Monday, July 26, 2010

Keep the Customer Happy

They're usually fairly ordinary themselves as musicians, not one of the better players, but they often get the better players to at least give their band an occasional shot- if only by virtue of the fact that they have more gigs to go around. After all, they are, more often than not, one of the busier players. Always seem to be working someplace- even if you have to drive 100 miles to get there.

One such bandleader boasts a 35-year career when he talks to the people on his gigs. Maybe there's no Carnegie Hall performance in there, but still, in terms of pure longevity, something to be said here. Still in there pitching, and still getting hired. Their basic philosophy: give the people what they want. Keep the customer happy.

As a musician, this has never been my basic philosophy. I like to share, to entertain folks, but more out of sharing what makes me happy than giving them what makes them happy.

Man, I sound like a real asshole, don't I? Sometimes when you explain your approach to a situation it illuminates what feels like a basic selfishness. But then, sharing what makes me happy is a more benevolent act, much kinder than sharing something I really think stinks but am pretending to like for your sake as the listener. And more honest. So I'm at least an asshole with a heart. Someplace.

Case in point: my setlist. I try and play for the people there, but there are things I stay away from unless asked to do so. Old warhorses like Satin Doll and The Girl from Ipanema, simply because they're old warhorses. And other tunes for different reasons: Take Five(cliche, not really much fun to play), Yackety Sax(insipid), New York New York(ditto).

I do get hired, for various functions, with the group and setlist I maintain. But I'm sure I'd get hired more often if we played some or all of those tunes I just mentioned. Why? Because that stuff is what the people want to hear!

It will probably never be my personal philosophy, but I gotta hand it to these guys. They keep going, for decade after decade, maybe not playing Carnegie Hall but always working- even if you have to drive 100 miles to get there. Still in there pitching, and getting paid for it. This may never be my approach as a bandleader, but as a sideman, so long as everyone's there to make the best music possible(however the material may challenge that effort), I'm cool with it.

This is all on the heels of a recent gig with such a band. Many different players to come and go, but always a semi-working unit, for at least 40 years. The job was 108 miles out of town, a long drive in clear weather but made damn near interminable having to drive through 3 severe rainstorms to get there. A moderate crowd showed up, undaunted by the rain, so we played the full 3 hours. It was a lot of material I probably wouldn't call on a gig(like Margaritaville), but it was stuff the crowd liked, and kept 'em dancing the whole time.

Huh. Maybe I'll dust of The Girl from Ipanema.

Well, probably not. But I still respect those guys for hanging in there.