From the jazz cabarets of Paris in the 1920s, to the hard bop of Miles Davis’ 1950s New York, to the underground acid jazz parties of 1980s London, jazz bands have the rare ability of leaving a crowd simultaneously danced-out, dazzled, and always wanting more.
The term ‘jazz band’ covers a lot of ground. Jazz bands come in a variety of sizes, and each will usually focus on a certain genre, or combine a few within their repertoire—these genres include swing, Dixieland/traditional, standards, contemporary, blues, free, acid, and plenty more.
With so much choice, it can be hard to know where to start! In this guide, we’ll demystify things, making the process of choosing and booking a jazz band simple and easy.
What are the different types of jazz?
Jazz is an extraordinarily wide-ranging musical label—just glancing at the range of jazz sub-genres can be a dizzying experience. On Encore, we have a diverse range of jazz bands, but the main types will usually fall into one of the following popular categories:
Swing jazz bands: this type of band focuses on the music of musicians/composers like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller. This music became famous in the 1930s and 1940s—it was also re-invigorated in the 1950s and 1960’s by Nat King Cole, and the ‘Rat Pack’, which included singers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The most popular sub-genre of swing is gypsy jazz, popularised by the virtuoso guitarist, Django Reinhardt (who only played with his thumb, and two fingers!)
Traditional jazz bands: also known as Dixieland jazz, or ragtime, this genre sprang up on the West Coast of the United States as a reaction to the success of swing in Chicago. This style of jazz doesn’t normally use saxophones, focusing more on the clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and even the banjo and tuba at times. Artists like Sidney Bechet, Joe “King” Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton brought wider recognition to this style with their incredible compositions and stylish soloing.
Jazz standards bands: you know when you hear a jazz piece, and you’re certain you’ve heard it before? It was probably a jazz standard! These tunes have become a part of the jazz canon, and are the bedrock of a jazz musician’s education. They are drawn from the Great American Songbook, as well as popular Broadway/Hollywood musicals—songs include Autumn Leaves, The Girl from Ipanema, So What, and Take Five, among many others. The tunes are normally very melodic, and will often include a singer (or an instrument will play the singer’s melody).
Post-modern jukebox bands: definitely the newest of the genres we’ve mentioned so far; these bands reimagine pop classics, playing them in a variety of jazz styles. Popularised by the band, ‘Postmodern Jukebox’, in 2011, this style has grown rapidly, and many bands are now providing fresh jazz-tinged versions of not only pop, but all manner of genres, from hip-hop to country. This style of jazz is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it before!
Not sure what style you want? Start by checking out the videos in this blog, and if you’re hungry for more, head to Encore’s jazz band category page and listen to different bands’ audio/video clips to get ideas of which styles you like. You can even filter by location to find bands near you!
Would a jazz band suit my event?
Jazz bands come in all shapes and sizes—so depending on that context, they can either perform background music or play a headline performance.
For most jazz bands, a background performance is the natural choice, and would be well-suited to black-tie events, like corporate dinners, or charity events. Jazz musicians are masters of keeping the music lively, while not being so loud as to take over conversation.
However, with the rise of post-modern jukebox, jazz bands are also being used more and more for headline performances. These performances are designed to get guests up on their feet and dancing during the evening party at a wedding or function. So, if you’re after a band who mix the roaring 20s with the swinging 60s with the naughty 90s, this’ll be your go-to!
How many people are in a jazz band?
Jazz band sizes range from trios to a full 20-person band—how many people you want in the band will be completely up to you, and should be chosen based on the mood, or tone, you want to set at the event. A trio or quartet might be the perfect solution for a low-key dinner or tea-party, whereas a large 15–20 person big band would be nicely suited for a street party or awards ceremony.
Most groups can be flexible about the size in order to suit your budget and needs.
How much space does a jazz band need?
As above, jazz bands really do come in a range of sizes, so how much space they’ll need will depend on how many musicians will be performing.
As a general guide, each musician will need about 1.5m x 1.5m, while the drummer/pianist may need a little more, about 2m x 2m. For a trio, about 3m x 3m would be required, while a 7 piece band would need a space of about 6m x 4m.
More space is always better than less, so it’s a good idea to speak to your venue about your space requirements; they should be able to assist with making sure your band is well provided for on this front. The band will also be give you a precise idea of how much room they’ll need, taking into consideration equipment (if they’re using a PA system or lights).
What equipment do I need to provide?
The band will need enough electrical sockets to hook up all the amplification equipment: about three or four sockets should do. They may also need chairs without arms.
Do I need a PA system?
Most jazz bands will bring their own amplification, but if your venue is regularly used for live music, they may be able to use the existing venue PA system.
Do I need to provide food?
Musicians will appreciate bottled water and tea/coffee/biscuits upon arrival. Meals are always welcome, though generally not required unless your event is at dinner-time.
Can a jazz band play outside?
Yes, as long as the weather is warm enough and adequate shelter (a gazebo or marquee that completely covers the group) and a power source is provided. Be sure to tell the musicians if they are expected to play outside as it will affect their preparations!
