Updated: Jan 3
People sometimes ask how we decide what songs the band will play.
It’s a great question: Out of the many thousands of possibilities, how does one pick that tiny subset that feels like the right match for a particular musical group?
I think the short answer is that it’s part pragmatism and part personal expression.
BRQ began the repertoire journey pragmatically.
Our initial list of songs was carefully designed to get us on our feet with about three sets worth of music that would provide a pleasing balance of jazz styles while still being mostly at least somewhat familiar to a general audience. That initial list consisted of some standards, some latin tunes, a few ballads, a little blues and a few mainstream jazz pieces – and, of course, “Happy Birthday.”
Once we got up and running, we continued adding tunes to those same categories, but also began bringing in pieces that one or more of us just particularly wanted to play. In other words, once we had a little breathing room, personal expression began playing a bigger role.
A few examples:
-- We added “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” because Ron had a strong feeling it would be a favorite with audiences. (He was right.)
-- We added “Days of Wine and Roses” because Rick especially enjoyed playing it, and it gave us another great standard to pull out.
-- We added “Secret Agent Man” because one day I started thinking about non-jazz tunes that would lend themselves naturally to being played in a jazz style. It’s fun to see the surprise on people’s faces when they recognize the melody.
We’ve also added pieces for the purpose of featuring individual players. This adds variety to the presentation and is fun for all concerned.
We have been fairly aggressive about bringing in new material. Typically we’ll have three or four new tunes to play every time we arrive at a gig, and I don’t expect this ever to change.
Having a constant stream of new tunes keeps everything fresh, keeps everyone interested, and keeps regular audience members from feeling like they’re hearing the same old stuff all the time. It also helps ensure that every engagement is unique, which is particularly appropriate for jazz.
One difficulty, of course, is that we can only play a certain number of tunes on any given engagement, so we always have to leave out some of our favorites in order to keep trying new things. The upside of that, however, is that those favorites continue to feel fresh when we get to them again on another date – like reuniting with old friends.
Do all the new tunes work?
Mostly they do, but it’s also true that sometimes a tune that seems interesting in the abstract, or that seemed exciting in rehearsal, just doesn’t feel quite engaging enough on the bandstand. And that’s fine; it can stay in the book and can always be available if someone happens to request it. Onward to the next tune.
One of the great things about having an ongoing band is that the possibilities in terms of repertoire are essentially unlimited. As long as the group continues to tackle new material, it can evolve and grow and surprise itself along with whoever is listening.
How much fun is that?