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Booking A Jazz Band

Booking A Jazz Band

Everything You'll Ever Need To Know

If you're thinking of hiring a jazz band for your event, this useful guide highlights everything you'll need to know, including information about what a jazz band will do at your event, how various types of jazz band differ from each other, what type of music they'll perform, how much space they will need, what to look for to ensure quality, how much it costs to hire a jazz band, what's involved in the booking process and more.

What is a Jazz band and what will they do at my event?

As well as being suitable for refined evening entertainment where dancing is on the cards, Jazz bands make the perfect accompaniment to a drinks reception. Jazz bands are able to cover a wide variety of music beyond the traditional Jazz repertoire, bringing a foot-tapping, head bobbing sense of 'cool' far above the traditional choice of background music from a string quartet or harpist. If you want an upbeat drinks reception that really swings, check out our fantastic selection of Swing Jazz bands below.

On the flip side, Jazz can also be performed in a much more mellow and sultry style. If you want to impart a more etherial, bluesy feel to your event, check out some of our fantastic Jazz duos and cocktail singers who'll bring sophisticated charm to proceedings with their reditions of songs by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.

Jazz is a really broad term and covers many incarnations of the form, from Dixieland and Jazz Blues, right through to Modern Jazz, Free Jazz or even Acid Jazz. Due to the wide range of jazz styles, the line up and instrumentation of our jazz bands is also equally varied.

The most popular types of jazz bands booked for private events and weddings are:

Dixieland Trad. Jazz bands
These are often wandering musicians playing lively New Orleans/Charleston old school jazz rags.

Swing Jazz bands
Usually featuring a vocalist and often playing Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullem.

Jazz Standards bands
Not a style of jazz as such, but taking inspiration from The Great American Song Book and Middle of the Road jazz classics. These bands can be instrumental or vocal.

Pop music in a jazz style bands
A relatively modern addition to our rosters, we have a selection of fun and quirky bands playing classic and contemporary pop and rock music but in a jazz / swing style. Great for customers who wouldn't know their Gershwin from Fitzgerald, but who want that jazz sound! 

Bands are always eager to provide the highest quality entertainment for your event. It is the one thing that, after having booked the correct band, you should not have to worry about on the day. I would always recommend giving the band freedom to choose what to play. This will enable them to respond to the audience, and put together a set list that works musically. Other than specific requests such as the first dance, just a general understanding of the sort of feel and style that you want to create is really helpful. The more freedom you give the band, the easier it will be to create an atmosphere that will be remembered for years to come. - Matt - Bandleader, All That Jazz

Usually, jazz bands for parties and events are made up of 3-6 members. The most common instruments in these bands are piano/keys, drums, bass or double bass, saxophone, guitar, plus a singer. A trio with a singing pianist is a really good way to get more for your money.

Jazz bands with male vocalists often focus on the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior “Rat Pack” repertoire, plus what are described as jazz “standards” and “swing” music.

Jazz bands with a female vocalist often play smoother styles including songs by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday.

Many jazz bands also play modern songs covering artists like Michael Bublé, Nora Jones and some chart pop tunes.

Examples of more traditional New Orleans / Dixieland Jazz Bands

Examples of Swing Jazz Bands

Examples of Jazz Standards Bands

Examples of bands who play pop / rock music in a jazz style

What to look for in a quality Jazz band

All of the Jazz bands on the Alive Network web site have been carefully pre-vetted so they represent the very best of what's available in the UK. We have selected our artist roster from literally thousands of applications so in order to ensure quality all you need to do is choose a jazz band from our web site. It's risk free and you have peace of mind that we've already done the hard work for you.

If you do choose to look around elsewhere, here's what you should look for:

1. A regular fixed band line up

Something which Alive Network tries it's best to be strict about is ensuring that the jazz bands we represent maintain a fixed regular line up, especially with regards to vocalists, so that our customers can expect to have the same singer turn up and perform at their event that they booked from our web site. If you look at jazz bands outside of the Alive Network agency, be sure to ask (and have written into your contract) that the singer who will perform at your event will be the same one that you've been looking at prior to booking.

