Why New Year’s is the worst gigging night for jazz musicians

I don’t claim to speak for every single jazz musician on this subject, although the title of this post might cause you to think that.  The reason it might cause you to think that is because the title is intentionally misleading you to think I am speaking on behalf of all jazz musicians, with the hopes a provocative title would compel you to read a little further down the page, which has brought you to this disclaimer.  Now that you’re here, I hope you keep reading and I think you will, so you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time for reading this far down without actually getting to the point of the post, which will be quite good once I actually get around to making it.

New Year’s Eve might be the only night of the year when the demand for live music matches or even exceeds the supply of capable musicians, which is why traditionally the pay rate goes through the roof on that evening only.  It’s a cash cow for so many of us, and for some it is a much needed Christmas bonus that is counted on to bolster a player’s income at the end of the year.

Monetary considerations aside, getting hired to play a New’s Year gig can have a psychological benefit, for being asked to play on one of the busiest nights of the year and getting paid a lot to do so can validate an artist’s self-worth and contribution to society as a member of the workforce, rather than how we normally view ourselves, as parasitic leeches that feed of the excesses of a corporate, corpulent nation.  Just kidding!  Actually no, I’m not!

So the flip side of that fat coin is when no one calls.  Now, you are poor and unemployed, the opposite of a working musician, a pathetic excuse for a life form and also pretty low on the food chain, not even fit for consumption by higher life forms.  Why are you even a musician?  No one will even hire you on the busiest night of the year, why would anyone want your services on other nights?  You are soooo lame.  Lame-o.

Under those two black and white scenarios are varying shades of grey, probably less than fifty of them and certainly not as fun.  Let’s say you get a call to play a gig on New Year’s for x dollars, x being a decent amount on any given night other than New Year’s.  Do you take the gig?  Maybe you’re insulted that any club would try to pull that shit on you, knowing what the going rate is.  Maybe you’re going to demure as a gesture of solidarity to the sanctity of a musician’s right to earn an exorbitant wage on at least one night of the year.  Maybe you’re just happy that someone actually called you to work.  Maybe x amount of dollars will help you get your credit card debt a little more under control.  So many things factor into this decision!

Or maybe you just simply take the gig, and then bail on your commitment when someone else calls with a gig that pays x times 3 or 4.  Do you feel bad?  Maybe you do that all year long anyway, which is fine, because at least you are consistent and people know you tend to do that.  Maybe you do it and feel some smug satisfaction knowing you screwed over a place who was too cheap to pay some real dough.  You might say to yourself, “good luck finding another chump like me who was willing to play your shitty gig, losers!  Hey wait a minute…”

So now you have the right gig and the right dollar amount.  What has that money bought the club in terms of your services?  In other words, now that you’ve whored yourself out, what sort of things will you be asked to perform?  Obviously you need to relearn the melody to Auld Lang Syne.  More holiday music?  Terrible and muddled arrangements of rock covers?  Will you be constantly asked to play music that is more upbeat?  And then asked to turn the volume down a little bit?  Do you have to wear a tux?  Is your bandleader mad that your pink tie is not the same color as the red tie he asked you to wear?  Are you playing with people you don’t know, or with people you do know but dislike very much?

When we do gigs just for money, we surrender our artistic integrity, sell it to the highest bidder and pledge fealty to the almighty dollar.  How do we feel about that?  We expect to be asked to do things we don’t feel comfortable doing, and we hope that the evening is over early so we can go home and have a drink.  It’s just one night out of the year, right?

If you haven’t already, from the tone of this email you can deduce the message is really for those of you who are not working New Year’s eve.  If you’re not working you will probably spend the evening at home or at another social gathering, feeling happy you’re not working but also feeling a little sad that you are not a musician this evening, and maybe feeling a little broke for missing out on a big payout.  If that is you, take heart!  We have a solution…

We’ve decided to throw a New Year’s party for musicians.

If you show up at Blue Whale in Downtown LA on December 31st, you will find many other musicians hanging out, enjoying an adult beverage, and getting together to play music for fun.  We welcome anyone who comes with a festive spirit and an instrument and a superior knowledge of jazz harmony.  Which is, of course, all of you, except for those of you who don’t play music but love to listen to it, and you should come as well.  Help us to ring in the New Year on our terms!

And to those of you who are playing this New Year’s, congratulations, you won!  You can ignore what you just read and be glad that you’re going to be rich, filthy rich.  And if you want to drop by after your gig, you are also welcome.  Just be sure to buy drinks the rest of us.

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