in full swing as Randi Cee and her accompanist Randy Woltz entertain the guests in attendance. (photo courtesy Randi Cee)


My brain delights in unraveling when it should be sleeping. Rarely are these sessions productive. Occasionally, the brain spin cycle leads to an epiphany. No matter how much “live in the moment” stuffs I feed it, no matter how much history has proven to me (especially in the arts) you never know how a gig/job/rehearsal will unfold, my brain demands to use all the info it has filed from previous experiences and designate some expectations.

I am sure there is a scientific reason for this, possibly some evolutionary phenomenon which kept us alive back when we had to be on constant guard as to not become a hyena’s appetizer. (Not to turn all National Geographic but I looked this up and they were one of the predators that early man fell prey to).

Before I started leading a band and singing I was minimally aware of the concept of “The House Concert.” I understood people would hire musicians as entertainment. But I hadn’t had much experience with people hosting a concert in their homes. And I have learned in the world of hot jazz and swing it is really a common thing and a good way for musicians to fill in some gaps when they are passing thru on tour or visiting a specific area.

The difference between the House Concert versus a party with musical entertainment is that the with a party the host pays the musicians and it’s structured how they want. And often in a house concert a “cover” is charged so the musician(s) can be paid. There are those that are just patrons of an artist, who are financially able, and pay for the concert and just invite their friends. Like most things in the arts there are no rules and, in the end, it can be done in a variety of different ways.

But then what is the difference between a house concert and a party? Other than how the talent is paid?
I found out when the party I performed at turned into a house concert. I had been looking forward to this gig. The home was a glorious Victorian: the perfect backdrop considering some of the music I sing is at least 100 years old.
We were scheduled to perform at around 7 pm for an hour. I arrived early and the party was in full gear. We picked out where we would set up in the parlor. It was to be just me and a piano mostly because of limited space. As I perused the party I noticed there was a fully “habited” older nun in attendance. This wasn’t a small demure habit. This was the more formal with a long black lace veil, the black tie of nunnery finery. I then became nervous. Can I sing my naughty tunes? Will “Sugar in my Bowl” offend the nun? I asked the mother of the host who was in town to celebrate the holidays with her son: “Nope, that Sister is the coolest nun you will ever meet.” Later I saw the nun sipping red wine and I felt a bit better.

Pianist Randy Woltz and “the coolest nun you will ever meet” enjoy a snack near the assembled chafing dishes. (photo courtesy Randi Cee)

As we were setting up it became clear people were not going to graze and meander. They were all settling in right in front of us and this was to be a show, not background music. I had an idea a few weeks before the party and suggested to the host that we print out some holiday song lyrics and have people if they wanted to join in on certain holiday tunes. The open circular parlor of this Victorian had the Christmas tree to our left and the rest of the room was full of chairs it was an intimate space that was a very good set up for a performance. I could see most of their faces very clearly. And their faces were a mixed gumbo of “If this isn’t good we can’t exit gracefully” and “Oh, this should be fun!”

I almost always open with “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing”—for a couple of reasons. It’s vocally a nice easy warm up tune, it’s a classic and well loved by everyone, and that song is the musical equivalent of garnishing a plate with something that is in the food. That song tells you immediately what it is I am serving up. A few measures into that song, their faces brightened and they dug into our musical meal.

The sing-along portion went over so well there was one woman who wanted more. During a non-sing along tune (“Bye Bye Blackbird”) she finished the song for me. Loudly! There was no point in stopping her so as she finished off my tag I stopped singing and turned to grab my hot tea took a sip and toasted her. My exact comment I can’t recall but my countenance and body language were clear. We all laughed and she didn’t do it again. Those moments are comedy gold.

After the night was over I realized the biggest way a house concert differs from “party music” is that at a house concert the attendees know what they are getting. The party is held because there is a concert, not the other way around. I was glad it went well and it reminded me of when I used to teach comedy traffic school. That “audience” had no choice whatsoever: they were captive and not a single aperitif in site. If I could interject humor into the hazards of rolling thru a stop sign I felt truly accomplished.

The Music business has changed drastically and nowadays many have no choice but to use crowdfunding to get projects made. I felt very strongly that my first record would be all on me. It was important that I shoulder the debt for my first recording. For my upcoming NYC show I will need to raise funds for marketing, musician’s fees, and various production costs. The silver lining to the overused Amex card is I am flying for free with my points. Who said debt doesn’t pay?

I’ve decided to go the Mickey and Judy route by putting on a show to raise funds. Instead of a barn, the West Coast premiere of my hot jazz filled cabaret will take place at that beautiful Victorian.

The first show is February 24. Space is limited but if you are in LA and you want to come please drop me an email and I will get you the details: RandiCeeinNYC@gmail.com. We are probably going to add another show at a different venue in Los Angeles in early March, so getting on my email is a great way to get all the details. If you are unable to attend but want to help me get to NYC with a donation via PayPal or check I would be grateful. Every little bit helps.

And how did the nun like the show? She was seated directly behind a huge plant and sadly I couldn’t see her face, but her uplifting, bright, sweet, soprano voice was all the proof I needed that she enjoyed herself. My keyboardist and cohort Randy Woltz and I had a lovely time performing that night. All jobs that pay the bills are good jobs, but when the nun shows up to the 105-year-old Victorian and you get to connect with an audience it’s more than a gig, it’s pure joy.


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