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How do you pick tunes?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Tom Lane, Jun 13, 2014.

  1. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Did a few searches and didn't turn up anything appropriate so I'm thinking this might actually be a NEW question on TBDB.
    I'm wondering how you pick tunes when you're the band leader at a jazz gig. Do you try to pick tunes that you think will be good vehicles for the players involved? Are there some tunes that work well for most groupings? Originals? Tunes you solo well on regardless of the rest of the band? Crowd pleasers? A mix? Stay away from the trite and/or played too commonly? Play what you like and to hell with everyone else?
    I've watched John Pisano flip though his Real Book on his guitar night. I'm pretty sure he doesn't need the chart, nor do any of the other players, and he's just using it as a kind of index to suggestions. I've watched another local band play a fairly limited set of charts into the ground, IMO. They know those charts well, but, maybe only 50 tunes and so their gig gets kind of boring after the 3rd or 4th performance with so many of the same tunes.
    I've been reading a book by Ted Gioia entitled *The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire* and it seems that many band leaders in the first half of the 20th century picked popular tunes, while other artists, like Miles, Coltrane, etc, picked tunes with which they found something new.
    Until recently, I was just trying to learn the repertoire so I added 2 or 3 new tunes to my set list every month, but now, I think I'm trying for something more unique - make each tune it's own.
    Still, I'm curious how YOU do it.
  2. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    This depends entirely on the gig.

    Are you being paid? Do you want to keep the gig? Are you playing for musicians or civilians? Are people eating? Are they dancing?

    Always be aware of your environment, and seek to supply music that not only is appropriate to that environment, but actually *elevates* the experience of the listener. Whether it's a wedding, a bar, or a concert hall, your decisions about tune choice should always be dictated by your consideration of the listener. After all, the industry we work in is called the ENTERTAINMENT industry, not the self indulgence industry.

    For the most part, the days of just going into a room and hacking away at tunes in a real book are dead, unless you want to play for beer in an empty room.
  3. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Excellent point. Thanks chicagodoubler. *Elevate the experience of the listener.*
  4. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Glad you liked it.

    I wish more people would bother to care about their audiences; then maybe we wouldn't always be talking about how to keep jazz from dying...

    Side note- Miles Davis had a hit with a Disney tune. Imagine if someone got up on the stage at the Blue Note and played "Let It Go," in a very straight, serious manner. Jazz musicians played popular music, and jazz was popular. When we stopped playing pop tunes, we stopped being popular. Imagine that.

    Don't be afraid to play songs people know. You don't have to reharmonize them and be cute. Just play it well, and make sure to leave out a tip jar. Or go play Freedom Jazz Dance and Moment's Notice in an empty room. Your choice.
    longfinger, Groove Doctor and bnutz like this.
  5. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    This is why i appreciate guys like Mehldau and Glasper. They are taking modern and relevant pop music into the jazz realm, just like the jazz greats did back in the day. We need to continue that cycle to stay relevant to our listeners, and at some point to our selves! I grew up in the 90's so hearing a grunge rock song played in a jazz context is a thrilling experience for me.

    I should probably add "Let it Go" to my setlist ;) No-brainer right there.
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I'm of the opinion that people (even if they are ignorant to jazz) can tell what's going on with the band. They all know how to sense intensity, danger, fun, and being engaged by the band. You don't put emotion in the music, but these are definitely things I try to evoke.

    I"m becoming a believer in the idea that it's not "what you play but how you play it". Couple things I think have worked out for the groups I play in:
    * The audience can sense the passion for tunes that players love to play. They can see the care they take when the performer puts in attention into their presentation and how they go about playing it. The best tunes are the ones people are passionate about.
    * In regards to danger, it's good to have a few tunes maybe not so well put together or where there's vulnerabilities. The audience also senses that and knows when you're just phoning it in. I think this is also why ballads and tunes with more open spaces are harder to pull off - there are more chances for you to fall flat on your face but it's also what makes it interesting to listent o.
    * They can sense the interaction. They can sense when you're engaging them. Play with a chart in front of your face just gets in the way of this interaction unless you can pull yourself away from it after a while.

    And as Matt Wilson puts it, it's all about PIE. This talk of his is well worth the time>

    Groove Doctor and Seanto like this.
  7. Great comment. Last week, my jazz trio played in a local restaurant. I saw the bartender a few days later. He gave us the best complement ever: "Your music was totally appropriate for the setting. Your playing made my job easier!"
  8. Good points raised here. (In a perfect "jazz" world there IS no music or music stand on stage.) One thing that drives me nuts is hearing two, three, and even four tunes back to back in the same key for no good reason (requests, etc.) This is especially lethal with "blues" bands.
  9. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I try to pick tunes that I love and/or standards that someone has a really good idea about. The joy of presenting something that you're invested in can be contagious to an audience just as playing something they know.

    If it's "Hey, can we pull together a trio for Thursday night to...", then it becomes more about what's common between whoever we get lined up.

    And of course, awareness and sensitivity of the room, event and crowd are marks of professionalism.

    But, when it's really up to me, I go for what I love and I think the others on the date will love with the assumption that we'll be able to pass that joy on to our audience.
    Groove Doctor and hdiddy like this.
  10. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    The last time I saw Matt Wilson, he played "If I Were A Boy by Beyonce." He didn't make it cute. He played it from the heart. Everyone in the bar stopped what they were doing and listened to every note of the rest of his set.

    Matt is one of the most respected musicians in the world, and he still obviously cares about *what* he plays just as much as *how* he plays it.

  11. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Thanks for the education and perspective, guys. Wise advice all around.
  12. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Man, there is a ton of good advice here!

    I'd like to return, however briefly, to nuts & bolts. When I'm laying out a setlist, I want to build something by varying:
    Feel / genre
    Solo order

    Consciousness -- it's worth attempting.
    longfinger likes this.

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