Tips for Venues and Managers on How to Treat Jazz Musicians

sarah fenwick

Jazz musicians are an eclectic group, deeply immersed in their instruments and finding their unique sound, and intently focused on improvisation and approaching songs in a different, individual way. Many jazz musicians spend years in higher musical education, and most of them practice for at least four hours every day. Make no mistake, playing jazz well and to a high standard is not easy.

With all due respect to DJs, hiring a jazz band or singer is not like hiring a DJ who plays requests and the style of music on demand. It’s more like bringing an entirely new musical perspective and atmosphere into the venue, one that will remain in the audience’s memories for years.

Tip #1: respect

Good live music is a sensitive thing, performed by artistic human beings, not machines. A lot depends on how the venue and manager treats the jazz artists. The first word that makes the difference between a great performance and an upset band whose members feel unappreciated is…respect.

In this case, respect means understanding that jazz musicians have practiced their songs for many hours and have their own way of playing them. It means that a venue or manager cannot tell the musicians with whom they should play, and how they should play. Respect in this context means understanding that jazz is an art form and as such, needs to be accepted for what it is.

Tip #2: jazz is jazz

While it can be difficult to define in a limiting way, Jazz will never be rock music, it will never be pop music. It will never be – God forbid – techno or some other type of hectic and panic-stricken music. It is in most cases warm and relaxing music that creates a special atmosphere at events and an unforgettable one in the theatres and jazz clubs. Jazz brings people together in a natural way, it doesn’t over-excite them in unhealthy ways like techno does.

Forcing jazz musicians to play pop or rock is a mistake; they will resent it and their performance will be half-hearted at best and heavily sarcastic at worst. Let them play what they want, it will sound a lot better to everyone. It’s important that the venue understands their target market and decides on the entertainment they’d like best before hiring a jazz or any other band.

Tip #3: music creates the venue’s atmosphere

I can’t over-emphasise how incredibly important music is when it comes to creating atmosphere. It is literally the difference between a dead zone and a warm, alive and welcoming venue. A venue without music or with the wrong music is dead, and people notice this as soon as they walk in. It might be subconscious, but it will be noticed. A venue with good live jazz will be bustling, happy, warm and artistic.

Tip #4: quality, not quantity

Why have four hours of live music from tired musicians instead of two hours of high-quality music from enthusiastic, happy and energised players? Live music is just as physically draining as an entire football game played over 90 minutes. Good musicians pour their heart, soul and physical energy into their performances, which are extremely physical. The guitarist wears out his or her arm, shoulder and fingers in each performance; the singer uses his or her vocal chords, chest, arms and shoulders to produce their sound. After two hours, this effort cannot be sustained at a high level, and nor should it be. It’s simply not the same as other types of work and must be appreciated as such. Any performance that lasts over two hours must be at the player’s discretion and with their permission, not as a forced thing.

Tip #5: ask the audience to focus on the jazz

In a venue like a bar, hotel or restaurant, special efforts need to be made to ask the audience to focus on the jazz performance, otherwise the noise gets out of hand and nobody can hear themselves, leading to irritation all around. At the very least, conversations need to be kept as quiet as possible so that the music can be heard.

Tip #6: what kind of jazz?

Before hiring a band, ask what kind of jazz they play. Is it instrumental, vocal, standards, experimental, solo? Ask what they sound like, ask for a CD or a video clip to get an understanding of their style. Each type of jazz has its own merits and audience. For a successful performance that could be repeated, getting the formula right is important.

Tip #7: promote

A venue or event manager must have a promotion plan for the jazz performance and should never expect people to show up if they don’t know about it. Work with the jazz musicians, communicate with them about the promotion plan and see what they can do to support it. Advertising on social media is the minimum that a venue can do to promote their jazz events.

Tip #8: spotlight & sound

In addition to advertising the live music event, it’s important to give the band a spotlight and make sure the sound equipment and acoustics are good. A single spotlight will make the difference between a noticeable group and a band playing in the dark – which is so obviously pointless. Two or three lights and a stage is even better.

Tip #9: hospitality

Venues can treat the members of the jazz band as they would treat their guests – with warm hospitality. It will put the band in the mood to perform, and make them feel accepted and part of the venue’s team. Even if their performance is ad hoc, it’s an important part of the whole show for a jazz musician to feel accepted and welcomed.

Sarah Fenwick is jazz singer, marketing communications consultant offering services to digital marketeers, and the author of the E-book ‘How to be a Holistic Digital Marketer’. She has 25 years in the media and the arts, and is a practicing journalist for the site she co-founded in 2009



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