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Advice to the Touring Musician: Just Play the Book

June 7, 2012; Freddie Simpson

I had the great fortune of touring with the Broadway show Rent. It was a 10-month gig, which took me through the United States, Canada, and Japan, and it was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my career. It was also one of the best learning experiences of my life. Touring with a Broadway show is very different than touring with an original act. First and foremost is the fact that your primary function is to back up the actors/vocalists on stage. The best advice I can give on this: leave your ego at the door and reconcile yourself to your part. You’ll be reading from a score, and straying from the book is generally frowned upon. A good musical director has the best interests of the show in mind, not necessarily your ability to ‘shred’ and rearrange your part. While a musical director may be open to ideas, be aware that you were hired to play a part.

This can present an overzealous player with a great conundrum: you’ve practiced and practiced all the myriad styles there are in the business and you're like a new gunslinger walking into the saloon, hands at your hips, ready to let loose a barrage of everything you’ve learned. "Look what I can do!” you think, ready to take on everyone in front of you. Slow down, Cowboy. You're hired to do a job. So, do it. Your reward will come from the applause of the audience and the knowledge that, thanks to you, the other musicians, the stage manager, the lighting people, props, sound—all of you—contributed to the whole.

Ten months can be a long time to play the same part. The best advice I ever received concerning this came from my good friend James Wormworth, drummer for The Conan O'Brien Show. When I first got the gig we were out-and-about in New York City. At the end of the night he said to me, “Just play the book.” If you do that my friends, you'll be successful.

Freddie Simpson is a freelance bassist and private teacher who lives in New York City. You can learn more about him at: www.freddiesimpson.com




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