At some point, you may have heard some jazz educator rabbit on to a group of students with a speech like, “jazz is a group effort,” or “jazz is a democracy,” etc.
I know, it sounds like a great concept, but let me tell you: it’s a load of crap.
Here’s an important lesson for all you budding jazz musicians out there: the only job of the other cats in the band is to make you sound good.
Let me be clear: jazz is not a group effort. If you wanna be the star, this needs to be all about YOU. And I’m not just talking about singers here (who are already acutely aware of this fact), but even us instrumentalists!
Don’t believe me? Here’s a test: how many guys can you name in Count Basie’s band? Or how about naming who plays in Louis Armstrong’s All Stars? That’s right—even though the band is called the All Stars; you don’t know any of the other musicians, do you? (Shut your trap, Ricky Riccardi.)
So an aspiring jazz musician may ask: how can I, too, be a jazz star? There are many ways for an ambitious muso to step all over their bandmates. If you follow some simple steps, in no time you’ll be leaving your colleagues in the dust. (But don’t worry about them—this is all about you.) Just remember the Professor’s rule for jazz success: Anything that takes the attention away from the other people on the bandstand is a step forward for your career.
-Hold some long high notes
-Wiggle your fingers and play fast
-Two words: Pelvic Thrust. Elvis was onto something there
-Sing like Louis Armstrong. NB: there are no bad Satchmo impersonations. Never forget the golden rule of trad jazz: even the crappiest Louis Armstrong vocal imitation will receive howls of delight from the audience, who will be convinced that somehow Louis was resurrected and is standing in front of them.
-Scrunch up your face while playing a high note to make it look like you’re in pain. Remember, it’s not important that what you’re doing is difficult to do…it just has to appear difficult.
-When you’re not soloing, walk off stage and talk to people into the audience—chat with them or sell them a copy of your latest solo CD.
-If there’s a lighting guy on the gig, slip him a $50 to give you great lighting, and also to bring the lights down every time any of the other cats need to read music.
-Classic misdirection. While other musicians are soloing, check your phone. Maybe take a selfie. I like to bring a copy of The Syncopated Times on stage and do some light reading till it’s time for me to solo. It’s important to demonstrate to the crowd that what you’re doing is more interesting than what the others are doing on stage, and subconsciously encourage them to do the same.
-False humility: a big ego can seem unappealing to some fans, so it can be useful to project some humility when needed. If someone comes up to you and says that you were amazing and stole the show; here are some ready-made humble replies:
“Jazz is the true star of the show” or
“I couldn’t have done it without the rest of the band.”
This is, of course, a big fat lie. But if being humble helps make you a star, then I for one am not worthy of being humble.
I know you’re probably thinking: if every musician thinks they are the star, and plays accordingly, then won’t it just sound awful? Let me ask you, have you ever brought a friend to a concert who’s not a jazz fan, and they tell you, “it sounds like everyone is soloing at the same time”? Well, maybe they’re onto something there.
Anyway, I have to go now. To be honest, I’m actually writing this while on stage, because the other cats are soloing. But it’s my turn. High note and pelvic thrust? Locked and loaded. Time to get back to work…