How to Start a Jazz Band
If you love jazz and can play an instrument, starting a jazz band can be a lot of fun -- but it also takes considerable time and effort. The key to forming a successful band is careful planning, finding the right members, and drawing inspiration from jazz legends.
Organizing Your Band
Master your instrument.Whether you play the trumpet, piano, or saxophone, you must know that you’re at the top of your game before you start putting a band together. You don’t want to be the weak link in your own jazz ensemble! It’s okay if you need a few lessons to brush up on your instrument -- do whatever it takes to feel completely confident.
- In particular, make sure that you’ve mastered as many jazz standards as possible. Songs such as “Round Midnight,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Body and Soul,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and your personal favorites are a good place to start.
Decide how large the band will be.Depending on the style of jazz that you play, your ensemble can feature any number of musicians. Duos, trios, and quartets are all common, but quintets and larger groups can allow for a richer, more versatile sound. Try to figure out how many people -- or instruments -- you would like your band to have, so you can start to plan.
- It’s not necessary to come up with a specific number for your band, but it helps to know whether you’re putting together a small group of two or three, or a larger band when it comes time for auditions.
Consider jazz styles.While most people have a pretty clear idea what jazz sounds, there are actually a variety styles within the genre. Your band doesn’t have to specialize in a single style, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various styles and settle on your favorites. That way, you can find the right members for your band.
- Ragtime has a bold, passionate sound that borrows rhythms from traditional African dance.
- The blues usually incorporates vocals into the songs, as well as guitars, piano, and harmonica.
- Big band typically features ensembles of 10 or more players, featuring instruments such as trumpets, saxophones, piano, guitars, drums, and bass.
- Dixieland jazz is also known as traditional or New Orleans jazz, and incorporates elements of ragtime and the Blues.
- Bebop is similar to big band jazz, but it usually features smaller bands, consisting of four to six musicians.
- Other styles that you might consider include folk jazz, free jazz, hot jazz, cool, and hard bop.
Outline the rhythm section.A jazz band’s rhythm section is crucial because it provides the foundation for all of the music. Drums and other percussion instruments are usually a key component of a rhythm section, but you can also include the piano, bass, and guitar. Determine which of these instruments you’d like to include in your ensemble.
Organize the horn section.When many people think of jazz, they think of the impressive sound of horn instruments wailing away. This usually means brass such as trumpets and trombones, but the horn section can also feature woodwinds, including saxophones and clarinets. Figure out which of these instruments that you’d like your band to include, so you know what type of musicians to look for.
- If you’re planning a smaller band, it’s a good idea to have at least one of each horn type instead of doubling up on any. For example, if you’re fronting the band and play the trumpet, consider adding trombone, sax, and clarinet players to the ensemble, not another trumpet player.
- In a traditional big band, there are usually five trumpets, five trombones, and five saxophones, with a clarinet sometimes substituting for one of the saxophones.
Consider additional instruments.While the rhythm and horn sections are essential to a jazz band, you can fill out your sound further by incorporating other instruments. Some jazz ensembles include a flute, while others feature a tuba. You might swap out a guitar in the rhythm section with a banjo, consider a bass. They are more hard to find and are worth having. or work in a harmonica for some songs. Remember the combination of instruments that you like best in your favorite jazz bands if you need inspiration.
- You may want to include a vocalist for your jazz band as well. It helps to find a musician who can play one of the other instruments in addition to singing, though, so you don’t have to commit to vocals on every song.
Think about potential venues.The size of your rehearsal space may affect how many members your band can have. If you’re rehearsing in your garage, for example, you may not have enough room for a big band ensemble. In addition, you should also the venues where you hope to plan, such as local jazz clubs. A small stage may mean that you’re better off keeping the band to a trio or quartet.
Contact members of defunct bands.If you’ve been a fan of local jazz bands that have disbanded, you may have a shortlist of potential musicians for your new band. Get in touch with the members, and see if they’re interested in joining your ensemble.
- If you don’t have any friends or acquaintances in common with the musicians who you’re interested in, check to see if they have any social media contacts. You may be able to contact them that way.
Place an ad.You probably don’t have family and friends who play all of the instruments that you need for your band, especially if you’re starting a large jazz ensemble. If that’s the case, you’ll need to recruit other musicians to fill the other roles. Placing an ad is usually the easiest way to find interested parties. You can advertise online in music forums or Craigslist, or put an ad in a local paper.
- If you’re in school, consider creating a flier asking for jazz band members that you can post on student bulletin boards.
Hold auditions.Whether you know the musicians you’re considering for your band or not, you want to be sure that they can play well enough to be part of your jazz ensemble. You can also make sure that prospective members know what will be expected of them if they join and the type of music that they’ll be playing.
- When you’re holding auditions, you can either ask all prospective members to prepare a specific jazz piece that you’ve chosen or allow them to play any jazz song that they prefer.
