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How I've Kept My Band Together For 3 Years

Recently I had two experiences that made me think about how fortunate I am to have a band that has been playing together for three years now. The first was an interview I did with Jason Crane for The Jazz Session, an online show focusing on in-depth interviews with jazz musicians. The second was seeing Chris Botti and his band (which I wrote about here), most of whom have been playing together for the better part of six years.

During the interview with Jason Crane, he asked me how I’ve been able to keep my band together for this long, which is pretty rare in the jazz world. I don’t remember exactly what my answer was (we’ll all find out when my interview goes live in the next couple weeks), but I remember thinking after the interview that I wanted to elaborate on the subject here.

First, Some History

The current line-up of my band, The Jason Parker Quartet, has been playing together since January 2007. Pianist Josh Rawlings joined the group earlier, and when I asked him to recommend a bassist and drummer to help us record our debut album, without hesitation he told me to hire Evan Flory-Barnes and D’Vonne Lewis. The three of them had been playing together in various groups for a while, and he knew that they could come in with a few rehearsals and help me turn out a great record. And that they did. I had no idea if we’d continue to play together after that, as all three of these cats are super busy and get called by just about everyone in town, from our local legends to up-and-comers. But lo and behold, I kept calling them for gigs and they kept saying yes! Since then we’ve played hundreds of gigs together, recorded three CD’s, and have really coalesced into a tight working band.

How I Treat My Band

From the beginning I knew this was a special rhythm section. I knew that if I could keep the band together long enough for us to develop a rapport it’d be something special. Here’s a few things I’ve done over the years that I believe have led to the longevity of the band:

Pay Them Fairly

As I said, these guys are all first-call musicians in Seattle, and I knew that I had to pay them what they were worth. I have much love and respect for them and never want them to feel under-appreciated or taken advantage of. So I pay them for every gig we play, out of my own pocket if I have to. I don’t tell you this to make myself sound like some kind of saint or martyr, but because I think it’s a big reason that they feel respected and appreciated in my band. And as I see it, it’s money well spent!

Provide Them With Material That is Unique to This Band.
I do what I can to make sure that we’re playing a varied repertoire of my originals, standards, not-so-standards, pop tunes and songs written by them too. If we were just playing the same old stuff, it wouldn’t be as interesting for them. Because we’ve developed our own book over the years, I think they get excited when we get to show it off.

Never Tell Them What to Play.
It’s always been my contention that people play best when they have some freedom to express themselves. Even though my name is on the band, I never wanted it to sound like me and some guys backing me. And with players that are as strong as these guys, I’d be foolish to try to make them play a certain way. Sure, I bring in the tunes and many of the arrangements, but I trust that they all know what the JPQ is about and will do whatever they can to play appropriately for the moment. I’ll admit that early on I was concerned that they had such strong musical personalities and that that might keep us from developing a group sound. But now I think it’s precisely because we all have our own personality that we’ve developed the sound we now have.

Get to Know Them as People.
I think it’s important that bands get to know eachother off the band stand as well as on. Over the years we’ve had the chance to spend lots of time together and really enjoy eachother’s company. As much as I love to play with these fellas, I also love to sit around the dinner table and talk about life. I consider each one of them my dear friend and I think this shows when we play, both in the music and in the rapport we exhibit on stage.

It’s About the Love

I realize that these things may not apply across the board. Some bands might need more direction, and others are 100% collaborative and will have a different sort of pay structure. But I hope you’ll take the spirit of these ideas to heart.

All in all, I believe keeping a band together comes down to the same thing that makes all relationships work: love and respect. If you play with people you love and show them every respect you can, they will feel good, you will feel good, the music will feel good and the audience will feel good. What more can you ask for? Wouldn’t you stick around in a situation like that?

Reader Comments (1)

I'm glad to see the first thing you do to maintain your band is to pay them fairly. I spend alot of time with the Fair Trade Music movement in Portland and I can't begin to tell you the variety of attitudes towards money we encounter. Especially the venue owners who think that they are providing bands a service rather than vice-versa. I'd love to get your thoughts on the phenomenon of "exposure", what it is really worth and whether you think you need to make another business money to obtain it.


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