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True Confessions of a Jazz Club Owner: Why Do We Hire Guitarists?



Breaking the Rules.  

Ten years ago, as a newcomer to the jazz hospitality industry, I quickly learned that there are rules to the game of booking artists. Somewhere in that unsung rulebook is a hierarchy that prioritizes the jazz quartet fronted by a saxophonist. That same rulebook all-but-ignores the jazz guitarist. I can’t tell you why that is–perhaps it has something to do with the history of big-band or the overlap between guitar and piano. Nevertheless, I must confess that over the years, The Velvet Note has broken with “true jazz” tradition and created a stage haven for many of the great jazz guitarists of our time, including Pat Martino, Larry Carlton, Chieli Minucci, Oz Noy, Mark Whitfield, Scott Henderson, Wayne Krantz, Grant Green, Jr., and others.

Why?  Here a few points to ponder:

Guitarist Configurations are Versatile and Budget Friendly.   

Once you’ve rented and hauled a full-sized Hammond B3 Organ in and out of your 30-seat jazz club, you come to appreciate performers with gear that is easy and inexpensive to manage. Trust me on this, or at least trust my back and my knees. Guitar gear is comparatively easy to get in and out of a venue and on and off the stage. If a specialty amp is required, it’s probably available in a shop close by, or in the home of an enthusiastic fan.

It’s my job to watch the bottom line of our club’s operations, and from a budget perspective, guitarists are an absolute dream. No guitarist has ever asked me to rent them a guitar as a condition of their performance–it would be like a model asking to borrow someone’s underwear for fashion week! An elegant duo of guitar and trumpet can be as much of a delight and draw on a Saturday night as a full sextet. And guitarists can perform with or without a piano, as a solo, duo, trio, quartet, and even with another guitarist on stage, which translates into a much-appreciated ability to flex on their fees, if needed.

Guitarists Bring Texture to the Show.  

In my experience, most guitarists have at least dabbled in other genres–rock, blues, country, classical, and beyond. Inasmuch, they often bring their diverse musical chops to the gig, helping them to stylistically relate to even the most novice of listeners. I’ve often observed audiences mesmerized by a guitarist who can incorporate elements that are unique and unexpected, who can play so quietly that the whispered shadow of their strings can be heard, or, in the next breath, rise up and rule the stage in boisterous triumph.

Guitarists are Sexy.  

Given the long tradition of sex-symboled guitar frontmen in modern music, it should come as no surprise that guitarists have a distinct advantage in the field of sexy stage presence. First and foremost, they aren’t barricaded behind a piano or drum kit, or hidden behind the horn in their mouths. They have the freedom to make direct eye contact with their audiences, to stalk and strut around the stage, and to pivot towards and away from the rest of the band and stage at-will. They can stand or sit, or do both during the show. And yes, there is something irresistible about a guitarist tenderly bowing his head toward the neck of his instrument, plucking his strings with masterful and deliberate fingerwork, and then raising his gaze ever-so-slightly to connect with an appreciative fan. Mmmmmmm…yeah, like that.

Guitar Fans are Passionate and Loyal.  

I believe that more than any other instrument, jazz fans identify with the subtle nuances specific to a guitar performance. This makes the artist easily recognizable and likely to develop followers who appreciate their specific, distinctive approach to the art. Our audiences are full of fans who have, themselves, dabbled in guitar and who can project their own fantasy of being in the role of the masterful performer that they wished they could have become, yet will never be. This kind of personified loyalty drives fans back again and again when their favorite guitarist hits the calendar. Also, supply and demand plays a role: since guitarists aren’t seen on the calendar with the kind of frequency with which we see pianists or saxophonists, guitar fans are often both thirsty and overjoyed to purchase tickets as soon as they go on sale.

As The Velvet Note rounds the bases to our tenth anniversary in 2022, I would like to express my gratitude to the great jazz guitarists who have headed up shows in our little living room. We look forward to the return of old friends, and to the opportunity to get to know many more.

Jimmy Herring, Wayne Krantz, Tamara Fuller and Keith Carlock

About the author: Tamara Fuller is the founder and owner of The Velvet Note in Alpharetta/Johns Creek, Georgia (Atlanta area). The Velvet Note is an award-winning, beautifully-appointed listening room, showcasing exceptional musical talent to the accompaniment of outstanding food, spirits and service.  The Velvet Note provides the feel of an intimate private concert.

Friday and Saturday, December 3rd and 4th: The Legendary Larry Carlton

Other upcoming shows at The Velvet Note.

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