Untitled Document
Advertisement Click to advertise with us!

Playing, Performing, Entertaining


Old King Log
Staff member
This is a pet peeve of mine. I know a lot of folks who can do the first, significantly fewer who can do the second, and almost geometrically fewer who can achieve the third.


We all can play, at least to some degree, or we wouldn't be here in the first place. Mastery of the instrument, of reading music, and of functioning in a group constitute playing. It takes years, not a little practice, and some attention to mechanical issues along the way, but we're all players.

In a pinch, I can get by with a player to cover a part. They may be a little inflexible at first, but given a bit of time and a couple of rehearsals of the charts, they'll manage just fine.


Here, we've moved up a notch on the spectrum. Playing is part of performing, but only just a part. A "performer" has to be able to fit it all together, to change things on the fly if needed, to adapt to situations that are out of a player's 'comfort zone'. It means singing out on band vocals, being able to pick up the loose ends in a hurry if a vocalist skips a verse, and being able to work through an unfamiliar tune that someone requests without warning.

I have had some players who never move up to this point. They're the ones who just sit there after a tune is finished (instead of making it a priority to get the next tune up and ready), or who don't bother to master the ins and outs of a difficult chart. A lot of what's needed here is preparation - for example, a good vocalist "fills in" their knowledge on what is being performed, and can spout patter on their next tune to cover if there's a problem in the trombone section (where they always seem to occur).


Here's where things get transcendental. With a lot of effort, we become players. With a little more and some organization, we can attain the performer moniker. But, it takes a special person to become an 'entertainer'.

The ones that fall into this category are usually vocalists. Occasionally, you will find a sideman who has that special "something". It may be that he or she is not just "my funny buddy" but instead someone who knows how to be funny with a group of strangers. Or, they may be able to make the transition from engaging the audience vocally to engaging them with a horn.

But, anyone who can make this last leap is usually better off as a vocalist. For, no matter how good the notes are coming out of a horn, people usually relate better to someone who is communicating with them on their level. I know that vocalists are pretty far removed from blowing a horn, but vocalists are what the general public relate to when the concept of music is broached. They may not be able to play a note, but they can all sing (sort of).

I've known performers who are mediocre players when they are at their very best, but who can lock in the audience's attention, just from the way they move their eyes. It's a gift, one that I don't pretend to have as a musician.

(I can, however, handle a speaking assignment with the best of them. I did this during my day job for just over forty years, and it allows me to communicate with large numbers of people. Just don't ask me to sing anything other than Love Shack...)

I'm interested in hearing the thoughts of others on this. What experiences have you had in dealing with players, performers and entertainers?

pete thomas

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I'm interested in hearing the thoughts of others on this. What experiences have you had in dealing with players, performers and entertainers?
Very good post. I was "coerced" into the performance and entertainment side of things when I realised there was more money to be made, although perhaps that reflects on my failings as a player some might say.

The difference was one year playing in bands staring down at a music stand to the next year playing in stadiums joining in the Shanana type dance routines in a R & R showband.

I went on to front my own bands and a big inspiration was the antics of those great entertainers Dizzy Gillespie, Slim Gaillard, Louis Jordan and all the many great R & B bar walkers. You need a thick skin though, I found that although I still had pride in my playing abilities, I often felt looked down upon by some of my more serious jazz peers.


Old King Log
Staff member
No matter how good you are, there's always someone better. I gave up on worrying about that in high school, and resolved to be the best player that I could given the circumstances. I try to pay attention to details and fundamentals, and make sure that I'm good enough to allow my "front line" folks to shine against me as part of the backdrop.

When it comes to the jazz idiom, whilst all of you were off learning that stuff, I was popping tear gas rounds off in my M79 grenade launcher to keep the hookers away from our strongpoint. My musical learning experiences were (as it were) "on the job" experience on the boat and in the pit, where it was play the notes on the page, stick to the script/chart, and let the stage folks do the standing out. No changes, no chord studies, no music theory.

It makes it rough when I come upon a bari or clarinet solo with changes. (I can "sort of" manage blues on the bass clarinet.) However, since I control the arranging, I just get them written out.

While I'm thinking about it, I have had (on occasions) troubles with a lead man going all avant guarde jazz on me with a solo passage. I don't mind improv, but I'm not looking for bop when it's part of a standard or pop tune. (When polled over the years, my audiences have not indicated much interest in any form of "pure jazz" - Dixieland is about as out there as they get.)

The easy route to take is to pull the chart and have what I'm looking for written out. Occasionally, someone will try to go around this and sneak the changes from the piano chart. But, there are ways of fixing that too.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
(When polled over the years, my audiences have not indicated much interest in any form of "pure jazz" - Dixieland is about as out there as they get.)
I read, somewhere that one of the reasons "Dixieland" music is played at political rallies and such is because the smallest number of people dislike it or most people can, at least, tolerate it. (FWIW, I dislike it. Then again, I also don't care for much "pure jazz.")
Last edited by a moderator:


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I decided to post on this, here, rather than starting another thread.

I was thinking a bit about this when reading Terry's thread over here regarding playing, performing and entertaining. It's not always that kinda show:

1. Backup band. There are several variations on this, but I'm thinking of just being "backup." I've played and sang in several gigs where I'm not there to give a show; I'm there to try to make someone else look good or I'm there to complement the folks that are on stage.

2. Classical is as classical does. While several really good groups have some sort of gimmickry -- musical, visual or both -- you're generally talking small groups, like a quartet. If you're going to an orchestra concert, the only one that you want to see that's flashy is the soloist. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why my various directors liked me was because I could blend and help others blend, too.

I do think that the stuff I mention in point 2 may very well be the reason why a lot of orchestras are dying off. Hey, what's the advantage of me going to hear a Debussy piano concert when I can hear the composer, himself, on YouTube or buy a CD for the same price or less than the concert?

Anyhow, the point is that I don't think that because I'm in a backup or pit band/orchestra it makes me less of a player, performer or entertainer. I might not be as *flashy,* but I'm probably still going to get called up for another gig. It's like a ... conversation ... I had with another musician that "professional musician" doesn't have to = "you've gotta front a dozen groups" and/or "you've gotta play/sing 99% of your work hours."

I'd also like to hear from someone that does busking on what makes them successful. Is it the same criteria that Terry uses?
I'm interested in hearing the thoughts of others on this. What experiences have you had in dealing with players, performers and entertainers?
I've been a entertainer since day one. It comes easy to me.

I started in junior high school, before I was a 'real' musician. Here I was playing music with my buddies at a junior high school dance, rearing back with my horn playing 'one-note' solos, having a great time, and I noticed the cute girl who wouldn't look at me in English class was now 'making eyes' at me!!! And at the end of the night, they actually paid me money!

I sing, play sax, wind synth, guitar, flute, some keyboards (also bass and drums but I'm rusty on those), tell bad jokes, call songs on the fly according to the needs of the audience, talk on the mic if appropriate, love the audience, and express my affection for them which is returned back to me a hundredfold.

I've been in bands all my life, and each band needs at least a couple of entertainers. You can have someone up there being still and deadpan for contrast ala Keely Smith with Louis Prima or John Entwistle of The Who. But somebody has to entertain the audience. That's why we are up there.

When I hire people to play in any band I'm organizing, I look for attitude first. I'd take a lesser but adequate player with a better attitude over a better player with a poor attitude.

They call it PLAYING music and I want people on stage who are playing, NOT working.

What we do IS show biz, and if they just want music, they can hire a DJ.