Informative and highly amusing series of articles by a jazz musician highlighting the shortcomings of the average pub band
A while back, I wrote a two-part post called ’10 things jazz musicians can learn from pub rock bands’. Despite the fact I decided to remove a couple of points from the first draft (so there were only eight in then end!) these posts have been the most popular on the blog to date. I thought it was about time I took a look at things from the other perspective; so here is the PlayJazz guide to 10 things pub rock bands can learn from jazz musicians.
Learn to Play
Seriously. The average grassroots jazz musician is a universe beyond the average pub rock band member when it comes to basic musical competence. When jazz musicians don’t sound so good, it’s often because they’re trying to pull off a 32nd-note, diminished-whole-tone-scale pattern at 200bpm.
When pub rock bands sound bad, it’s because they can’t play. Bass players that can’t keep time, guitarists that can’t play half the chords, drummers that just can’t – there are an incredible number of players in pub rock bands that shouldn’t even be thinking about playing in front of friends and family yet, let alone playing gigs! Do yourself and our bleeding ears a favour and spend some time in the ‘shed before inflicting your bizarre twanging and banging on the rest of the world.
And just to be crystal clear about this, I mean practise. Note I’m using the word as a verb, not a noun. This is not the same thing as showing up to your weekly rehearsal (we all know how much pub-rock bands love to rehearse), making the same mistakes in the same places for 25 minutes and then sitting around for two hours drinking cans of beer, smoking spliffs and slagging off everyone who has ever been successful in the music business. This means actually getting off your arse and putting some work in so you don’t suck. Got it?
It Doesn’t Matter What Your Band Is Called
Look, I know you think that picking the right band name is probably the single most important factor in whether you achieve the global fame and fortune that your musical genius richly deserves, but seriously, it makes absolutely no difference what your band is called.
History is littered with successful bands with unbelievably stupid names, such as ‘Hootie and the Blowfish’, ‘Kajagoogoo’, ‘Chumbawumba’, ‘Hoobastank’, ‘Spandau Ballet’, ‘Smashing Pumpkins’, ‘The The’, ‘Mott the Hoople’, ‘Prefab Sprout’….Need I go on?
The reality is that even with the most inane/pretentious/unimaginative/downright stoooopid name, you can be successful. Or not as the case may be. Either way, as a factor in musical success, it’s not going to be anywhere near as important as pub rock bands think it is.
Jazz musicians have always known this and, preferring to concentrate on the music, they make their band names as unoriginal as possible. In fact, after the last band with the word ‘stompers’ in the name hung up their sousaphones, the old New Orleans jazz musicians forced congress to pass a bill making it illegal to have a band using anything other than a musician’s name and the number of people involved in the group as a name. This explains why all jazz bands were called ‘The Oscar Peterson Trio’, ‘The Miles Davis Quintet’ and so on. This directive produced names that were very descriptive and very dull – therefore forcing audiences to focus solely on the music.
Few people know that this law was repealed in 1952 when Jazz musician and amateur lawyer Milt Jackson single-handedly fought a lengthy and hugely expensive legal battle which went all the way to the Supreme Court. On winning his case and being now legally entitled to call his new band anything he liked, he went with the imaginatively shocking, outrageously radical and indisputably paradigm-changing name of ‘The Modern Jazz Quartet’ .
The moral of the story Dear Rocker, is that you need to spend a bit less time in the Pub arguing about whether ‘Walrus Massacre’ carries the necessary gravitas to propel you to the big time and a bit more time learning how to sound less like a bunch of fat mammals being slaughtered.
You don’t need all of those drums
You really don’t. In an evening at a grassroots jazz gig, the drummer will play at least of couple of solos and will undoubtedly have numerous opportunities to trade 4 and 8 bar sections with the rest of the band. For this he uses a kit with a tiny bass drum and at the most, a couple of toms. Setting up any more than 3 cymbals will result in a visit from the Jazz Police.
At an average pub rock gig, the drummer doesn’t get a solo (for a very good reason). Nevertheless, pub rock drummers seem to labour under the illusion that they require a kit the size of a small principality to play the drum parts to ‘November Rain’ and ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’.
Pub-rock drummers: Nobody is impressed that your kit takes up 3/4 of the venue and is spilling over into the car park. Nobody thinks it’s cool that your bass drum is so large, a family of Guatemalan refugees has moved in. Even the most gullible member of the audience knows that you can’t possibly find a place in the set to use all 6 floor toms, and everybody knows that there’s no way you could possibly distinguish the nuanced individual sound of each of the 19 cymbals in a blindfold test.
And apart from anything else, why would you bother with all that showing-off when Buddy Rich can wipe the floor with you with just a snare drum? (skip to 3.45 if you’re impatient!)
Here’s the next one
Lastly the final one. Wasn’t quite so keen on this although the keyboard player bit was spot on. I still like the simple chugging anthems chords though and oddly so do millions (when played properly)