QUESTION #6: If you have a trio gig and you are the leader, what’s the process that goes into playing a set? What changes if you are not the leader?
How was the question received by the interviewees?
All nine interviewees gave answers I would categorize as direct and responsive. Eric Reed and Richard Davis asked initial questions for clarification.
What kinds of answers where given?
Below is an illustration explaining which musicians used the following frameworks.
Most musicians answered by using either the set-building or tune-calling frameworks. Both help explain how tunes or songs are selected for a performance. In some ways the two frameworks are antithetical. The set-building framework is preconceived either by an individual or collectively, while tune-calling is a somewhat spontaneous event in which, usually, the leader chooses musical selections on stage in between performances of individual works. Eric Reed prefers using set lists. He described the process when he said:
Well, what I tend to do [is] ask [musicians] to send me an exhaustive list of all the tunes they know for sure…And then I can establish my set list from that…I usually come to the stage with a set list. That way, everybody kind of knows what’s going on. One of the most uncomfortable things for a lot of musicians is not knowing what’s happening.
Jeff Hamilton explained that different leaders like to work in different ways in reference to set lists. He said:
Noel Jewkes never called tunes. Houston Person never, I mean, made a set list. They just called tunes on the bandstand. Houston Person turns around and says, let’s do such and such next. Okay. And you’ve got to be on it, so there’s really no preparation…it’s different from leader to leader.
Richard Davis described the possibility of building sets or calling tunes depending on the circumstances. His formula for a satisfying set of music is inspiring. He said:
Okay, well first of all, I might want to start with something slow and soothing. And the very next song you want something fast and exciting. Once you start the first two songs, the third song might be of a different beat, like a bossa nova or something that has the feeling and flavor of a different meter. And then you will feature one of the musicians like the pianist…If it’s a solo, piano and then you might feature one of the musicians in the group who, he or she might want to play a solo all by themselves. That gives a different color or [inaudible (texture?)] to the set. Then you might, after that, feature another member of the group. Then a third member of the group. So people get this feeling of each person standing out in a solo attitude. Then you try to close off with something that’s [inaudible], fast and exciting. Hopefully you’ll get applause that demands an encore. By that time you can come back with anything.
Many musicians, including Davis, expressed the idea that the venue had much to do with the planning of a set of music. Jeff Ballard stated:
…if I’m in a theater and it’s the winter time and there’s no festival, it’s just a concert for a small town, then the set will be picked accordingly from the repertoire that we have. If it’s a festival in the summer and we’re playing outdoors, I’m definitely not going to pick the same tunes.
Fred Hersch is one example of a leader who prefers not to use set lists. He explained:
Generally I don’t plan sets unless it’s like I said, a festival situation and I don’t really want to be up there with people fumbling through my large book of charts looking for stuff. I’ll say, ‘Okay, I think we’re going to play this.’ But the guys that I play with know that this is always subject to change...In general, I don’t tell the guys what I’m going to play unless it’s one of these very tightly controlled [situations] because, frankly, I want them to be surprised, too.
Where Richard Davis explained using a formulaic approach to building sets of music, Joanne Brackeen conceives of set-lists in a totally different way. She responded, “…It just comes to me. I know- I don’t even put it together until it just comes, one day. I know on the fly.” Another interesting component to set-building may rest in the instruments being played. Peter Erskine explained how the pianist becomes a de facto leader when it comes to calling tunes. He said, “Let’s face it, the pianist becomes really the [inaudible (point man?)] because if the piano doesn’t know the melody and the chords then you’re wasting your time.” Erskine also talked about the importance of playing standards when working with musicians with which one is not well acquainted. He said:
Some of the most enjoyable gigs that I’ve done, we’ve haven’t said a word to each other. Just somebody started calling tunes, and we played. A nice little bit of word play, but you play standards; standards represent a standard, and it’s a common musical language and vocabulary. So you can assess everyone’s musical take on things, their position aesthetically, their experience harmonically.
Another framework used to answer question #6 is the arranging framework. Within the set of music, each musical selection may be performed with little or great amounts of preconceived arranging. Three out of nine musicians talked about arranging when answering question #6. Rufus Reid answered:
…I really feel that I have to take the responsibility of putting the set together, and if you don’t have an opportunity to rehearse, then you set up the parameters of the tunes…so no one would have to do anything but come in and throw down what I’m expecting to hear.
One last framework used by musicians is the leadership framework. It may seem redundant in calling a leaders response part of a leadership framework, but the answers were given in the context of assisting or leading fellow musicians. Jeff Ballard explained:
…as a leader, making sure that everybody has what they need. [That] everybody is comfortable is extremely important to me, so they don’t have to worry about a thing but playing as best as they can.
I asked several musicians follow-up questions about how they perceive the audience and in what way the audience affects their choice of music. Ballard pointed towards a concept of collective identity, in that there is no clear separation between leader, band, and audience. He said:
We’re in a club and I say ‘okay, this one is for the club owner,’ and I said his name, and I heard him laugh. So I took that right away, with ‘ha, ha, ha,’ and we went on from there. So, I love that kind of state of mind which happens when that’s done. And everybody is involved in that, the listener and the player. So it makes a real unified occasion. So to me it’s real super important- which is not really to your question, I guess, but- that its’ a collective occasion. It’s not just us playing for the listener, and that’s it. It’s us and them. The whole thing is us. We’re all having that experience.
It may be unclear when reading this transcript that Ballard used the rhythm of the club owner’s laugh as thematic material at the beginning of a spontaneous drum solo. Jeff Hamilton also commented on the audience. He said:
Okay. I learned from Ray Brown that I want to be in the audience listening to my trio. What do I want to hear next? So that governs the pacing of the set you do. If we just played a tune in B flat, we’re not going to hear another tune back to back in B flat, we’re not going to play the same groove, you know, it will be a different mood because you want to invite the audience to go on the musical journey with you.
Peter Erskine had a more contrasting view about the influence of the audience. He said:
…I brought the piano trio to a drum festival gig, and the organizer said to me, just before I went on, ‘hey don’t do too much of that sensitive stuff,’ like, you know, and I let that influence me, and I was really angry at myself afterwards because it skewed the whole [inaudible] what it could have been. And I was determined after that, I’m never going to do that again…It’s not your four minutes of fame on American Idol. And trios that play that way, again, are ones ultimately that I’m just not that interested in.
 Set list refers to the specific musical selections performed in a set. Set lists may be written down prior to a performance or may be generated spontaneously.
 Standards are musical selections that function as common repertoire among jazz musicians. Many come from Broadway musicals.