Music is a vital part of improv. Not just the singing part, though that’s a very popular element. I’m speaking about, well I suppose it can be called the soundtrack of the show.
The Chainsaw Boys at one point had a four-piece band play with us. Piano, trumpet, guitar and several bags worth of percussion instruments. They supported us in each scene and added that element that brought the show to a higher level.
We were so fortunate to be working with this particular group, who supported us, followed our leads and accented our foolishness with musical spice. They were and are the best.
Now, I have not always been so lucky in improv accompaniment. Earlier in my career, (Is it a career if you can’t make money at it?) I worked with a pianist whom I will not name but let’s just call her Barb.
Barb was an excellent piano player, she clearly made sophisticated musical choices and did them with style and aplomb. What she could not do, was follow me as I sang. As I’ve said before, singing is not the strongest tool on my work belt. However, when there’s a musical form, you have to sing, or at least try to talk sing, which is my default.
After one particularly terrible show, music-wise, Barb told me that I was not following her. And to be honest, I wasn’t and I really couldn’t. All I know about key changes is you do that when you get a new lock. A musical accompanist, if they are even remotely talented, are bullet proof.
If they don’t change the key, or the rhythm or the tempo to accommodate the singer, the singer is the one hung out to dry. The audience is thinking, “Boy that guy was terrible! But the piano player was very good!”
The thing is, the music needs to say yes and as well. Ironically, if it’s done properly, you won’t notice it. So thank you to all those musicians who make the funny people look good, we hear you.
Except Barb. You can shut up.