I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT

An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

October 6, 2011 Jazz Blog 5 Comments

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

steve jobs

In 1980, I used a personal computer for the very first time. The computer was an Apple II Plus and it was one of two computers at my elementary school. At the time, nobody aside from hobbyists and engineers knew anything about computers. So even though I was only in second grade, I was experiencing personal computing for the first time along with everyone else.

I'll never forget that feeling I had when I ran my first program. After typing a few lines of BASIC code, the computer screen flickered and lit up with text racing infinitely before my eyes. The program was just a simple GOTO loop that I had copied from a book, but it still felt incredible to know that I had made the computer do something. It was even more exciting when I realized that I could change the text, and the number of loops. So not only could I make the computer do stuff, but I could make it do anything I wanted! Before long, I was totally hooked and the teacher would have to beg me to get off the computer.

For the remainder of my elementary school years, I spent as much time on the Apple II Plus as I could. By the end of my fifth grade year, I had written the better part of a Zork-like text-based adventure game, complete with animated cut-screen graphics. At the time I thought it was an impressive accomplishment, but in reality it was terrible. I mean, you can't really have any fun when typing E(ast) instead of W(est) results in "You were killed by a wolf." Little did I know it, but those early years on that Apple II Plus ended up paving the way for my eventual career as a software engineer, which I've been doing full-time since 1995.

While Steve Jobs and the Apple II are responsible for getting me interested in computers as a kid, their influence was initially isolated to just those first few years. Steve Jobs had left Apple in 1985, and when he returned in 1996, Apple was a floundering underdog in the computer industry. I didn't even know a single person who owned an Apple computer back then. So when Apple began the "Think different" ad campaign a year later, with photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Jim Henson, I remember thinking it was pretty arrogant. "How could Apple (and Steve Jobs) possibly compare to the greatness of these icons? Apple will never be relevant again..." Boy was I wrong. In the next fourteen years, Steve Jobs led the rise of Pixar, and along with his stellar team at Apple, he brought us the iPod, iTunes, MacBook, iPad and iPhone, forever changing the way we experience movies, music, computers, and phones. Apple became the wealthiest public company in the world, and almost everyone I know (including myself) owns a Mac or some other Apple device.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been a full-time software engineer since 1995. To many people, computer programming is a geeky activity performed by introverted guys, in dimly-lit rooms (yes, it's just like jazz). While there definitely are some geeky people who program, I don't see programming as a geeky endeavor at all. Instead, I view programming as an art form. It's a magical way to create something out of nothing. I can start with a rough idea in my head and before long I've got something interactive that actually works. And as Steve Jobs and the past decade of Apple products have shown us, the final product has the potential to enrich and forever change our lives.

No, I'm not a brilliant programmer, nor are my applications life-changing. But, like so many other computer programmers and user interface designers, I constantly strive for the elegance and refinement that Steve Jobs cultivated in Apple products. For example, when I worked on my iPhone ear training app, I kept thinking about Steve Jobs and all of the changes he'd want to make. I knew I didn't have the time or skills to make it as good as he would have wanted, but I had to try -- I hope he never actually used it! And I know many of my peers feel the same way about Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs raised the bar for all of us, making us want to design the best software possible.

It saddens me to think of a world without Steve Jobs, but I know he'll be a constant source of inspiration in my life. Anytime I think it's too late to do something great, or that I have to accept the status quo, I'll think of Steve Jobs. And I'll think different.

Thank you Steve, for everything. Sorry I ever doubted you.

June 29, 2011 Jazz Blog 9 Comments

Website rewrite and new server

If you're reading this, you're accessing the new website code on its new server. What does this mean to you? Nothing! Everything should be exactly the same. But please do let me know if you find any broken links or other bugs.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION - FOR GEEKS

When I originally wrote the code for this site back in 2004, I had a dedicated server at Rackspace that I used for some other projects. At the time, it seemed like a worthwhile exercise to build this site with asp.net, since I hadn't yet used that technology to build an entire website. If this wasn't a family-friendly site, I'd follow that statement with some choice words that succinctly convey my present-day thoughts about that decision. But this is a family-friendly site, so let's just say that I've regretted that decision for the past seven years.

You're still reading? I guess you're waiting for a build to compile, or perhaps waiting for that Ubuntu download to finish.

