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So I'm faced with yet another crossroads (Seems like so many as I enter my late Mid-Life Crisis) I know when I play nursing home shows, I select music that the older generation will know and appreciate. Everyone seems to get that; however, the group I'm with wants to continue trying to play originals in a bar setting. These guys are TOP SHELF musicians and could really play anything. The original tunes are pretty good but there's not really a following original jazz in our area.

So the question is:

Should we look at the room and say "Hey maybe this isn't the time for that new tune in 15/16 with in two keys with multiple simultaneous tempos." Let's do a kick-*** job with the Stevie Wonder Melody and get the audience grooving.

I really don't care what we play but I do like having people in the audience and if people were dancing while were doing our Jazz thing would be awesome.
 

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Last night I played a show at a local winery, big band backing a couple of singers doing Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, a couple of originals in the same vein. The crowd loved it. The band, not so much. Kind of like "I've Got You Under My Skin" for the 10,000th time. But we shouldn't have played something we liked better, given the setting. We rehearse in a retirement home and play "Pay Da Rent" gigs, we play stocks and standards from white bands in the 30's and 40's. That's what they want to hear. That's never what we rehearse.

When I played for a living I figured my job was to give people what they wanted, and bring a little joy to them. I don't think about it the same way now, but I'm probably wrong.
 

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Depends on the gig. If you're playing nursing homes and the retirement circuit, or presenting as a big band playing Sinatra standards, then why in the world would you play something in 15/16 time with 2 key changes and multiple simultaneous tempos? On the other hand, if you present yourself as playing original jazz tunes, then you're free to play for yourself and you accept the consequences – audience doesn't dance or show appreciation or maybe no audience at all. You can't have it both ways, unless you have built up a fan base over time.
 

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Well, this is a huge question to which most 'musicians' never get the answer. It simply comes down to the gig itself; do you think you are there as a 'musician' or as an entertainer? I'm 73 and I played a frat house yesterday with a '50s group - definitely an 'entertainment' gig and the kind of thing I get into. In a typical bar gig you could do originals IF they are in the correct genre - in my view you never go into a situation like that and play jazz. Its not a 'musician' gig. Are you a player who cringes at the thought of playing 'Mustang Sally' for the millionth time? How about 'Wooly Bully' with that awful sax ride? My answer is if that's on the list you play it like you wrote it, and put some heart into it. As a side note, players who cringe at 'Mustang Sally', in my experience have never played it right yet and never will - if they sat down and listened to it they might find more there than they thought.
If you position yourself to be a 'musician', know how to read, know how to play and know how to act, you can work a lot more than 'entertainers' like myself, for example. The key to it is absolutely banishing judgement of the music from your mind, and just like the entertainer, putting your heart into every note. Either way, you're never satisfied with your performance, you're your own worst critic and you NEVER listen to others telling you how great you are. You are the only one who knows the truth. I don't care if you're in the pit for 'Bye, Bye Birdie' for the 1000th time, you can always improve your part in some way. You use every gig in your life to learn, to progress and to improve.
 

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This is a subject which I have butted heads with band members all of my musical life.

My general view: if you have an audience grooving to you, keep 'em grooving to you. Probably not a good time to throw in the 'change of pace' tunes. If you don't have any 'grooving' originals which can follow after The Chicken, Cantaloupe Island, or a Stevie tune.....probably a good time to write one, eh ?

However, as noted, depends on the gig. If your band plays original Jazz stuff in odd meters, and it's a 'normal' sorta straight-ahead gig (casual venue, not an audience full of music majors) ...I would mix those in with some recognizable Jazz stuff. An audience (especially one listening to a non-singer band), really needs to have some connection to the group. Two out of every four songs being something with a familiar melody helps immensely, IMHO.

It would have to be a pretty sophisticated audience, intent on listening to the band, to stick with you and a full set of jazz originals, really.

My 2 cents.
 

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I think, if you do anything well, music aficionados will enjoy it. It doesn't matter what you do. A straight unlabeled gig fits that bill.
However, if you're playing for a captive audience, who will be there no matter who shows up (a nursing home), or who is expecting a certain type of music (a 50's party), then you have to deliver something that caters to their expectations. My $0.02.
 

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If patrons are paying a cover charge or even a two drink minimum at the venue, I think the band has an obligation to "play to the room". There are plenty of great songs that can satisfy the musician's need to play something musically satisfying and still be something the audience wants to hear and dance to as well. I would see nothing wrong with including one original in each set, and doing the same songs every time you play in that same venue. That way the regular patrons have the opportunity to be come familiar with the songs, and if they have any appeal, might start requesting one or more of them.

