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I talked to the guy who's played music professionally his whole life (got hired by Sting along the way), he said something like "musicians have always complained about things like that, nothing new". On the other hand there's another guy here in DC, leads a big band, been on the scene for many, many years. Through his wife I was told 10 years ago or so, getting $700 for a New year's Eve gig was a given, now you feel lucky to make $3-400. According to his account the values have definitely shifted. I do think that part of the problem is this "free" economy: free apps, free account so and so... musicians globally are having a tougher time making a living. I'm not at any of those guys level, obviously. My pet peeves mainly come from restaurants, where most of our gigs happen lately. They want to be able to advertise that they have live music. But offer a completely unfair compensation. They sometimes even get annoyed and complain that a band doesn't have enough of a draw. Which is what happened to my old teacher in Chicago. He dropped one of his regular gigs because of it. The guy is a top notch jazz guitar player. So it happens to the actual real pros too, not only the half-ass pros like myself. Some of the places here in DC actually pay nothing: you get tips, dinner and couple of drinks. Supposedly because they don't want to deal with the musicians union. Or at least I was so told, don't know if it's true or not.
What@scot said about having people come to see you nails in a way but it's extremely hard to achieve in jazz, especially gypsy jazz. That's what I was doing with my old rock band where things were simpler for the most part. You have a door cover, what you bring is what you get. Except sometimes at some places 70x7 would not equal $490 in their book. Once a place even pulled the Blues Brothers argument: "you guys had too big of a tab" hahaha, which came from the drink tickets they gave us. In those days my annoyance was that most places would make you pay a sound guy, although even some of my band mates thought that was ok. But some places figured it's a part of their business expenses, which I think is more fair.
One thing I know is that this whole thing also depends on where you live. Situation seemed better in Chicago than here in DC area.
You said it yourself and then @Scoredog added some more.
I was just reminded that we need a high quality video for our band. We played a show which organizer liked and said it was one of the best he'd seen recently. But after the show he also told me he really wanted to see and hear how we sound prior to it.
It's just a bad vibe to do this. If you're a hobbyist, and you play gratis or for some sort of deal that involves little or no money, you are potentially messing with gigs a professional player may take. Why should that person hire a pro when they could hire someone else for tips, food, drinks, exposure/experience or some combination of this? It happens all of the time.
It's also worth mentioning that we happen to play a genre of music which is particularly well suited to informal performances at restaurants, bars, and cafes. When I was in grad school in Seattle, the professors in the jazz dept. were always astonished and envious of how many gigs I had playing Gypsy jazz. Even 1st call pro jazz players are lucky to get a few $75 restaurant gigs a week so in some ways we're very fortunate. This genre fits well in a restaurant setting and is almost universally enjoyed by the general public, something that isn't really true for other genres, especially other forms of jazz which many people are downright hostile towards.
The elimination of drums definitely helps.
Yes, and many people really hate the saxophone. I'm not one of them, but I have noticed Gypsy jazz is often grouped together within the rubric of "Acoustic Music," making it sort of a crossover genre with fans from other unamplified string instrument based genres like bluegrass and country blues. I still have customers who will ask me if a CD has electric guitar, drums, or horns on it and if it does, the won't buy it.
Michael is correct about GJ being a fortunate genre in escaping the general apathy or hostility towards mainstream jazz.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that restaurants nowadays tend to have razor-thin profit margins and thus the intention or ability to pay a four or five piece band is a rarity.
When I went to Paris in January 2013, even the expensive restaurant venue (sorry, name now long forgotten) where I saw the amazing Sebastien Geniaux (sp?) and his backup guitarist William (??? sorry...) it was only just the two of them.
Now, I occasionally get solo gigs (in fact I have one tomorrow night) on which I play jazz/swing standards using my own backing tracks and damned if people don't really enjoy it... often making comments like, "I've always hated jazz, but..." I play a lot of Gershwin/Kern/Porter/Rodgers & Hart tunes... stuff with nice hummable melodies that people will sort of recognize, but hopefully not overfamiliar. I also occasionally will play "Nuages" or "Douce Ambience" or "Double Whiskey" but that's about the limit of my Django repertoire.
To be honest, these are some of the most enjoyable gigs I get. I'm always well treated and never make less than a hundred bucks. Since I don't really need the money, I'm not out there hustling for gigs but, hey, if they fall into my lap I will take them.
I recommend this kind of gigging to anyone.
At my wife's urging, I've now now taken up playing an electric guitar because she contends that ordinary people didn't know how to react to hearing a guitarist play jazz on an acoustic guitar... but somehow, folks seem to think seeing a guy playing an electric guitar is totally normal!
So it was a big thrill for me to recently purchase a beautiful (Korean made) D'Angelico Excel-1, which I took out on its first gig last month. This guitar is so beautiful that it attracted a photographer which put me on the front page of several local newspapers!
‘the amazing Sebastien Geniaux (sp?) and his backup guitarist William (??? sorry...) it was only just the two of them.’
Thanks, Stu, yes, William Brunard.
@Lango-Django that's a great looking picture Will! And yes, very pretty guitar.
I was surprised to hear the restaurants are getting their margin thinned out. How do you know that? A friend that owned a restaurant in mid 2000s always said one busy Saturday would make up for the rest of the slow week (to at least break even) if it happened to be slow. That would tell me the margins are (were?) pretty good. But he did used to say that booze is where you really make money, especially cocktails. Of course, people need to make money. I ran my own business back in Chicago. But always felt that you can be successful without pinching pennies, chasing after every single opportunity to make a profit while cutting down the costs. And that's what some of these bars and restaurants are doing. You definitely create more interest by advertising live music, getting more people in the door and generate more profit (I'll be the first to pick a bar with a live band vs music from the audio system) and at the same time saving on costs by getting the band that'll play for free or as close to it as possible. One of the worst consequences is as @Jim Kaznosky said, you're messing with people who make a living playing music.
Just read this article https://www.phillymag.com/news/2019/07/13/arnetta-johnson-trumpeter/ and in it it says: "Johnson’s done being a “sideman” on other people’s projects — in other words, don’t offer her $75 to sit in with your quartet on a random Tuesday night."
I always found it hilarious when people would tell me after playing at a corporate event or similar, something like "we were afraid of tedious music when we heard they hired a jazz band. But I like this kind of jazz! What kind of jazz is this?". Happened a couple of times. My answer to non-Django crowd is usually that it's acoustic swing jazz in an old school tradition. Then if we continued a conversation I'd expand, telling about Django and so on. So yeah, our hire-ability is definitively ahead of the curve when compared to straight ahead jazz.