Monday, November 02, 2009

Better halves

Darcy, in a post-CMJ hangover, comments on the lack of double-bills in jazz and why that is problematic for our continuous quest to rope in younger listeners. It's an issue I've run into in the past as well.

A group of like-minded Montreal musicians have attempted to stage double bills over the past few years: Miles Perkin and Sage Reynolds briefly helmed the Mont-Royal Composers Forum, which would showcase new works and bands; Jon Lindhorst of Turtleboy, Alex Lefaivre of Parc-X and yours truly have all organized multi-band shows to varying degrees of success. I like double-bills for a number of reasons. From an artist's perspective, it's always a great hang and I enjoy seeing what my colleagues are doing. I tailor my setlist based on my knowledge of the other band's music, and I find sets from both bands are generally stronger because we can deliver a set full of solid tunes instead of having to fill two or three sets of older tunes or covers or what have you. Obviously, as we all mature as musicians and write more music, both the "strong" pile and the "reject" pile will grow. As an audience member, everything that makes the double-bill enjoyable from an artist's perspective is shared with the audience. If the band is playing stronger material in a concise setting, then it's a better presentation all around. If non-jazz fans happen to stumble in, the commonalities and differences between the two bands might serve as a tutorial to the breadth of modern jazz.

Attracting non-jazz fans is another benefit of double-bills. I can only speak from experience in Montreal, but most of these double-bills have occurred in decidedly non-jazz venues. As much as I love playing at the bona fide jazz rooms, the walk-in traffic that some indie venues (like Casa del Popolo or Green Room) have is truly special and one of the only ways jazz can grow its audience. As Darcy mentions in his CMJ postscript, venues have their own reputation and their own following. If two people walk into one of my shows at Casa del Popolo, people that would never set foot in Upstairs, and they enjoy my music, then it's a victory. We find ourselves staging double-bills in these non-jazz venues because jazz clubs operate in a very specific manner; their clientele has come to expect a night at Jazz Club X to unfold in a certain way. It's difficult to break that mould, especially for a one-night-only affair.

The other benefit, if all goes as planned, is introducing one band's audience to the other band. Sometimes, if both bands are local and of similar aesthetic, the audiences overlap anyway. But if not, then so much the better for everyone involved.


d0nnatr0y said...

As I commented on Darcy's post, I'm a big fan of double-bills, esp. in non-trad jazz venues. Its almost as if setting up a show like that gives automatic permission to the audience to relax as these types of shows are usually less formal than your average pay a cover, pay a food/drink minimum, and be noticed if you make any movement (or dare you dance a bit!)jazz gigs.

I would book my band to a double bill in a heartbeat- even if it meant I had to play less material! I'd welcome getting sharing the advertising responsibilities and hopefully meeting new audience.

Likewise, I'd be more likely to attend a show with 2 bands, just for the fun of variety!

Adam said...

careful where that leads to...

ever played montreal pop festival?
out come the jackals. In Ott, for instance, this kind of squeeze contributed to the dissolving of the music scene in the 90's.. you pay to play. Wake up 10 years later and nobody wants to play.

jazz festivals have opening acts, and make it work... but..their contribution to the music scene is a big controversial subject

Ryshpan said...

Adam, I disagree. I understand where you're coming from, with the pay-to-play slots in rock clubs. I'm from Toronto so I'm familiar with that situation as well. Pop Montreal is structured the same way as CMJ, with multiple bands per showcase, and I think it's fairly effective in terms of audiences being exposed to different bands. Whether the matchups always work is a different story.

As Josh mentioned in a comment on Darcy's blog, there are venues in Brooklyn like Spike Hill and Brooklyn Lyceum that have multiple bands per night in small slots.

The jazz fest sporadically has opening acts, it's true. I first saw Yaron Herman as an unannounced opener for Francois Bourassa at the Spectrum (RIP). But I think the discussion here is about bands on the bottom floor of a scene organizing double bills year round.

Adam Daudrich said...

"pay to play" more generally like: after equipment, van rentals, etc...

I wonder what makes the bottom floor so "bottom"!?

Josh Rager said...

I think its pretty safe to say that if you're paying to play or just breaking even on gigs that these are vanity projects. They might be essential to our artistry to get our own music out there but they're kind of like having a drug habit: you're going to need to figure a way out to keep it financially viable. On the other hand I'd like to see the people involved the various music scenes (namely the jazz community in Montreal) pony up a little more to keep this thing going. I especially like supported self-produced concerts because I know that my $ is going more directly towards the musicians themselves.