Anyway, as you probably know, asp.net is a Microsoft technology. I also used SQLServer as my database, so I was even further entrenched with Windows, requiring an expensive dedicated server to host everything properly. As mentioned, I originally had a dedicated server for other stuff, so it wasn't a big deal back in 2004. But as time went on, those other projects ended, and for the past few years the dedicated server wasn't hosting anything except for this website. And since the technology wasn't very portable, I couldn't easily move to a shared host or some other cheaper solution.

If it wasn't clear above, I hate asp.net (yes, I'm intentionally not capitalizing it properly to show my contempt). Since I moved to a Mac development environment a few years ago, it's been extra painful to have to fire up Parallels and VisualStudio every time I want to make a change to the site code. Oh, and don't get me started about IIS. After dealing with all of that mess for years, I knew that whatever decision I'd make going forward wasn't going to include .net, IIS, or Windows. So what did I use for the rewrite?

I know the suspense is killing you, so I'll just cut to the chase. This new site was totally rewritten in Java, with the Spring framework, Tomcat 7 as the application server, and Apache as the web server. MySQL is the database, and it's all running on a Linux CentOS virtual private server. Exciting stuff, eh?

If you made it all the way to the end of this post, please post a comment that includes the instrument that you play. Trumpet geeks, don't let me down!

February 20, 2011 Jazz Blog 7 Comments

Grandfather's funeral - Woodlawn

Last week, my grandfather passed away at the age of ninety-two. An orphan, my grandfather traveled from Puerto Rico to the United States when he was only fourteen years old. Once in the United States, he joined other immigrants in government work projects that had him enduring the harsh winters of Montana and Idaho. A few years later, he enlisted in the armed services and fought honorably in World War II, where he was wounded in battle. Although his injury caused him to walk with a limp, he still managed to spend the next thirty-seven years delivering mail for the US Postal Service in Manhattan. And after that, when most people would have happily retired, he got a job as a courier on Wall Street, where he worked until he was eighty years old. In fact, he probably would have held that job even longer but his family begged his employer to force him into retirement!

I grew up in Florida, and since my grandfather lived in Bronx, NY, I only saw him a few times during my childhood. And sadly, it wasn't until the past ten years or so that I really began to learn about his life. I can honestly say, though, that with each visit I'd return home more humbled by his accomplishments. While it's sad to see him go, he certainly led a long full life, and I couldn't be more proud to have him as my grandfather.

WOODLAWN CEMETERY

I spent the night before my grandfather's funeral at his apartment in Bronx, NY (photo of his apartment building is shown below). My aunt and my grandfather's wife of sixty-two years were also there (my father was the product of my grandfather's brief first marriage). While discussing the funeral arrangements, my aunt asked if I knew anything about Woodlawn Cemetery, the location of my grandfather's burial. I didn't know anything about the cemetery at that point so my aunt said, "Oh, you'll really like it. There are a lot of famous jazz musicians buried there."

apartment building

Before I continue, let me set the stage. My aunt is a truly wonderful person who has dedicated her life to her family and to her church, where she serves as a minister. I think the world of her, but I also know that she and the rest of my family don't exactly have a lot of expertise when it comes jazz. So, I simply nodded and gave little thought to her description of Woodlawn Cemetery as a major jazz destination. That is, until she said, "Miles Davis is buried just down the hill from your grandfather's plot." I couldn't believe it. Miles Davis, the person most responsible for my love of jazz, is buried in the same cemetery as my grandfather?!

I immediately went online and learned that Woodlawn Cemetery is the burial site of many of New York's famous entertainers, politicians, and business people. For example, Woodlawn is the final resting site for Fierello La Guardia, Rowland Macy, Franklin Woolworth, James Cash Penney, Augustus Juilliard, Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Celia Cruz, and Irving Berlin. And in the list of jazz musicians we have Miles Davis, Max Roach, Joseph "King" Oliver, Jean Baptiste "Illinois" Jacquet, Charles "Cootie" Williams, W.C. Handy, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Jackson, Jackie McLean, and Duke Ellington... just to name a few!

THE FUNERAL AND BURIAL SITE

My grandfather had requested a simple military funeral, which took place in a small chapel at Woodlawn Cemetery. The ceremony ended with the playing of "Taps" (by an actual trumpeter, not a recording) and the folding of an American flag. This was the first funeral I've ever attended, and while I'm sure they are all emotional, the presentation of the flag to my grandfather's wife, and the brief but powerful dedication spoken by the serviceman, was perhaps the most moving event I've ever experienced.

