Q: How do you make a million dollars, playing jazz?
A: Start with two million.
Face it. Unless you are going to be living in a van, down by the river, you are going to need a day job. ( even if you do have that van). But working is good. It is a form of “paying your dues”, and connecting with the rest of the human race.It is not just about having a captive audience to invite to your freaky gigs.
Here are a few guidelines, to keep you gainfully employed. Also included are a few tips of etiquette to smooth your time.
1) Plastering the break room with posters for your next 4 gigs are in poor taste, especially if you used the office copier. No one from your day job will come.
2) Be more discreet about musical discussions than on your last job. Try to be slightly mysterious, but not distant. When asked about what you do for fun, try to smile as you say “ I play music” or “ I play saxophone”.
3) If the response is “ oh but I love Kenny G”, just smile. It is not worth the tirade of telling how Sidney Bechet, Wayne Shorter, Coltrane, and Steve Lacy all play the soprano the way it was supposed to be played. Just smile.
4) Look, I am not fond of Kenny G either. And I don’t care for Christmas Carols either. When our first daughter was fighting for her life ( as an infant) in an NICU unit in a children’s hospital, those brave nurses played Kenny G’s version of favorite Christmas carols. I got over it. It’s only music. Just smile.
5) Try not to wear stripes and plaids at the same time. Or, if you wear flower -patterned shorts, avoid bright, floral patterned shirts. I know. I tried it. I know you are post-post modern, and can superimpose anything on anything, but trust me on this. Don’t do it.
6) Try to talk about something besides music on your break. Maybe even listen without having a comeback line. Nod, make eye contact. They really don’t care about Rashid Ali never swung the way that Elvin Jones did with ‘Trane.
7) If you celebrate Coltrane’s birthday at the office, perhaps don’t blast “Ascencion” or “Kulu se Mama”. “ My favorite things”? how about “ central Park west”? Okay, put on “ Welcome”, but only if they are warmed up. It still sends chills up my spine.
8) If you are playing a gig, and someone requests a ( dreaded) standard, ( say “ My funny valentine”) Think carefully before you respond. If you choose to play it, make sure you know it. If you hate the tune, bumble over it and get all snarky about it, you will alienate the listener. However, if you fake it, and play it “ well”, they will request also “ Green Dolphin street”, “ A Train” and “in the mood”. One response which has worked for me is to nod intently, then click into something hip, like “ Dolphin Dance”. Play the shit out it. Then, if you want, end the whole tune by playing the last 4 bars of the dreaded tune. Smile when you are done.
9) If they are not listening, it is not the end of the world. Maybe you are helping them calm down. My friend John told me of his Japanese friend who admitted liking to go to jazz clubs because “ you don’t have to do anything”. Remember this when no one claps after your brilliant, ( if long-winded) solo.
10) Play some weddings. They are fun, pay well- and… it’s not about you! You may be asked to play some very cheesy music. Learn them. One trio played “ Mustang Sally” – ( it was his first wedding- her 2nd or 3rd) We just played it as the guests disappeared after the smoked salmon and chocolate strawberry fondue ran out.
11) Once I played wedding with a brilliant bass player. The bride insisted we play “ Calendar girl”. They were smashed when we played it, and didn’t even hear it. I heard that 8 years later, they were divorced.
12) Do not offer discounts on “ repeat weddings”. Also, do not hit on the bride.
That is all for this week’s offerings. Please respond if you like. KEEP PLAYING!