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02 November 2009



I've always lamented the fact that opening bands don't seem to work in the jazz world. Your points about why they don't occur for us are all valid, but damn, I'd be so excited if I got to hear Donny McCaslin's group AND Maria Schneider on the same night! In fact, I'd probably rather hear one set of each than two sets of both, not because I dislike either, but because, well, its just more fun! And I'd be much more willing to hear New Artist X if all I had to do is show up early to Favorite Artist Y's show and not pay an additional cover. But you are right- with the absence of record labels supporting either artists, its extremely impractical.

Then again... many of us play for hardly anything anyway. Perhaps a little tag-team effort may not be such a bad idea...

Josh Sinton

Hi Darcy,

"...there's the simple fact that jazz and classical shows virtually never include opening acts."

I agree with you regarding touring acts, but what about local shows? Specifically, multi-band bills. Things ranging from what you yourself produced at the Bell House a few weeks ago to what happens at Spike Hill in Williamsburg on Sunday night, or Small's on most nights of the week (or even the shows I've been programming here). How really different are these from opening act/main attraction type shows?

On almost any night of the week in New York you can hear a new or different band just by going to one of these types of events. Multi-band bills are much more the norm in jazz now (at least at the entry level stage of things) and sure, it's not a night at the Vanguard or the Jazz Standard, but it's usually a lot cheaper, looser and generally speaking, more fun.

Maybe instead of looking for the guaranteed "star" attraction every night, people can once a week, or even once a month go and check out the completely random, unknown band playing around the corner from them.


Hi Josh,

I would count you as among those few who are swimming against the tide!

Spike Hill isn't primarily a jazz venue, so it's a natural thing for them to feature multi-band bills on their jazz series. I don't know that I'd call what happens at Smalls a multi-band bill -- those strike me more as your standard jazz show (with two sets per band, etc), except they don't generally clear the room between groups, so you can stay if you want. Which is great, of course! But they also don't really present complimentary artists on the same bill, nor do they have the opener-headliner dynamic that would help to build the audience for emerging artists.

Josh Sinton

"Spike Hill isn't primarily a jazz venue, so it's a natural thing for them to feature multi-band bills on their jazz series."

O.K., but still they do it. And there are other people following 'truer' versions of multiple-band bills like Ryan Snow in Bushwick, the folks at I-Beam in Park Slope, Mike Pride's Body Without Organs series, the gentlemen running NOWT records and their monthly series, Lily Maase's Monduna shows and Bethany Ryker at Barbes. The point is, this stuff is starting to happen already. What's not happening is audience support for these things.

And that starts with musicians. I can't remember the last time a musician talked excitedly about the other bands they were sharing a bill with. Nor can I remember too many occasions when musicians playing on the same bill showed up/stayed to hear each other. It's simple: if we musicians stick around to listen to each other, non-musicians are going to wonder what the crowds are all about and they in turn will stick around. People stick around and Voila! You've got an event that people will return to.


"I can't remember the last time a musician talked excitedly about the other bands they were sharing a bill with. Nor can I remember too many occasions when musicians playing on the same bill showed up/stayed to hear each other."

I was pretty thrilled with both of our recent multi-band events and wouldn't have dreamed of skipping out on the parts I wasn't directly involved in, but I assume the "present company excluded" goes without saying!

Ben Wolfson

A previous comment to similar effect seems to be trapped in the spam queue, presumably owing to a surfeit of links, but:

(a) it doesn't really make sense to say that it makes sense for a venue to have multi-band bills because it's not primarily a jazz venue. There are plenty of places I can think of that aren't primarily jazz venues but which have single-artist/band bills, and I don't see why having other bills with multiple bands somehow makes it make sense for the same venue to keep that practice up when they've got jazzers on the bill.

(b) Contrariwise, the vast majority of the jazz/improv concerts I attend do have multiple-group bills, the exceptions being the venues that almost never do that no matter who's playing and occasional single-entry bills at venues—including those that are primarily or exclusively jazz and improv-oriented—that usually do multi-entry bills. I was just at one, in fact. "Your standard jazz show" with two sets by the same performers has been comparatively rarer. This may be a function of the fact that I go to cheapo shows at mostly rinky-dink venues, but presumably isn't solely that because there are lots of equally rinky-dink (sorry, Hungry Brain!) places in Chicago that hew more closely to the two-set model. NYC I can't speak to, but the SIMM Series, the Luggage Store Gallery Series, 21 Grand, Blue Six, the free (as in costless) jazz nights at the Uptown and the Make-Out Room, concerts at Scott Looney's house, and Flux 53 have, in the main, multi-artist bills.