After the ceremony, we drove from the chapel to the burial site, which was located about a mile away. As we twisted through the narrow cemetery roads, I looked around hoping to see Miles Davis' tombstone or that of any of the other legendary jazz musicians. We passed by La Guardia's tombstone and the large Juilliard mausoleum, but I didn't see any jazz musicians. Oh well. Obviously I wasn't here to sight see. I was here for my grandfather, and I figured I'd just have to wait until my next visit to see some of the jazz musicians.

When we finally reached my grandfather's burial site, I stepped out of the car and stood with the rest of the family as we waited for everyone to arrive. I looked at the casket, perched above the freshly dug grave, and then slowly turned my head to towards the neighboring tombstones. And that's when I saw a thick slab of black granite with light gray letters that read "MAX ROACH." Max Roach, one of the most important and influential jazz drummers of all time, a man who has played and recorded with virtually every legendary jazz musician including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and EVERYONE ELSE, was buried directly to the right of my grandfather's casket.

Max Roach grave site

After the final prayers were read, I looked around a bit more and noticed what had to be the back of Miles Davis' tombstone, which I recognized from a photo I saw online the previous night. I walked down to the large tombstone and was pleasantly surprised to pass the grave of legendary jazz saxophonist, Illinois Jacquet, on my way down. The following photo shows Miles Davis on the left, Illinois Jacquet on the right, and my grandfather's burial site just up the street.

Miles Davis grave site

After taking a picture of Miles Davis' tombstone, I looked around again and saw two crosses inscribed with the word "ELLINGTON" about twenty feet away. Sure enough, I had stumbled upon the burial site of one of the greatest American musicians and composers of all time... Duke Ellington.

Duke Ellington grave site

REMEMBERING MY GRANDFATHER

I know it's pure coincidence that my grandfather is buried next to so many of my jazz heroes, but I can't help but feel like it's somehow his final gift to me. Each time I visit his grave site, I'll also be visiting the grave sites of so many others who have impacted my life, making me the person I am today. It's something I'll always treasure.

I thought I'd end with a funny story that my aunt told me about my grandfather. I should first mention that while my grandfather was a kind and generous man, he also had a unique ability to find fault in just about any situation. He's the kind of guy who would complain that the music is too loud at his own party. Anyway, this character trait revealed itself in its full glory a few years ago, when my Aunt first told him about the cemetery plots that she had purchased at Woodlawn. She thought her father would be pleased to hear about his distinguished final resting place, but naturally he felt differently. Without further ado, here's their exchange (note that at the time of this story, my aunt thought Tito Puente was buried at Woodlawn, but he's actually buried someplace else):

My aunt, speaking to my grandfather: "Dad, this is a very famous cemetery that you'll be buried in. Macy, Woolworth, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and Miles Davis are all buried there!"

My grandfather: "So what. Macy's is too expensive, Woolworth's is cheap, Tito Puente was a womanizer, Celia Cruz was too loud, and I hate jazz."

Sorry to tell you grandfather, but if you thought Celia Cruz was too loud, just wait until you hear Max Roach...

August 25, 2010 Jazz Blog 12 Comments

Play By Ear - six months later

About six months ago, I released my first iPhone application, a free ear training application called Play By Ear. Like my free online ear trainer, Play By Ear allows you to listen to intervals, chords, and random melodies as you attempt to play them back by ear. And while it lacks several of the features of my online ear trainer, Play By Ear does have one significant difference: it uses pitch detection to tell whether or not you played the correct note back on your instrument.

iphone appstore ratings

As I was creating Play By Ear, I thought pitch detection was a compelling feature that truly set the ear trainer apart from other AppStore ear training tools. But frankly, I wasn't sure anyone would care. After all, there were already a few iPhone ear trainers and none of them seemed to have a lot of reviews. Some didn't even have any.

In this blog entry, I'll share the AppStore totals for my iPhone application, I'll answer some frequently asked questions, and I'll also give you a preview of what's coming next.

THE APPSTORE TOTALS

Since it was released six months ago, Play By Ear has been installed a total of 5,041 times. In addition to that, the various updates have also been installed a total of 3,669 times.

