How to program a “theme-based” jazz concert

If you’re putting together a jazz concert, one of the the best ways you can do this is to use a “theme.” Themes are great for getting people to come out and see you perform, and they can give you good ideas for which repertoire to include.

For example, let’s say that you usually play a wide variety of material during your performances. This can be a lot of fun and the advantage is that you can play anything you wish. But if you’re finding that you need a new strategy to get an audience excited about coming to hear you perform, try choosing a specific theme, or topic, for an upcoming concert.

For instance, you could decide to play all Chick Corea tunes. You could title your program “A Tribute to Chick Corea” or “The Music of Chick Corea.” Or, “Chick Corea: From Jazz to Fusion.”

One benefit would be that anyone who enjoys Chick Corea’s music would take notice and maybe buy a ticket. Another advantage would be that a program like this would immediately set you apart from many of the “usual” jazz concerts. And, from an artistic point of view, you’d be giving yourself an inspiring challenge to learn lots of wonderful music!

I’ve played many concerts like this., from Cole Porter shows at New York City’s 92nd St. ‘Y,’ to dinner theater productions with titles like “An Evening at The Apollo” to “Gospel Meets Jazz.” It brings a nice energy to the event which gets the audience interested in what you’re diving into. A theme also gives you something to talk to the audience about in between songs.

If you want some ideas for programming your own concerts, take a look at what Jazz At Lincoln Center does. They use themed-concerts all the time! You’ll find their website HERE. And don’t be shy about using some of the same ideas that they’re exploring in their programming. Just because they play a Wayne Shorter concert doesn’t mean you can’t so the exact same thing! (After all, they weren’t the first either.)

The Chicago-based jazz pianist Chris White does this sort of thing nicely. He’s programmed concerts of Vince Guaraldi’s music for the Peanuts (Charlie Brown) TV specials, and is even doing a “baseball” performance in April (perfectly times for baseball season!).

Here’s Chris’s rendition of O Christmas Tree from a concert at the Lincoln Park Zoo:

Chris White: O Christmas Tree

I’m doing something similar on YouTube, with my Journey Through The Real Book video series:
The African Flower: Journey Through The Real Book #1

So the next time you’re planning a jazz concert, see if a themed-based program will work for you and your audience. It may be just the thing you both need!

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