What dress code can I expect?
Jazz bands will usually dress to suit the style of the music—cocktail dresses or gowns for the ladies, and smart suits/tuxes for the men. They can also wear performance blacks if that would be preferred.
Do I need to provide a keyboard?
Most jazz ensembles will readily provide their own keyboard, but may be able to use the venue piano so long as it is in good repair and in-tune.
How long will the jazz band play for?
Jazz band sets are usually 45–50 minutes long, with a 10–15 minute break between sets; the most common length for a full performance is 2 hours. The short break between sets gives them time a chance to catch their breath, re-tune, and ultimately, keep the music going for longer! Start-times will normally revolve around catering, and should be planned with the venue/event organiser to make sure the band are scheduled to start at an appropriate time.
Do I need to provide parking?
Yes, the band will generally have a lot of kit to transport, unless they specify otherwise. If there is no parking near the door, they will need to be able to unload and then move the car.
How long does setup and sound-check take?
Roughly an hour for a quartet, and about 90 minutes for a 7+ piece band. This will give them time to load in their gear, get warmed up, and sound-check.
-Charlie Bates, Jazz Time
What are the most popular traditional/Dixieland pieces for jazz bands?
- I’ll Take That New Orleans Music – Sidney Bechet
- High Society – Kid Ory
- When The Saints Go Marching In – Bunk Johnson
- Wild Man Blues – Jelly Roll Morton
- Bugle Call Rag – Billy Banks
- New Orleans Stomp – Johnny Dodds
- Twelfth Street Rag – Louis Armstrong
- Ballin’ The Jack – Eddie Condon
What are the most popular swing pieces for jazz bands?
- In The Mood – Glenn Miller
- Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman
- Take The “A” Train – Duke Ellington
- On the Sunny Side of the Street – Count Basie
- Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Fats Weller
- I’ll Never Smile Again – Tommy Dorsey
- Satin Doll – Duke Ellington
What are the most popular standards for jazz bands? (including the most popular interpretation):
- Take Five – Dave Brubeck
- ‘Round Midnight – Thelonius Monk
- So What – Miles Davis
- Summertime – Ella Fitzgerald
- My Funny Valentine – Chet Baker
- My Favourite Things – John Coltrane
- The Girl From Ipanema – Joao Donato/Stan Getz
- Body and Soul – Coleman Hawkins
- Misty – Erroll Garner
- Caravan – Duke Ellington
- All The Things You Are – Charlie Parker
- In A Sentimental Mood – Art Tatum
- Autumn Leaves – Cannonball Adderley
What are the most popular pop pieces for jazz bands (i.e., post-modern jukebox covers)?
- My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
- All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor
- Single Ladies – Beyonce
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
- You Give Love A Bad Name – Jon Bon Jovi
- Oops!… I Did It Again – Britney Spears
- Mr Brightside – The Killers
- Wonderwall – Oasis
- Umbrella – Rihanna
Can the jazz band play my favourite song / take requests?
Absolutely!Most jazz bands know a huge range of music, so make sure you check their song list first, as your request might just be there.
Otherwise, let the band know early; in the unlikely event they’re not already familiar with your song, they will need adequate time to prepare. While most bands will learn an extra song for free, please be aware that some may charge for this extra service (especially if you’d like them to learn multiple new songs!)
How far in advance should I book?
We recommend booking as soon as you can, especially if you have any special musical requests.
However, last-minute bookings happen all the time at Encore, and we can easily find you a jazz band at short notice if needed!
What’s the typical price for a jazz band?
For a standard 2x 45min performance, you can expect to pay approximately:
- £150 per person for a hobbyist or student band
- £220 per person for a professional band
- £300+ per person for a high-end luxury band
These prices are based on thousands of quotes that jazz bands have made through the Encore platform; they are intended to give you an idea of starting prices, rather than a precise costing.
For a more comprehensive overview of jazz band prices, including information on seasonality, travel considerations, and types of jazz band performances, read our comprehensive Jazz Band Price Guide here: How much does it cost to hire a jazz band? UK 2018 Price Guide
Do I have to pay travel fees/porterage?
You may have to factor in travel costs if the band is not local. Most bands have a set radius from their home (generally 15-20 miles) and charge extra for any travel outside that area. We have jazz bands all over the country, so we can usually find someone close to your location.
The standard rate is 45p/mile per person so if the band needs to travel 50 miles each way, that’s an additional £45/person for 100 miles of travel. This amount is included as a rough guide—each band will set their own fees.
Because there is so much equipment to carry, bands will usually charge a porterage fee to cover the delivery and setup. Some groups will quote porterage and travel separately from their own fee while others will simply charge a lump sum.
How do I handle contracts and payment?
The easiest way to handle contracts and payment is to book through Encore. Our bookings process is extremely straightforward, and once you have confirmed a booking with your chosen band, contracts and payments will be handled painlessly and effortlessly by our secure payments system. To discuss booking a jazz band, please email [email protected].
Ready to book?
Hopefully this guide answers all of your questions! If you have more questions about jazz bands, email us at [email protected] and we’d be more than happy to help.
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