Let's take a closer look at those numbers. The application is free, but had I charged for the application, I would have made 5,041 x SomePrice x 70%. The 70% is how much Apple pays developers. Apple keeps the rest. So, using real numbers, if I had charged $1.99, I would have made $7,022.13 over the past six months. Not bad, I guess, but it's pretty safe to assume that I wouldn't have sold 5,041 units if people actually had to pay for the application. You could use common sense to arrive at that conclusion, or you could just look at the 3,669 total updates statistic. At least 1,372 of the original users deleted the application and/or decided it wasn't worth updating. With such an obvious lack of interest, they probably wouldn't have paid for the application in the first place. Never mind the fact that the update total spans three versions. In actuality, there might be as few as 1,200 people who have continued to use the application.

iphone appstore ratings

Another interesting statistic is the overall rating for the application. Currently, there have been 63 ratings across all three versions of Play By Ear. The average rating is three stars, which I guess isn't too bad considering how common it is for people to use an application and instantly decide "this sucks!" Or maybe that's just common to me because I work with so many hypercritical tech people. To them, everything sucks unless A) they made it, or B) it's World Of Warcraft. Anyway, I think that probably explains why I have so many one-star reviews.

While I can live with all those one-star reviews, I do wish I knew more about those negative reviews. For example, the application is apparently crashing for some people. With each consecutive version, I've tried to improve the stability (it crashed a lot at first). I've never even seen it crash on my new iPhone 4.0. But apparently it's crashing for at least one person based on their AppStore review. Lots of iPhone apps crash, including Apple's own Mail application, so I don't expect my application to be flawless. But if there are problems, I'd like to reproduce and fix them. The only way that will happen is if people contact me and let me know exactly when and how things go wrong. To date, only one person has ever written me an email to say the application is crashing. That was soon after the initial release, and I'm pleased to say that I did fix that specific problem.

If you've used and enjoyed Play By Ear, please take a moment to rate and/or review the application. Positive ratings are greatly appreciated ;-)

PROMOTION, OR LACK THEREOF

I had intended to do at least some external promotion for my iPhone ear training application, but somehow I never found the time. To date, the only promotion I have done for the application is the original announcement and the redesign of this site, which now features all of my ear training applications more prominently on the right-hand side. I was, however, fortunate to have Dave Douglas mention my iPhone ear training application in his blog. I didn't even tell him about it, so it's especially cool that he found it and thought it was blog-worthy on his own. But even with Dave Douglas' help, I know my iPhone application's distribution numbers have suffered due to my lack of external promotion. Perhaps had I actually done any such promotion, I could have doubled or tripled the installation and update numbers.

WHY DIDN'T I CHARGE FOR THE IPHONE APPLICATION?

When I first released Play By Ear, a surprising number of people asked me why I didn't charge any money for the application. As I've written previously, I believe that the importance of ear training is often ignored or marginalized in music education. My free ear training tools are an attempt to expose more people to ear training in a way that makes it easy for them to get started. So that's the main reason I released my iPhone application free of charge. Just to get it out there.

There's another reason for not charging, though, which isn't quite so altruistic. Having no real knowledge about the market for iPhone ear training applications, I wanted to use my first application to get some benchmarks. By offering it for free, I can see exactly how many people are even remotely interested in an iPhone ear training application. That gives me a basis from which to decide how much time I want to spend on new features and new iPhone ear training applications.

WHAT FEATURES ARE COMING NEXT?

As of now, I probably won't add too many new features to Play By Ear. One feature that I will definitely add, though, is microphone calibration. Once completed, the microphone calibration feature will allow you to customize how sensitively the application should listen when determining your pitch. By accurately matching that value to your playing conditions (e.g. room noise, instrument volume, distance from microphone, etc) the pitch detection should be noticeably more accurate.

WILL I BUILD ANOTHER IPHONE APPLICATION?

Yes. Time permitting, I will definitely build another iPhone application and once again it will focus on ear training. This time around, though, it will probably be geared toward sight singing. Rather than playing the notes for you to mimic on your instrument, the sight singing application will show you notes on the staff and you'll have to sing them back at the correct pitch. I'll probably charge for this application, but it won't be a lot of money. More than anything, I'm just curious to see how many people will actually pay for an iPhone ear training application. That, coupled with my free Play By Ear statistics, should give me a good representation of the overall iPhone ear training application market. However small it happens to be!