Musicians playing only for themselves? That's what rehearsals and jam sessions are for. ;)
 

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When I first went semi-pro, I played what people wanted to hear 'coz I'd been told that's what musicians are supposed to do. It quickly got out of hand. Requested tunes were invariably stupid & boring. By gig's end I'd feel so cheap & ill-used that I couldn't see the point of playing music at all.

Upon going pro, I made a conscious decision -- a vow, really -- to perform only tunes that pleased & challenged me & my fellow players. Originals, standards, obscure, popular, whatever; the ironclad requirement being that we share joy in playing together & use our skills to the utmost, emerging from each gig with self-respect & mutual appreciation intact.

In my experience, audiences can appreciate totally unfamiliar repertoire if they see that the musicians are digging one another & working to find the ultimate essence of each tune. That's what professionals in any field do: push the envelope & make new discoveries.

So the question of whether to play for the audience OR the musicians is a bogus formulation. Audience AND musicians is preferable. If you can't have both, opt for the musicians; it will take serious time & effort to cultivate an audience, and that loyal, savvy audience will make you feel glad you're alive.
 

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So the question of whether to play for the audience OR the musicians is a bogus formulation. Audience AND musicians is preferable.
That was going to be my original answer to this thread.

BOTH.
 

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In my experience, audiences can appreciate totally unfamiliar repertoire if they see that the musicians are digging one another & working to find the ultimate essence of each tune...
+1 My gf isn't much of a jazz person but comes with me to clubs every now and then when I want to go. The shows she ends up enjoying more are the ones where the musicians are having fun and have some stage interaction with each other while playing. Even though she probably doesn't understand or dig the music that much on its own, she's able to appreciate the musicians really enjoying playing together and it helps to keep attention. So while she wouldn't listen to recordings she would enjoy a live set now and then because of the musicians.

However, I've noticed this is less so if the tunes/set are particularly "out there." There needs to be some familiar element or something that is easier for the audience to connect to. It's gig specific but since music is a performing art and since there wouldn't be a gig without an audience, you need to think about them and what they came to hear. The best case would be the middle ground between "musician is having fun playing whatever he wants but the audience may not" and "musician doesn't enjoy playing the tune but the audience digs it."

So it is both for the musicians AND audience. You can "play the room" while still mixing in originals as saxoclese mentions.

Chris Potter touches on it here - you have to think about the audience and match the energy of the room: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5vwMn7e0tQ
 

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I try to play to the other musicians I’m working with.
If the audience comes to a jazz gig and you dumb it down with Pop tunes, bad idea.
It reminds me of the Stanley Turrentine quote about playing Pop tunes.
“If I’m selling out, then where’s my money!”

I have a gig coming up opening for Dave Sanborn. Im afraid I’ll have to be cautious of the material I play, but I won’t be disingenuous to the crowd, my band mates or myself.
 

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Isn't that the constant struggle of the artist vs. the player? You seek opportunities to play what you want, but sacrifice that desire to pay the bills. The quest to find bill-paying gigs fulfilling by either a change of mindset (enjoy the fluff) or the unicorn gig (mythical fulfilling AND bill-paying gig).

It is nigh impossible to only play for yourself (unless your priorities are mostly pop-oldies based) or your top concern in crowd pleasing (which is a noble endeavor). I also don't agree with the sentiment that "if you play good music with good intentions, the audience will appreciate it." There are many that just want to hear what they want AND THAT'S FINE IF THAT'S THE GIG.

As far as the exact question, my opinion is that you play the gig. Are you bar music? No dense jazz. Is it Miller Music? Don't play Buddy Rich. If they hired you to play your music, play your music! I have seen too many great musicians unwilling to play the gig that never get called again because they refused to feel the room. If you can't handle that monotony (my opinion), then the life ain't for you.
 

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When I first went semi-pro, I played what people wanted to hear 'coz I'd been told that's what musicians are supposed to do. It quickly got out of hand. Requested tunes were invariably stupid & boring.
You have created a false equivalency here, however.

There is a difference between playing tunes which may be familiar to people....and taking 'requests'.

Massive difference. Huge difference. You do not have to do the latter to achieve the former.

Plus, as you say later....

That's what professionals in any field do: push the envelope & make new discoveries.
Taking your own advice then....why not challenge yourselves to develop an evening of tunes which both 'people want to hear' and 'the band wants to play' ??
Push your envelopes, as musicians and arrangers.
Then sprinkle in some originals.

Going into a venue and just playing whatever the hell you want, for the band's own musical/creative satisfaction...is not 'pushing the envelope' IMHO. It is not challenging yourselves as professional musicians.

It lays all the challenge on the audience, and none on the band.

