Jazz Trio tips?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by ichNinja, Aug 8, 2018.

  1. ichNinja


    Nov 17, 2014
    Hey there,

    So I've recently started a jazz standards trio with a guitar player and drummer. We're looking at playing some restaurant/coffee shop type gigs, background music essentially. I've been playing jazz for a good bit and am currently pursuing a jazz degree in college at the minute but I've never done a trio gig or any sort of residency type thing before so I'm a bit unsure on how to run it. I can imagine that people would get very bored with just straight-ahead, swing, jazz standards for two hours.

    A few ideas I've had so far to keep it a bit more interesting are:
    1. Play various styles - So a few straight-ahead tunes, some bossa nova/latin tunes, some funk tunes, that kind of thing.
    2. Switch up who plays the melody - have the guitar player play most, but the bass play some
    3. Vary drum solos - normal drum solos, trading 4s, 8s, having hits over a drum solo
    4. Vary intros and outros

    Other than that I can't think of many ways to vary a set. I'm just scared that it would become very boring for the general public. Any help at all would be appreciated, thanks in advance!
  2. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Background music is supposed to be boring.

    But seriously, your ideas are basically textbook for what you're supposed to do to vary up a set. The only thing I would add is making sure you aren't always playing in the same key.
  3. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    No drum solos.:meh:

    Is there a market in your area for live Muzak?
  4. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...I have played this kinda gig (& I do not claim to be a real Jazz player by any stretch...big fan, though).
    Anyhow, we tried to be like Gateway, MMW w/ Scofield (no keys but the guitarist had some pedals & he could cop an organ vibe), Metheny-type trios, etc.

    This one, though, people seemed to like-

    ...would this be too loud?
    Quantized Harmonic likes this.
  5. Just a thought from someone who’s never been in this position, you may want to mix in a lot of instrumental jazz covers of famous pop tunes.

    Discreet enough to not standout, but recognizable enough to make the different songs identifiable.
    FunkyD likes this.
  6. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I've played hundreds of these gigs. My advice: Listen, listen, listen. There's huge amounts of recorded trio music, to give you ideas of how to get enough variety.

    In my experience, a trio can get away with practically anything in a background music situation, so long as you control your volume level. Playing quietly but with intensity is a skill that can be learned.

    Edit: Also, don't be afraid of bass and drum solos. A trio gig with nothing but piano solo gets pretty monotonous, especially for the band. Just make sure you keep the volume under control.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  7. dan1952

    dan1952 Commercial User

    Jun 27, 2012
    Anderson IN
    Artist Endorsement with Supro Huntington Basses / Owner, Dan's Music, Inc..
    As a former guitarist, more recently a pianist, all of the tips so far are good. I've played a lot of background music gigs - keep the volume under control and you can do pretty much anything. I generally play some Monk, some Miles, some Basie, and some instrumental 70's pop songs. An occasional vocal is okay, and I usually throw the Real Book in the bag of tricks. You may get a request here and there. Oh, and don't forget a tip jar if it's cool with the person who hired you. You might ask first.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  8. Skeptismo


    Sep 5, 2011
    Restaurant gigs/ coffee house gigs are great! One tip to add to your list, have some variety in key signatures. Nothing will make your set sound like endless repetition faster than playing everything in the same two or three keys.
    You might also consider inviting a guest soloist to sit in for a song or two, (if you can get them free it's best, but often a few drinks or a free meal will do the job in lieu of cash). Flautists and violinists are great for this, they setup and tear down quickly and easily, and bring a sweet vibe. Hubert Laws or Django Reinhardt have awesome tunes that fit perfectly into that ensemble.
    If you have the capability, you might consider changing up instrumentation too. Ex. switching to guitar while the guitar plays ukulele and the drummer plays other aux perc like a triangle, is a great way to break the monotony and change pace.

    Overall, sounds like you are in for some fun, best of luck!
  9. dan1952

    dan1952 Commercial User

    Jun 27, 2012
    Anderson IN
    Artist Endorsement with Supro Huntington Basses / Owner, Dan's Music, Inc..
    Almost forgot! I've done a lot of piano/organ, drums, and bass trio gigs as bassist. Use the smallest, least conspicuous amp possible! Also, if you can double on upright, and there's enough room for it, play the upright. Instant cred for the trio - the string bass is the visual that the talent buyer wants to see!
    Passinwind, mrmxyzptlk and design like this.
  10. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    If you want to get really adventurous you could try something like this:

    Rev J
    12BitSlab, edencab and design like this.
  11. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011

    As long as you have a nice tone, keep the volume down, and avoid compositions with crazy dissonant chords you can play pretty much anything...ANY-THING!

    I used primarily Volume I, 5th Edition Real Book, but I have various pages pulled from other books as well. Mix in blues, rhythm changes, pop tunes, smooth jazz...I even knew a keyboardist who would play Led Zeppelin tunes. Seriously, whatever you want to play as long as you have a nice tone and keep the volume low.