WILL I BUILD AN ANDROID EAR TRAINING APPLICATION?

Several people have requested an Android version of my ear training application. It would probably be easier for me to build an Android application since I can use familiar tools like Eclipse and Java. The only hitch is that I don't actually own an Android phone! I might buy one just for development purposes, but I think I'll wait to see how my next fee-based iPhone application does first. It's bad enough that I already have to test my existing iPhone ear trainer on 4 devices all the time (iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS w/ iOS4, iPhone 4G, iPad). I don't want to introduce another device until I know that a decent number of people will actually use it.

April 4, 2010 Jazz Blog 7 Comments

New website design for 2010

After building my iPhone ear training application I decided it was time to finally redesign my jazz blog. The old design had been online since 2004. It didn't feature my ear training tools prominently enough, and frankly, I was tired of looking at it!

THE OLD SITE DESIGN

site design - v1

I know you're going to miss the old timey look of the straw-colored background and the slightly darker straw-colored accents which were artfully placed next to even darker straw colors. And don't forget the dull red stripes, which when viewed next to all that straw, resembled the cozy mauve of my grandmother's sofa. Yes, I'll miss all of that too.

But, I think it's time for a change. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the new site design...

THE NEW SITE DESIGN

site design - v2

Well, I guess there's nothing to show you since you're already looking at the new design. But did you notice the little pink trumpet at the top? If not, take a good look. That thing's gonna be fun to make fun of the next time I redesign the site.

I hope you like the new design. I still have a few things to tweak over the next few days, but I think everything should work (and look) properly. If you see anything strange, please let me know.

January 23, 2010 Jazz Blog 4 Comments

Christian McBride - master class

Last weekend, Christian McBride was in town for a concert with his new band, "Inside Straight." If you don't already know, Christian McBride is one of the most in-demand jazz bassists on the scene today. Since beginning his career in 1990, Christian McBride has performed and recorded with a stellar list of jazz musicians, including Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Ray Brown, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, and Wynton Marsalis.

On the day of the concert, Christian McBride also gave a master class at Georgia State University. Due to a likely cover-up by the attention-starved saxophone faculty, I didn't even hear about the master class until a couple of hours before it started (special thanks to Laura for texting me!). But once I did find out, I dropped what I was doing and sped on over. There was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to see and hear one of the greatest jazz musicians of my generation, especially when it affords me the ability to then write a blog article where I once again poke fun at my buddy in the GSU saxophone faculty.

christian mcbride master class

Like my favorite master classes, Christian McBride's master class included both a discussion and playing session. During the playing session, several bass players got to sit in with a jazz combo while Christian listened and critiqued their playing. For the most part, the young bassists played really well and Christian spent about as much time offering suggestions as he did giving praise. You might think that's how it goes in all master classes, but I'm always amazed at how eager some "masters" are to criticize and cut down aspiring musicians. Christian was really cool, though, and I'm sure his words of encouragement will inspire the young players through many of their practice sessions.

SAVE THE FIREWORKS FOR JULY 4TH

During the past twenty years, Christian McBride has recorded hundreds of albums as a sideman, so he knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed as a working jazz bass player. He summed it up nicely when he said "Nobody hires you for the fireworks." Instead, it's the fundamentals of bass playing that get you the job. Skills like keeping time, having a good sound, and staying in the pocket are much more important than showy tricks and gimmicks. But unfortunately, aspiring musicians spend way too much time chasing the showy stuff and too little time on the basics.

To illustrate his point, Christian McBride mentioned Victor Wooten's double thumb slap. If you Google "bass double thumb slap" you'll find tons of YouTube clips and articles devoted to the subject. In their quest to play like Victor Wooten, bass players are spending countless hours learning this advanced technique instead of focusing on the strong fundamentals that made Victor Wooten such a great musician in the first place. To paraphrase Christian McBride, you have to learn A-M before learning N-Z. And all these bass players are skipping right over to Z! That's like a karate student learning how to punch before learning balance. Big mistake.