- Don’t just consider the musicians’ skills when they’re auditioning. Take their personality into account as well, so you can ensure that they’re a good fit for your band.
Rehearsing as a Band
Have a jam session.When you first start your band, it’s best not to have formal practices because you don’t really know how all of the members fit together yet. Instead, hold an informal jam session, so you can get to know one another’s playing styles. It also allows you to discuss the creative direction for the band -- while you may be the founding member, it’s important to allow everyone to have a say in developing the band’s sound.
- At your jam session, you might not even play any specific songs. Allow the members to play their favorite riffs, and see how they all fit together.
- You can also have band members all choose their favorite songs, and play them without worrying too much about being perfect.
Choose songs.Once the band is a little more comfortable playing with one another, it’s time to come up with a set list. When you’re just beginning, don’t try to come up with original material. Instead, try to choose four or five classic jazz songs, such as “In the Mood” or “Take Five,” that everyone in the band likes to do covers of.
Make a rehearsal schedule.After you’ve come up with a set list for your band, the only thing left to do is rehearse the songs. To ensure that you’re all committed to improving, though, it’s important to create a schedule that everyone in the group can stick to, so you can play the songs regularly.
- For the best results, aim to rehearse together once or twice a week for three to four hours each time.
- Make sure that everyone in the band practices on their own too. You should practice your own parts for each song everyday to ensure that you have it down.
- It’s a good idea to record your rehearsals. That way, you can go back and listen to your performance to see what parts of each song need to be worked on.
- Everyone in the band should agree to rules for rehearsal, such as everyone coming prepared and showing up on time. Post a list of them in your rehearsal space, so no one forgets what is expected of them.
Promoting the Band and Getting Gigs
Create an online presence.These days, people get so much of their information online, so it’s important to market your band on the internet. Establish social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as on music-specific sites, including Bandcamp, Spotify, and Soundcloud. The goal is to spread the band’s name, and connect with fans, who may eventually help promote you.
Sign up for open mic nights.If you’re just starting out, it’s probably going to be difficult to find gigs at first. However, you can gain experience performing live with the band and potentially attract the attention of venue promoters and managers if you play at open mic nights, which are typically open to everyone.
Visit or call jazz clubs and other venues.The best way to pursue potential gigs is to go directly to the source. Make a list of all the venues in your area where jazz bands typically play, and contact the booking agent or venue manager to see if there are any opportunities to perform.
- It’s best to either speak to the venue on the phone or visit in them in person. Don’t send an anonymous email.
- Make sure that you have your online presence in place before you contact venues, so you can direct the manager or booking agent to videos and other content that will help them get a feel for the band.
Create fliers.If you’re interested in playing at special events, such as weddings and birthday parties, it’s a good idea to get in touch with special event businesses, such as party planners, venue management, caterers, and florists. That’s because people who are hosting events may ask them for recommendations. It’s much easier if you have fliers that they can pass on.
- Your fliers should include a photo or logo for the band and all of your contact info. Make sure to direct potential clients to your YouTube videos or Facebook page too, so they can see you in action.
QuestionHow many people are in a jazz band?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere isn't really a set number. Some jazz bands are only duos, trios, or quartets, while classic big bands can feature anywhere from 12 to 25 members.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if you want only one saxophone in a jazz band?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt's possible to have a single saxophone in your jazz band. Trios and quartets are very popular in jazz, and they typically only feature one sax.Thanks!
QuestionIs there any way to get rhythm without drums, like maybe with a piano?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhile drums and other percussion definitely helps, if they're unavailable, piano and guitar add rhythm and are traditionally considered to be the "rhythm" section of a jazz band. It took a while for piano and guitar to become lead instruments. Banjo and tenor guitar (a four-string guitar smaller than normal six-strings, but with about the same sound) are also traditional rhythm instruments. No matter which you pick, play chords and riffs with a strong rhythm, and use the bass notes to emphasize the beat.Thanks!
- Be patient. It may take some time for your jazz band to sound good enough to perform in front of an audience.
- Always remember to have fun. Overseeing a band can be stressful sometimes, but if you hang onto your love of jazz, you’ll always have a good time.
- Make sure to keep the lines of communication open between you and the other members of the band. You should encourage them to provide feedback about the band, and be open to their suggestions.
- If you’re just starting out, it’s best to start with a smaller jazz band. You might form a duo with a piano and horn player initially, and then expand to a quartet or quintet once you have more experience.
- Before you start putting a band together, it’s a good idea to download some jazz albums, or visit local jazz clubs to take in a few shows. That will help you identify the qualities that you appreciate in a jazz band, so you know exactly how you want yours to sound.
- If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to listening to jazz albums, start with the classics. Artists such Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Buddy Rich, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie have set the gold standard in the genre, so they’re an ideal place to start when you’re looking for inspiration.
Video: Arranging for a Jazz Ensemble: Part 1
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