Rock and pop musicians can learn a lot from jazz musicians. Jazz musicians can learn a lot from rock musicians though – and this is what I find more interesting!
The rockers can learn about harmony, melody, rhythm, counterpoint, form, technique, practicing, swing, and great tunes of years past. I have taught many rock / blues / folk guitarists who soaked up this new knowledge and are amazed that it even exists.
Jazz musicians can learn about this though – that rock / pop musicians have to take responsibility for getting a following, having a mailing list and putting butts in the seats at gigs. Ok, the big jazz names like George Benson draw a crowd, but for the most part this is a foreign idea to jazzers.
What I am talking about is that even local rock bands & performers have to live with the reality of bringing an audience to a gig whereas jazz musicians usually don’t.
Many local jazz musicians are hired to play background music. Even if it is a jazz club, it is in a sense background music. Patrons go expecting to hear a great band, and maybe go because they are familiar with the band. Even at a jazz festival where bigger names play, the audience is built in, and attendance is not the performers problem. Big companies fund the festivals and record companies get their acts on as promo.
This situation allows many jazz performers to play music that may not be 100% appealing to people, since pleasing the audience is “not their problem” nor is a return crowd. They didn’t necesarily get the gig because of crowd appeal. There is the possibility for a disconnect here between “getting the gig”, “playing the gig” and “drawing / pleasing the audience”.
Ok – this is NOT true for all jazz performers. Some musicians learned in an environment where energy and entertainment value was supremely important.
What I am saying is this: for many jazz performers, even the highly entertaining ones, drawing an audience is an afterthought, whereas for a rock / pop musician it is everything.
It’s easy for a jazz musician to defend and say “my job is to play music – it’s the venue’s job to get the people”. And while I know nothing of promoters yet, I am talking about the nitty-gritty hands on, “getting people to a gig” work that musicians in other genres need to do.
I need to enter this realm of the butts in the seat being my responsibility. This is a rude awakening. Ouch. Is this fun? Am I looking forward to it? Is it my problem?
Frankly, I see this as a really cool challenge. Because once I have a following (in the acoustic world) nobody can take that away from me. I’m not thrilled with the busy work of mailing lists, phone calls and “it being my problem” – but in sheer dollars and cents, if I can draw a crowd – that makes me more desirable. Gigs can get bigger and better, and more people will want to hire me.
There is just a mercenary honesty to this that somehow appeals to me. An executive can’t flick an off switch and turn your following “off”.
When one considers the idea that CD’s are on the way out, (who knows what kind of pirating with Mp3’s will go on) – the concentration on live show, and the merchandise sold there is more important than ever.