GOING INSIDE

The part about mastering A-M before learning N-Z, reminded of my musical misstep with "outside" playing. At the end of my first year of college music school, I bought a CD by the head of the jazz department, Ed Sarath. It was a quintet recording that featured an unfamiliar (to me) saxophonist named Dave Liebman. As soon as I heard Liebman's playing, I was mesmerized. It was the most flawlessly executed display of reckless abandon that I had ever heard. Even though I knew I couldn't play any of Liebman's licks on the trumpet, that recording instilled in my mind the notion that playing "outside" (against the harmonies and rhythms) was the apex of jazz improvisation.

A few months after I got that Liebman album, I bought a book of pentatonic jazz licks. Yes, the Ramon Ricker book. I played through them all, and memorized a few of the more "outside" licks to incorporate in my jazz solos. At the time, I was playing weekly gigs with a jazz combo in some of the finest empty coffee houses in Chicago. Each night I'd run through my "outside" licks and for a few measures of each tune I sounded fantastic. Even my band mates, who heard the licks over and over again, seemed impressed whenever I played them. But as soon as the licks came to an end, I sounded terrible because I lacked the fundamental skills I needed to improvise well on my own. I was all fluff, without any substance. Eventually, this lack of substance led me to quit playing the trumpet for seven years.

When I started playing the trumpet again I made a conscious effort to focus on the fundamentals of jazz improvisation. I no longer worry about sounding modern or "outside" because with strong fundamentals I'll be able sound however I want at any given time. Since I couldn't play anything accurately by ear back when I was in college, I now spend a lot of time working on ear training with my ear training tools. And to improve my sense of rhythm and time, I started practicing with a metronome (I never even used one in college). I've also spent more time listening to earlier jazz as I try to learn the fundamentals directly from the pioneers of jazz. More than anything, that's taught me that if there is an "apex of jazz improvisation" it's less likely to be "outside" playing and more likely to be something that Louis Armstrong played.

HISTORY OF JAZZ PODCAST, BY GORDON VERNICK

And speaking of the pioneers of jazz... Georgia State University professor, Gordon Vernick, has an excellent and free podcast that I've been meaning to mention for some time now. Gordon Vernick's "History of Jazz" podcast currently includes 76 episodes covering everything from ragtime to Weather Report. I've been listening to it for nearly a year and I always enjoy his depth of knowledge and his respect for the music. If you dig the podcast, be sure to subscribe since he's still adding more segments. In fact, just this week he added two episodes on Lee Morgan!

Update September, 2013: Gordon Vernick's podcast has moved to a new location within iTunes. It's now called "Jazz Insights with Dr. Gordon Vernick" and you can find it here in iTunes.

July 26, 2009 Jazz Blog 2 Comments

Matthew Kaminski - entertainment value

Matthew Kaminski, an Atlanta-based jazz pianist and organist, was recently featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Atlanta’s main newspaper) for his success as the new Atlanta Braves organist. During the four years before Matthew got the organist job, the Atlanta Braves had been using recorded music during all of their baseball games. Every night the baseball fans would hear the same tunes played exactly the same way. Most people probably didn’t pay any attention to the music. That’s all changed thanks to Matthew Kaminski. On the gig for just a few months, Matthew has already managed to win over Atlanta Braves fans with his creative and entertaining song choices. They look forward to Matthew’s next jab at the visiting team, they have mini trivia games to guess song titles, and they even text each other about funny songs. Thanks to Matthew’s creativity and talent, live music has become a major source of entertainment at the stadium, so much so that the Braves’ director of entertainment said, “I feel like a genius for finding him.”

matthew kaminski

Obviously, this is a great article for Matthew Kaminski. Hopefully it will broaden his exposure in the Atlanta area and bring more people to his other (jazz) gigs. It’s also a wonderful article because it emphasizes the value of live music.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE

Why is Matthew Kaminski so well received by the Atlanta Braves fans? Because he’s thinking of clever ways to keep them entertained. He could simply play nothing but baseball standards like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and… um, is there another baseball song? But, by being creative he created value for live music, he got a prominent newspaper article written about him, and no doubt the buzz he’s produced will motivate more people to see Atlanta Braves games. In fact, for a brief moment I even considered going to a baseball game just to hear him play, and I hate professional baseball. To give you an idea how disinterested I am in baseball, I lived within walking distance of Wrigley Field for nine years and I never went to a single game. But I almost kind of thought about maybe sort of possibly going to an Atlanta Braves game because of Matthew Kaminski. That’s huge!