(c) It's still true that even in those cases there isn't really an opener/headliner dynamic, even when the person/group that plays last is much more famous than those who play first, partly because, let's face it, John Butcher is more famous than Damon Smith, but he ain't that famous. Ornette Coleman may have been able to take The Bad Plus touring with him, and probably The Bad Plus could do something similar for another group, but there just aren't enough big draws for that dynamic to happen even if groups regularly played together. (As they do!) But, aside from the fact that it would be swell if there were more groups that drew lots of people, I don't really see what the problem here is. You go see one person/group, you'll hear some others. The opener/headliner dynamic can only exist where one group can actually headline. But if I say "let's see Blue Cranes tonight", and get someone to go along, they'll still also hear Marches (or whatever, I believe that was the bill the last time the Blue Cranes were here). And potentially be surprised. These seem like orthogonal issues.

(d) Likewise, whether or not there's something like CMJ for jazz probably only makes sense in the context of New York. There's nothing like CMJ for rock in lots of places. And there are plenty of jazz festivals, even forward-looking jazz festivals, about. One's taking place in just a few days: <http://umbrellamusic.org/2009FestPR.html>. Wish I could go; I'd probably be surprised. There's Other Minds in SF. There are actually multiple such things in SF and Chicago, admittedly on a smaller scale than CMJ or SXSW, but hey, it's a significantly smaller scene. Surely—surely!—there exist like shit in nyc.


And there are plenty of jazz festivals, even forward-looking jazz festivals, about.

YES! This whole conversation excites me.
I am actually setting up a one night festival here in Salt Lake City. There are a lot of great young players here making really amazing music (and actually drawing good crowds!), and I can't wait for all of them to get together and make some noise! I've been working hard trying to get something that resembles a budget for this so we can bring out some "well known" (at least to me!) artists to play some music.

Anyway, the notion of this kind of music spreading across the country is exciting to me--as a musician from Salt Lake City, it is cool to see.

*sorry if this message is garbled. i'm posting this from work! haha



How doesn't it make sense? My point was that the jazz establishment doesn't do opening bands. Opening bands are not the norm at any major jazz club in town (Vanguard, Blue Note, Birdland, Iridium, Jazz Standard, etc) -- this is ingrained in the way these kinds of venues work and it would be difficult if not impossible for any artist to change that.

Opening bands aren't the norm at concert hall performances or at ticketed indoor performances at jazz festivals, either. There are exceptions -- when I was growing up, the Vancouver Jazz Festival always used to try to pair a complimentary local artist with the national headliner -- but they are, you know, exceptions.

On the other hand, at a venue like Spike Hill, the whole model is "new band every hour" and they are not going to want to deviate from that regardless of what kind of music those bands play.


I've been lucky that the theater near where I live (in central New Jersey) does do quite a few double bills in their jazz series during the year and it's very effective in introducing a lot of younger jazz musicians to the blue-haired (and not so blue-haired) people in the audience. In recent years I've seen Luciana Souza open for McCoy Tyner, Taylor Eigsti (on the eave of his first big record release) open for the SF Jazz Collective, and Chris Potter open for John Scofield, among others. The theater also does some genre bending bills, like Christopher O'Reilly and the Bad Plus playing the music of Radiohead. I've started to see these kinds of bills pop up at the big performing arts center in Newark as well, like Branford Marsalis with Maria Schneider and Cassandra Wilson with Esperanza Spalding. It would great if concert halls elsewhere would program in this way, but it's certainly much more difficult for venues farther away from big jazz communities to coordinate tour schedules and bring busy jazz musicians out there in the first place. So while the unfortunate economic realities of jazz make opening acts a difficult proposition, it's at least nice to see the practice exists in places where it is logistically feasible.


It isn't impossible to change this paradigm. The answer is to play our music outside of the context of the regular jazz venues (The Vanguard, The Standard, The Gallery, etc). The point is to change the way things are done and the way in which people approach your work, not change the systems that are set in place. If it is within your power to book your groups in places that will allow a double bill, do it. You'd be doing the jazz community as well as the world outside of it a favor by pulling your work from the dungeon and into the light where people can see and hear it. Search and Restore is certainly making a heroic effort. They are swimming against the tide, as you say, but the esoteric aspects of the music they promote work against them. I feel that this question remains: What kind of culture exists around our music and how close is is to the kind of culture that we want?


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