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3 Ways to Get Jazz Gigs

When it comes to becoming a better jazz musician, we all know that we need to spend time in the practice room. We have to hone our craft, get to know our instrument better, and learn jazz language.

But when it comes down to it, there is no substitution for getting onto the bandstand and just playing. The real education comes from getting out there and putting the stuff you’ve been working on in the practice room to action.

It’s important that jazz musicians host or go to jam sessions, and it’s important that jazz musicians start playing gigs. I’ve played hundreds of gigs, and I can tell you first hand that gigs have helped me improve far more than any amount of hours in the practice room. Practice in seclusion is important, but social practice (gigs) are essential for jazz improvement.

It’s not hard to sell the idea of playing gigs. I’m sure that you either play gigs already or want to play gigs. Most of us get into jazz or any music because we want to perform. Playing music for yourself can be fun, but playing it for and with others is so much better.

But how do we get these gigs (or how do we get more of them)?

Here are three ways to get jazz gigs, and some tips on how to make them effective.

1. Hustle.

This is a good one to start with. It seems obvious, but it’s also the one that not many are inclined to do. Get out there on the streets and hustle some gigs.

Of course, it could be a literal going on the streets and knocking on doors, or it could be phone calls. The idea is if you want a gig and don’t want to wait for it to come to you, you have to go get it.

Now, the concept is simple enough. Head out to restaurants, bars, clubs and other venues you think may be good candidates for live jazz and ask them for the gig. But it’s never that simple. How are you going to sell the idea? When you get in contact with the venue owner, here’s the questions you need to be able to answer:

How is live jazz going to improve my business?

How can I be sure the money spent on paying the band will give me a return?

These are going to be the venue owners top concerns if he or she has never done music before. Turn off the musician and turn on your inner business person. Come up with good answers to those questions.

Speaking with someone in person is always the best way to go. Don’t drop off a business card and think you’ll get a call back. You won’t. A phone call is the next closest, but still not ideal.

Once you have met the venue owner and pitched your idea, be sure to follow up. Get email addresses and preferably phone numbers.

2. Network.

Of course, if you want to get gigs and not hustle them yourself, you need to network. You need to meet other jazz musicians and get to know them. This is not a revolutionary idea. This works in any industry. But if you can tap into a network of jazz musicians, there are bound to be those who have gigs they need other musicians for.

Where better to meet other musicians than at jam sessions? Find a public jam session near you (Google it) and start showing up. But don’t just show up once and say you tried, make yourself a regular.

This is how you develop relationships, and genuine relationships are what matter. It matters that you are a good player, but your talent matters far less in comparison to building friendships.

To this day, the musicians I hire are my friends. They are all great players, but the reason I hire them instead of some superstar musician in town is because I genuinely enjoy their company. And they return the favor to me as well. It’s not all about business, it’s about creating relationships and the rest will follow.

You can also combine hustling and networking together. Pitch a jazz jam session to a venue owner. Now you get paid to be in the house band, and you are drawing other musicians into a community.

3. Make a gig from scratch.

This one bypasses the need to hustle (convince someone to give you a gig) and the need to network. Make your own gig.

This is where an entrepreneur will thrive. Think of how you can get people to show up to a performance, have a good time, and pay you for it.

This can come in many different forms. It could be a performance where you are the main focus, or it could be an event that has live jazz as the side event. You could host the gig at a venue, at a house, or even online.

Classic example: a house party. Throw a party, provide a little bit of food and make it BYOB. Charge a $5-10 cover to cover food costs and to pay the band. Most people will have no problem doing that for a nice Friday night out.

Or you could do something that is more focused on the performance, such as host an actual concert.

The trick to this one is you need to have some marketing skills. You need to have an audience of people to target, and you need to know how to spread the word. You need to be able to make your gig appealing to your target audience.

Thinking outside the box and getting inventive can go a long way. Have any gigs from scratch that you’ve done? Leave a comment below.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


    • Hi Dave, thanks for reaching out! I'm not sure that I've found in my experience a magic formula for getting a hold of the right people. But I would say if it's possible to get a manager or owner on the phone first to confirm if he/she is even interested in live music, that would be a first step and then suggest a meeting or a trial run. I do have a lot to say about marketing and that side of being a musician, but it would be difficult for me to explain it all here. Certainly, make sure that you have a professional looking website, and promo materials to send people to for whatever your end goal is. I once got a book deal, and honestly, I think it was largely in part to having a professional looking operation. Perception is important! Hope that helps.

  1. Hey Brent!

    Good info as always. I live in Duluth, GA – a suburb of Atlanta. I have some thoughts on going in person to talk to a restaurant owner/club owner. I've talked to several people who tell me to show up in person, but I feel like I need to qualify a prospect before taking an afternoon to visit in person. Lately, I've been compiling restaurant email addresses, and sending mass emails. I've gotten a couple of leads, but nothing yet. Do you have any ideas of qualifying prospects before making a trip?

    Also, do you have any information of getting your ducks in a row regarding website, promo materials? The last several years, I've been focusing almost exclusively on marketing for my teaching practice, so I'm a bit behind on the gig side of things.

    Thanks – love all of your content!
    Dave Lockwood


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