In 2010, bassist Beau Sample founded The Fat Babies, an eight piece jazz band interpreting the classic styles of the 1920s and 30s. Sample also plays in Devil in a Woodpile and The Modern Sounds. A native of Texas, he now lives in Chicago. He spoke to Storied Chicago about working as a musician in the city:
There was no turning point where I decided to be a professional musician. From the time I was 9, it’s just been this gradual becoming of a musician. I never really considered doing anything else.
I’ll teach lessons and sometimes you get guys who are middle aged, and they’ll say “What do I do if I want to become a professional musician?” I don’t know how to answer because I wouldn’t know how to have a regular job and then just say “From now on I’m going to be a professional musician.”
I remember one time we were playing at the Green Mill with Alfonso Ponticelli. We’re all playing acoustic instruments but everyone’s going through an amplifier so it’s not actually acoustic.
Then the power went off, and it’s pitch black in the Mill. We just kept playing. It was summer, and the AC went off so it got hot in there. And the flood light came on. So it was just a floodlight and this packed room of people and us, all acoustic. And the crowd was fantastic.
It was great because it was proof with these instruments we can still entertain people without electricity. Isn’t that amazing? People have been doing this for a long time, but still it’s amazing.
People sometimes don’t know how to act when out seeing a group. Last night, a woman comes up and says “I want to get up and play piano during your break.” And the clarinetist says “Sorry, only people in the band can play.” Then she says “I just graduated from college today. I got my masters.” And he said “Okay, but that doesn’t change the policy.”
Then she goes to the bartender and says “I want to play the piano.” The bartender says “no, only people in the band.” And then she just walks up on the stage and starts playing piano. So the staff has to take her off the stage.
As they’re pulling her off, she turns to me and says “I just got engaged today. THIS IS MY DAY.”
My daughter’s first couple years my mother-in-law was watching her a lot. I was doing as I was before where it was: “I play six nights a week so this woman will watch the kids and I’ll go about my business.” I realized after a couple of years, it was upsetting.
I felt like I should be getting up. I should be taking care of her. So, I made a decision that I’m just going to have to do it, and if I don’t sleep, we’ll see what happens.
It was the best decision that I could have made because that time is not going to last forever. Now my oldest is in school. So the waking up and hanging out all day is over forever.
I got two and a half hours sleep last night. I got to bed at 3:30 in the morning, and they were up at 6:30. Three hours! That’s not bad.
I live this interesting life where in some aspects I’m catered to and babied. We were just in Florida at this festival. And we all walk into our hotel suite and we have a bottle of wine and cheese and it’s like “Oh, this is amazing!”
Then you come home and maybe you’re playing in some shithole and some drunk chick is trying to get up on stage and bang on the piano. And she cusses you out because she doesn’t see any difference between you and her.
I am a worker like anyone else. I’m just doing my job. And I want to do my job correctly and be respected for the job.
Last night it was packed at the Mill. We are playing. The dance floor is full, and we’re creating this music, this vibe, and all this pleasure. I can’t believe this is my job—that I get to do this for a living.