Matthew Kaminski’s success at the Braves games got me thinking about some of the ways you can keep people entertained at your gigs. Here are some suggestions:

HAVE A GOOD STAGE PRESENCE

You are not Miles Davis. You aren’t as good of a musician as he was and you aren’t as cool either. Unlike Miles, you will actually have to engage your audience. I like to think of the audience as a mirror of the stage. If you ignore your audience, your audience will ignore you by skipping your future gigs. If you look bored, your audience will be bored. If look uncomfortable on stage, your audience will be uncomfortable watching you. You get the idea. Some charisma and a genuine joy to perform (or even a well faked joy!) can go a long way. Treat your audience like friends. Talk to them from the stage. If necessary, plan some funny/interesting (but not too long) things to say to them ahead of time. Thank the audience for coming to your gig. Be sincere! Make an effort to chat with them between sets. Introduce yourself and learn peoples’ names. If your audience likes you, not just your music but YOU as an individual, they are much more likely to come to your gigs.

TAILOR YOUR PERFORMANCE TO THE AUDIENCE

A good communicator tailors his or her conversation to each audience. For example, when speaking to a room full of children, a speech would contain a lot less jargon and more simplistic language then when speaking to a room full of business executives. Although maybe it should be the other way around! The point is that we all know that we have to relate to our audience if we hope to get our message across. Of course, this isn’t limited to verbal communication. You can do this from the bandstand as well. Let’s say you’re about to start playing and you notice a lot more college kids in the audience than usual. Instead of playing your normal batch of jazz standards and/or originals, you could take a cue from The Bad Plus and play a jazz version of a modern-day rock/pop song. Likewise, if you’ve got an older crowd than normal, maybe you could put a fresh spin on an old Sinatra tune. And in both cases avoid 10-minute bass solos! I’m not suggesting that you pander and simply give people a dumbed-down version of your music. Just the opposite; like a good communicator, you’re still getting your point across by playing music your way, but you’re selecting an approach that is more likely to connect and keep the audience entertained.

VALUE AUDIENCE REQUESTS

I know, I know… you hate requests. People always ask you to play lame tunes and/or tunes that you don’t know. I wouldn’t solicit requests, but when you do get them I’d view it as an opportunity to connect with your audience. By valuing their suggestion you’re valuing your audience. If you don’t want to do a requested tune, perhaps you can offer a few alternatives by the same artist or in a similar style. Whatever you do, don’t roll your eyes or scoff at a request. That’s one of the quickest ways to shrink your audience. Also, if somebody makes a broad suggestion like, “Play some Stevie Wonder.” Don’t intentionally play the most obscure Stevie Wonder song you know. That doesn’t satisfy the request at all. Again, as with the previous section, you can play these tunes however you want. This isn’t about pandering, it’s about connecting with your audience.

ADD VARIETY TO YOUR GIGS

As they say, variety is the spice of life. It’s also nice on the bandstand. If you have a steady (e.g. weekly) gig, don’t play the same music every night. Even your most ardent fans will probably tire from hearing the same tunes over and over again. Instead, mix up your repertoire, adding one or two new tunes each week. Also, think of new ways to play your existing tunes. It could be something as simple as changing the tempo. You could even ask your fans for feedback on your repertoire. With their input, you might be able to come up with a better overall set list.

Just as you can have variety with your choice of tunes, you can also add variety by featuring guest musicians in your band. Joe Gransden’s extremely popular big band gig at Café 290 is a perfect example. Each night the band features a guest vocalist on a couple of tunes. Usually the guest vocalist performs tunes that the band hasn’t played before, so you’ve get the combined benefit a new lineup and new music. As a bandleader, having special guests is also a great way to grow your audience. Each guest will likely bring his or her own group of fans to your gig. Some of these people may not have heard you perform yet and could become your newest fans.

PROMOTE YOUR GIGS

This isn’t so much about entertaining people, but getting them in the door in the first place. Here are several suggestions for promoting your gigs. It’s tailored to the Atlanta jazz scene, but most of the topics apply anywhere.

WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC?

If you’ve read this far you might be thinking, “I shouldn’t have to do all this stuff. Isn’t my music entertaining enough?” I agree that it would be nice to focus solely on the music, but it won’t get you very far as a gigging musician unless you’ve already got a large and loyal following. And how do most musicians get a large and loyal following? By being great entertainers.

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