So the question of whether to play for the audience OR the musicians is a bogus formulation. Audience AND musicians is preferable. If you can't have both, opt for the musicians; it will take serious time & effort to cultivate an audience, and that loyal, savvy audience will make you feel glad you're alive.
This comment received some praise on this thread ...but I don't agree with all of it. It is in no way a 'bogus formulation', necessarily. The dynamic exists, it is a classic dynamic.

Anyone who has ever played at a venue, and feels they did a good performance of music...but then does not get asked back ....understands this advice has its limitations. "Time to cultivate an audience", while laudable artistically, is not necessarily something venues in many places are willing (or able) to offer.

Just some thoughts which jumped into my head upon reading this post. I am in no way jumping all over it, but I do feel that parts contradict each other and it neglects certain realities in the gigging world.

That we, as musicians, can actually be creative enough to address it, as you imply...is something with which I do agree. It is your specific Rx of doing what satisfies you and having/expecting the audience flex to it, with which I disagree. And also the intimation that playing recognizable music is in some way selling oneself short, artistically/creatively.
 

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You can play for yourself almost anytime. On the occasions you have an audience, and are being paid to entertain - do so to the best of your ability.


As for me - I thoroughly enjoy playing all kinds of music - including songs I would never choose to listen to. There is a challenge in playing even the simplest songs - Are you playing it the best you possibly can? Are you fitting into the band? IS your audience digging it? Is there something you can do to make it better? How's your tone? Your phrasing?

Entertaining an audience can be more than just the music too...
 

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I enjoy being in the moment and playing the best I can regardless of the music. I also enjoy hearing positive feedback from the audience.

If you don’t like the gig, do the best you can while you’re there, and don’t take a similar gig next time.
 

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So I'm faced with yet another crossroads (Seems like so many as I enter my late Mid-Life Crisis) I know when I play nursing home shows, I select music that the older generation will know and appreciate. Everyone seems to get that; however, the group I'm with wants to continue trying to play originals in a bar setting. These guys are TOP SHELF musicians and could really play anything. The original tunes are pretty good but there's not really a following original jazz in our area.

So the question is:

Should we look at the room and say "Hey maybe this isn't the time for that new tune in 15/16 with in two keys with multiple simultaneous tempos." Let's do a kick-*** job with the Stevie Wonder Melody and get the audience grooving.

I really don't care what we play but I do like having people in the audience and if people were dancing while were doing our Jazz thing would be awesome.
It sounds like the band has to talk and decide what it's identity is going to be. I've played in bands that were all about originals and pushing their own thing. It was all about getting their music out there and building a base of fans. I have played in other bands that were cover bands. They were all about playing covers and giving the people what they want or expect at a bar or wedding and making money. In my years as a musician it has really been one or the other. I think the band is asking for trouble if they try to do both and don't have a solid identity and mission. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I have never played in a band that was able to do it..........
 

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It reminds me of the Stanley Turrentine quote about playing Pop tunes.
“If I’m selling out, then where’s my money!”
My younger brother has been a working musician all his life. About selling out he says, "How much and where do I sign?"
 

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why not challenge yourselves to develop an evening of tunes which both 'people want to hear' and 'the band wants to play' ?? Push your envelopes, as musicians and arrangers. Then sprinkle in some originals.
I think a familiar tune, a popular tune, even a stupid tune has a place on the set list if the band really wants to play it 'coz it's fun or the band's arrangement of it is interesting. A faithful cover of a classic recording can be artistically challenging to create, as can a radical deconstruction/reboot of an old hit.

The point is that we as musicians should lead the audience, not follow. We know more tunes than they do, & we understand how to assemble the ingredients of music into a tasty (or even new & unique) dish. We can offer a pleasurable experience they don't have the vocabulary to ask for -- the omakase, not the standard menu. By educating their ears, we expand their horizons. We pay them the highest honor when we give them new ways to seek delight in music.

The ultimate goal, of course, is an ecstatic audience digging a band that's working hard & it feels like play. That's less likely to happen when the set list is dictated by the club owner or the folks at the bar.

Anyone who has ever played at a venue, and feels they did a good performance of music...but then does not get asked back ....understands this advice has its limitations. "Time to cultivate an audience", while laudable artistically, is not necessarily something venues in many places are willing (or able) to offer.
The gigs worth pursuing are the ones where, when you feel that you played well, they do ask you back. The towns worth living & working in are the ones where good players can find an audience. If we need to create alternative venues & new opportunities -- well, that's part of the gig, too. The musicians whose legacy lives on are the ones who have carved out their own territory.
 

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My younger brother has been a working musician all his life. About selling out he says, "How much and where do I sign?"
I think that probably 90% of people in any capitalist society are going to be "sell outs." We might like our jobs, but we wouldn't do them if we weren't getting paid. And we have to get paid.
 
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