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  How Jazz Works, part 2

Greg Vail

How Jazz Works, part 2

HOW JAZZ WORKS How Jazz Works," by Bill Anschell ( ...Picking the Next Tune

Every time a tune ends, someone has to pick a new one. That's a fundamental concept that, unfortunately, runs at odds with jazz group processes. Tune selection makes a huge difference to the musicians. They love to show off on tunes that feel comfortable, and they tremble at the threat of the unknown. But to pick a tune is to invite close scrutiny: "So this is how you sound at your best. Hmm..." It's a complex issue with unpredictable outcomes. Sometimes no one wants to pick a tune, and sometimes everyone wants to pick a tune. The resulting disagreements lead to faction-building and, under extreme conditions, even impromptu elections. The politics of tune selection makes for some of the session's best entertainment.

Example 1: No one wants to pick a tune

(Previous tune ends) (Silence) Trumpet player: "What the f#@*? Is someone gonna to pick a tune?" (Silence) Trumpet player: "This s%!* is lame. I'm outa here." (Storms out of room, forgetting to pay tab). Rest of band (in unison): "Yes!!!" (Band takes extended break, puts drinks on trumpet player's tab).

Example 2: Everyone wants to pick a tune

…resulting in impromptu election and eventual tune selection (Previous tune ends) (Pianist and Guitarist simultaneously): "Beautiful Love!"/"Donna Lee!" Guitarist to Pianist: "You just want to play your fat, stupid ten-note chords!" Pianist to Guitarist: "You just want to play a lot of notes really fast!" Saxophonist: "'Giant Steps'." (A treacherous Coltrane tune practiced obsessively by saxophonists.) Guitarist and Pianist (together): "Go ahead, a**hole." Trumpet player: "This s*** is lame. 'Night in Tunisia'." (A Dizzy Gillespie tune offering bounteous opportunities for loud, high playing.) Saxophonist: "Sorry, forgot my earplugs, Maynard." (Long, awkward silence) Pianist, Guitarist, Saxophonist, Trumpet player all turn to Drummer: "Your turn, Skinhead." (Drummer pauses to think of hardest possible tune; a time-tested drummer ploy to punish real musicians who play actual notes.) Drummer: "Stablemates." Trumpet player: F#@* this! I'm outta here." (Storms out of room. Bartender chases after him.) ("Stablemates") Trombonist: "Did someone forget to turn off the CD player?"

Not only are these disagreements fun to watch; they create tensions that will last all through the night.

As an educated audience member, you might want to keep a flow chart diagramming the shifting alliances. You can also keep statistics on individual tune-calling. Under no circumstances, though, should you take sides or yell out song titles. Things are complicated enough already.

Copyright 2001, Bill Anschell


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