morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!
Readers, a regular weekly jazz gig is a rare thing these days and to have one that lasts for over two years (and counting)? Even more so.
But if you live in Vancouver you can witness this rare and beautiful thing at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar every Saturday night from 9-12. Yours truly will be there with my band, giving a solid
120%, 110%, 97%! Okay, maybe 100% but only if somebody buys me a fancy drink.
So why are regular gigs like this so rare? And how did this jazz clarinetist end up here?
To answer the first question: The cost. Having a live band is, well… costly. Margins for bars and restaurants are often tight and they’re trying to maximize profit potential. So, whether they’re fans of live music or not, it comes down to the bottom line. In other words, will the investment in live music yield enough returns to make it worthwhile? Hand in hand with this is the other reason jazz gigs like this are rare: because it’s hard to find jazz musicians who are willing to be a part of the service industry and play a “social music” gig. I’ll get to this later on.
How did I end up with the regular Saturday night gig at UVA? Simple. I like cocktails! Some of my friends also like fancy-pants drinks. One such friend, Steve Mynett, was hanging out at UVA just as “bar star” and powerhouse of all things mixology related Lauren Mote took over the bar program. She wanted “fun jazz” at UVA, Steve recommended me, and there we are.
Getting the gig is one thing but keeping the gig is another. Allow me to share a few things I’ve learned along the way…
1. You’re an employee in the service industry. We’re artists. We’ve spent a lot of time working on our craft. Most doctors haven’t spent as much time becoming doctors as we’ve spent becoming jazz musicians. So we’ve got expertise and pride and we want to do our own thing. And that’s great; we should do that too. But if someone is paying us money to do a job, and we’re using that money to live our lives, we should listen to that someone and help them get whatever they need. I listened at UVA and the music was better for it. And yes, sometimes you have to let them know what things you can’t do, for example: “No, we can’t play 3 hours straight. We need a few 15-20 minute breaks, and honestly, so does the crowd.” Anyways, listen, and try to help. We’re providing a service. If you don’t want that kind of gig, that’s fine. Just get out of the service industry!
2. Be aware. It seems so simple, and yet so hard to find. Be aware of your environment and the people in it, particularly the paying customer variety of people. Specifically:
– Volume: Customers are there to hang, talk, and enjoy themselves so just be aware of the volume. Always. Acoustics are very different from one room to the next and it can be hard for musicians to know exactly how loud they’re coming across in the “house” but someone’s got to keep an eye on this. It should be loud enough to be felt as a presence but not so loud as to disrupt the party. The bar manager has the final say (and they should know that they’re free to let you know if it’s too loud or not loud enough). Oh, and don’t warm-up at a loud, or even mildly disruptive, volume. I know, as a musician this isn’t ideal, but we’re pros… we can manage. Because if customers are sitting 5 feet away, having a conversation and suddenly they can’t hear each other over a drummer tuning his snare drum, then you’ve just annoyed them when actually, you’re supposed to do the opposite of annoy them!
– Dead air: If you’re playing social music, you kinda have to keep it moving from one song to the next. It doesn’t have to be a direct segue all the time but pretty quick. It’s hard to find musicians who get this. When’s the last time you were at a party and experienced a minute or two of silence between songs? The music keeps the party going, and you’re job is to keep it going. Any good show you go see will keep the energy moving right along; maybe by going straight into the next song or maybe by saying a few words. I’m surprised how often someone in the band will sit back after a tune is over and just start talking about something unrelated for a while. Maybe they’re recalling something funny that happened to them one time, or an episode of “House of Cards” they just saw, or a dream they had recently or whatever! Meanwhile, the energy of the room has been reduced to nothing, save for the faint chirping of crickets and a lone tumbleweed rolling past. Not on my gigs! Keep it moving people.
3. Deal with the details and stick with them: You’ll make life easier for everyone if you’re dealings are specific. Not “we’ll play 3 sets with breaks in between” but “we’ll play 3 sets from 9-10, 10:20-11:15” etc. This is especially true if you’re friends with the owner/manager! Be specific and stick with what has been specified.
4. Make life easy for the boss/staff. They’ve got a lot to deal with. As much as possible, try to not add more to their plate. Be respectful and expect others respect.
So there you go; I’m still learning but those are a few things I’ve figured out. Playing loud bars/restaurants can be a little frustrating at times, sure, but balanced with getting to play clubs and concert halls as well, it’s great to be a part of the “social music” aspect of jazz. You put the right band together, you can make great music anywhere.
The service industry is massive and it’s been a treat to learn more about it from experts Lauren Mote and Robert Stelmachuk. They’ve since moved on to other things and now I have the pleasure of working with the award-winning and delightful Sabrine Dhaliwal and Lily Duong. How long will the gig continue? I don’t know. But I know the service industry isn’t going anywhere.
Special thanks to Lauren Mote for having a vision and making great things happen at UVA (and wherever she goes!) and to Steve Mynett for sacrificing his
liver time to drink at the finest establishments around town. Carry on good man!
Thanks for reading and have an excellent week.