    Lots of the tunes work in various styles so you can switch it up in the middle and change styles completely or go to double time/half time feel. Don't hesitate to push the tempo every now and then to challenge each other as players. Regarding different styles, try My Funky Valentine with a hip hop beat...works great. Or this way works too.

    It helps if your drummer really knows how to use brushes. I used to work with one guy could do amazing things with just brushes and a snare.

    One of my favorite Real Book tunes.
  12. Fun Size Nick

    Fun Size Nick

    Feb 21, 2006
    Hong Kong
    Everything he said! ^

    Don't worry about people being bored - it's a background music setting, so almost no-one will be giving you their primary attention. If you're keeping yourself interested in what you're playing, then it'll probably be interesting enough for the patrons. Drum solos and bass solos can be a nice way of drawing people's attention to you briefly, as they'll notice the change in the atmosphere when things drop out. Make it worth their while by playing something tasteful and appropriate, both volume- and style-wise (you were doing that anyway, right?), and probably fairly short.

    Above all, relax, enjoy the music, and pay attention to your audience. If you're contributing to them having a good time and enjoying their coffee or meal, then you've done well.
    Wasnex likes this.
  13. jtrom


    Nov 22, 2008
    Kelowna BC
    I’ve played a lot of these gigs. Get ready for 2-3 45 min sets so you’ll probably need like 30 tunes at least. Especially with a trio, you can only stretch the solos over Blue Bossa or All of Me without getting redundant for so long. If you’re not used to playing long gigs I would suggest bringing a stool to sit on... that would have helped me a lot in my early days!

    And use it to have fun and experiment! 98% of the patrons won’t be listening and the 2% that are won’t know the difference between your note for note Paul Chambers transcription and a pentatonic minor a half step up :rolleyes: So experiment with concepts you’re practicing and use this opportunity to try new things.

    Also, take time to do some simple lead sheet arrangements of ALL your standards. This will come in handy every gig you play for the rest of your life and you will be a bass champion in every band you play in if you bring intro/outro arrangements (will also come in handy st school for combo etc). Just a lead sheet with some rhythmic shots or whatever. It’s way more professional sounding than snapping your fingers for 8 measures trying to agree on a tempo.

    Good luck!
  14. Yep, the visual of the double bass is what a lot of patrons love.
    dan1952 likes this.
  15. jtrom


    Nov 22, 2008
    Kelowna BC
    Legit! Aaaaalways goes over really well!
  16. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I agree with what's been said and will add, vary your tempos
    design likes this.
  17. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    lots of great suggestions here.

    i would add: don't forget familiar/iconic melodies. while it's true that you can get by with "almost anything" it's also true that listeners are 'participating' when they hear a melody they like/know. too-cool-for-school is fun, but you'll be making more actual connections (whether or not the audience/listeners tell you) if you actually try to connect!

    good luck with your gig! :thumbsup:

    i made a good living with gigs like this: the melody thing will get you raises and call backs: guaranteed!
  18. Drucifer

    Drucifer Not currently practicing Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2009
    Houston Heights, Texas
    Endorsements: your name could be here, Mr. Sadowsky!
    To clarify, do you mean don't play all the songs in the same key, or don't always play in the same key together?:)
    dan1952 likes this.
  19. dan1952

    dan1952 Commercial User

    Jun 27, 2012
    Anderson IN
    Artist Endorsement with Supro Huntington Basses / Owner, Dan's Music, Inc..
    That will keep it, um, interesting! ;-)
    DrewinHouston likes this.
  20. rufus.K


    Oct 18, 2015
    I've been in a jazz piano trio for 8 years now.
    my advise, comments, and observations.

    we do very few standards and real book pieces.
    we make our own arrangements.
    we take popular songs from all genres and make it our own... for example we play :
    Into The Void by Black Sabbath, with the verse done Dubstep style, into Chameleon (H.H.)
    we wrote a small original section and play it in and out of Time of The Season (The Zombies).
    Sinister Mister (Bela Fleck) into Green Eyed Lady (Sugarloaf)

    thise examples are mini medleys, but they keep it quite interesting.

    studying for a Jazz Degree sounds terrible, especially if you're scared to bore people. if you're flying, if you're really sailing, everyone listening will feel it too.
    things like mixing up the solos and varying intro/outtros, trading fours, very textbook and boring as your main spice. those are fundamentals, basic building blocks.
    I'm not trying to be harsh, I'm trying to be plain ( as I see it).

    you need to find tunes of any genre that the players absolutely love, and tastefully shred them in a bitchin way with some modicum of decorum.
    look at My Favourite Things, that wasn't a "jazz tune" before Coltrane.
    Wisebass and JimK like this.
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