I was once hired to put together a jazz trio to play background music at a big fundraiser. It was sax, bass, and myself on piano. I used a bass player I knew well and hired a sax player who I had met and heard play but had never actually worked with before.
The gig went well, except that every time I called a tune, the sax player kept suggesting alternatives. Every time, all night. This would have been fine once in a while but since I was the leader, it was driving me crazy! I’d call out a song like “Over the Rainbow” and he’d invariably say, “Let’s do something else, Over The Rainbow isn’t hip to solo on.” Or he’d want to play bebop heads instead of the standard tunes.
Even though I wanted him to stop doing this, I’ve learned not to alienate musicians I need to keep playing a gig with. But near the end of the night, I called Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” a great jazz standard that’s catchy enough to get people’s attention even if they don’t know much jazz. When he objected, I explained that I thought a particular group of people in the room were at an age that they may have heard Ellington on the radio and would enjoy the song. I wanted to connect with them. The sax player looked astonished and said “Oh, I get it; you’re playing for the AUDIENCE!”
This was near the end of a 4-hour gig!!!
Needless to say, I never hired him again.
I’m not saying that every song you play has to be something you don’t enjoy just because the audience likes it. But let’s keep this an open-ended question: Why would you play music at a party for 4 hours and never once consider if the audience was enjoying your music? And here’s a bigger question: If the person hiring a jazz group feels that the musicians are insensitive to how the music is perceived in the room, how long will it take before they stop hiring jazz musician altogether?
Surely there’s some music that you and the audience both enjoy.
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