4 Tips to Get More Jazz Gigs

Ok, so you want to get more gigs huh?

Here are a few tips that have helped me secure gigs over the years, keep working on the jazz art form, and even put food on the table.

1. Know lots and lots of tunes (but start with 20).

You must realize that you will increase your chances of getting a gig call significantly if you know a lot of tunes.

Musicians want to work with players that can jump right into their gigs and know all their tunes already.

So, what can you play right now? 3 bars of a Pearl Jam song, Happy Birthday in the key of Gb, and the theme song from Shaft? Ok….ummmmm…that’s a start.  Well, in addition to those “classic” hits may I recommend you learn as many jazz standards as possible? 

Honestly, if you are a life long professional musician and you consider jazz your main vehicle for expression than you probably should know between 300-500 tunes.

With a number like that you won’t be stumped on the bandstand very often.  Now before you go into a cold sweat from that number please understand that I know that’s A LOT!

This should and will be a life long project.  It’s very much a long-term goal.

So, for a more short-term goal how about you start with a goal of 20?  That’s very easily done. Learn 1 tune a week and in 5 months you’ll be there.

In all honestly I don’t know anywhere close to 300 tunes yet.  I’m working on it though just like every other jazz musician out there.  It’s a project for life.

You don’t need that many to start gigging.  If you truly learn and study just a few tunes (Autumn Leaves, I Got Rhythm, Stella By Starlight, Confirmation etc.) it will become easier and easier to learn more tunes quickly.

Here’s a great starting point if you need jazz tune ideas jazz standards.

 2. Know lots of musicians…. specifically singers.

Have you heard that new jazz virtuoso guy who plays almost every night in his apartment alone?  No?? Well, neither of I.

I don’t care how fast or how many chord substitutions you can play over John Coltrane’s Giant Steps (one of the hardest tunes out there to play).

If nobody has heard you play your instrument you’re not going to get many calls for gigs.  Go out to jam sessions, gigs, and keep in touch with all your jazz musician friends. This is essential jazz advice

Get out there regularly and let people know you’re hungry, ready, and willing to do gigs.  It’s not enough to do this every couple months. Go out and make your presence known. 

The musicians who gripe about not having any gigs always amaze me.  They often times don’t go out and try to meet other musicians on the regular.

On a related note:

For some strange reason (and this could definitely be the subject of another blog post), singers seem to get a lot of gigs.  So, make sure you jam with as many singers as possible.  If you love to gig then it’s best to know the people getting the work!

3. Be able to comp well behind other instrumentalists.

Did you ever notice that it’s more fun to hang out with people who laugh at all your jokes, make you feel strong, sexy, and overall make you feel good about yourself? 

Well  the same can be said for musicians that comp well. It’s more fun to play with musicians who play tasty stuff behind your solos.

When you comp the name of the game is to essentially compliment the soloist.  If what you play help a soloist play better music then they are going to want you to play behind them all the time. 

Bottom line:  If you comp well you will get called back for gigs!  

Need work on your comping?  Check this lesson out here comping lesson or this lesson on comping the autumn leaves chords.

4. Show up on time…duh!

You would think this one would be common sense but it’s not. Musicians are notorious for being late.  Buck that trend and do the opposite.

When I lead a band for a gig or a private function there is increased pressure on me as a bandleader.  The LAST thing I need is for one of my musicians to show up late. 

Regardless of how well the band plays or how great a job I did booking the gig if my bass player shows up late we have serious problem. 

Club owners look down on me, audience members become annoyed, and ultimately their lack of professionalism reflects poorly on me.  

As an example, one of the bands that hires me regularly has a phenomenal bass player.  This guy is just a monster player! Along with all his talent though comes the nasty trait of sometimes being late to sound checks, load ins, and even sometimes the start of the first set! 

Now, when I book my own gigs I would love to have a great bass player like him on the gig. Sadly, I just can’t hire him though.

I can’t put my reputation or my audience’s satisfaction on the line knowing that he may be late.

Instead I will call a bass player who I know will show up on time and be a pro.  His chops might be a tad bit lower but I have bills to pay and want to keep my gigs coming and reputation intact.

So, what tips and trick would you guys recommend to get more gigs?

Steve Nixon