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Future Jazz

Booking Jazz: A Subjective Guide

By Published: July 21, 2012
All kidding aside, the m.o. is simple: A person who is hired to do a job—whether bricklayer or drummer—should be paid fairly. There is no rule for the amount of payment, though factors to take into consideration are: number of nights per week the band will play, number of hours they play each evening, number of players in the group, just how "well known" the group may be, what the venue can afford and what the venue thinks is fair, what others in similar venues in your area are getting. The particulars of the hiring agreement—whether or not the group been hired for a month, a week or a night—also needs to be considered. And amounts vary depending on location. In southwest Florida, I received about $130 for a three-hour night, with the hours being an incredible 5 to 8 p.m. In Philadelphia, the average "going rate" for a four-hour gig is in the $100 range. While a hundred bucks isn't great, consider the fact that several groups making this amount for a four-hour evening have had the same gig in the same place for 15 years.

In line with the "how many nights" issue, if you're taking a serious plunge with jazz, I'd strongly urge that it be presented on at least one weeknight in addition to Fridays and Saturdays. Weekday business—no matter how popular the venue—could always use a shot in the arm.


One of the first, steady, jazz club gigs I had was booked for six nights a week, Tuesday through Sunday. At one time, that was the norm for jazz and for live music in general. As years went on, nights were cut. A Wednesday, Friday and Saturday schedule lasted for a time, until the Wednesdays were cut and music became a weekend-only thing.

I'm seeing a turnaround in some quarters today, particularly in bars located in larger cities. "Bar" is not a derogatory term. It just describes a facility where serving food is not a priority, and according to your local laws and type of liquor license you have, it may not be necessary to serve food at all. No matter. What a lot of these places are doing is presenting some kind of entertainment, six or seven nights a week, with each night's booking often entirely different. One or two nights may be jazz, another could be some kind of an open mike night or jam session, yet another might feature a disc jockey, the infamous "dueling pianos" show or the dreaded karioke night.

This policy has worked for many facilities and has provided another outlet for live jazz groups, often made up of younger players looking for a break. Or a gig.

Whatever the case, the hiring process should be a thoughtful one, and the band should be paid fairly.


Healthy and consistent business at the club is due to a combination of factors: The quality of the band; The quality of the food and/or beverage the club is selling; The ambiance of the facility itself; Quality of service and likability of the personnel (yes, bartenders and wait staffs have "followings," too); The proper physical presentation of the band via a stage and modest lighting. Many bands now carry their own sound systems, but if you want to do it right—piping the music, at reduced volume, into the dining room, for example—then investing in a house system is necessary.

Sometimes, a club owner expects the band to work miracles. The reality is that, at least on the local level, they cannot do it alone. Ideally, when effectively combined, the factors detailed above all play an essential role in the success of a venue.

Just hiring a great jazz group is not enough. Certainly, the group that's been hired will use all the social media available and/or mailing lists to get the word out about their upcoming appearance. But the club must do its part in terms of promotion. This includes promoting the group's appearance on the club's website, through the club's social media outlets, to the press along with group photo (not high-res unless specifically requested), to the club's mailing list, etc. The band and venue owner(s) should cooperate on this, if only to avoid duplication of effort.

Special promotions help business, especially when there's something new and novel to announce, like the appearance of a great jazz group. Promo ideas are only limited by the imagination. Examples? Reduced prices on drinks, two-for-one drinks or meals, giveaways (free bottle of wine for each couple ordering dinner, as an example), tie-ins with the local radio station that plays jazz, jazz web sites, area charities, et al.

I am still a believer in print advertising to augment new media advertising opportunties. These days (in print), the free weeklies are usually the only sources to cover and list jazz, and a nicely designed ad will do wonders. Can't afford the cash outlay? A lot of these publications will be happy to work out a trade or barter deal.

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