Our booking contracts only allow band members to be swapped where there is a force majeure emergency, or where the band has made it clear in their advertising that they use a number of different members. It's actually quite common place for jazz bands to use a selection of musicians in order to maintain their availability, and this is unlikely to impact on the quality of their performance, but it's important that you the customer know what you're booking. In particular, with singers, customers often book a band based on liking the singer, so where as it might not matter much to you if the drummer or bass player change, it will probably matter much more if the singer is swapped out.

Some unscrupulous band leaders and agencies accept bookings only to subcontract it on to an entirely different band who are told to turn up and perform under their name. Others swap singers without letting their customers know, which can cause disapointment on the day of your event. To be sure you're getting a professional jazz band who won't let you down, book them through Alive Network!

2. A great demo CD / MP3s

The band's music recordings should be in time, in tune, and sound well produced (it should sound like a high quality recording). It's also important that you can hear in advance that the band play the kind of music you want at your event! Compare recordings against other bands to get a good idea of how well they stack up.

3. Great photos

Being able to see that a band have made the effort to present themselves professionally shows you they are serious and care about what they do. It will also help you to decide if they fit the theme and mood of your event.

4. Customer reviews and testimonials

Make sure you can read genuine reviews from previous customers. You'll find loads of customer reviews for our jazz bands readily available here on the Alive Network web site.

5. Equipment

The band should use professional quality PA, instruments, amplifiers and microphones. The better the equipment, the more reliable it will be, and the better they'll sound at your event. Most smaller format Jazz bands don't need large PA systems, and unless you're booking them for an evening event they probably won't provide stage lighting.

6. Experience and background

Check that the band consists of high calibre musicians with a strong track record of playing at private events. Review the experience of individual players within the band as well as the experience of the band as a whole. There's nothing wrong with booking a great 'new' band - but you would expect to pay a little less for a band with no track record. Experienced jazz bands who are 'in demand' charge a little more but they bring a wealth of experience and ideas to the table.

7. The backing of a reliable agency

No agent, no backup if anything goes wrong. If you book a jazz band 'directly' and they let you down either intentionally or unintentionally, you'll be completely on your own trying to find a last minute replacement. This would not be fun on the day of your wedding / event! Alive Network offers 24 hour-a-day emergency cover, 365 days of the year - with 1000's of artists to fall back on. Look for an agency that responds quickly, efficiently, and takes the time to listen to your individual requirements. They will be your point of contact so you need to be happy that they're providing a high quality service too. If you're looking at companies online, make sure that they clearly advertise their contact details and address (not a PO Box) and that they actually are a real business (as opposed to website run out of a bedroom). Alive Network is the largest entertainment agency in the UK, specialising in live entertainment for private events. We've been in business since 1999 and have booked jazz bands for tens of thousands of events - something which you don't get to do without offering a reliable service that customers are happy to recommend.

8. Cost

You get what you pay for, so don't cut corners unless you don't mind risking the success of your event. We represent thousands of musicians, all of whom define their own fees, so our Jazz band prices are a good indicator of what's usual to pay. The average cost of a 3-5 piece Jazz band in 2016 was between £750 - £1200, depending on the number of members, including all expenses.

What exactly will a Jazz band do at my event? What will the format be?

Most people who hire a jazz band for their wedding ask the band to play during both the drinks reception and throughout the meal. If you want the band to play in two locations, bear in mind that, depending on how much equipment they have, it may be time consuming for them to dismantle everything and then re-set up again. A location where they can remain for the full duration would be ideal.

If you want them to play outdoors, you need to ensure there is cover to protect their instruments from direct sunlight, as well as rain and wind.

It is usual that for drinks receptions, set-up and sound check would happen before guests arrive. For evening performances, it is more usual for the band to arrive and set up after the meal, whilst your venue turns the room around. To unload, set up and sound check takes on average 40 - 60 minutes for smaller jazz bands. This time is important if you want the band to sound good as levels will need to be balanced correctly. Bands that play Dixieland Jazz will probably need a lot less time to set us as they generally don’t use any electrical equipment.

For afternoon performances, the band will usually play 3 x 45 minute sets maximum, split between the drinks reception and the meal. Evening performances would usually consist of 2 x 60 minute sets, with the first set starting at about 8.30pm. They would then take a break until the next set is required. If a wedding, this first break usually covers the time when the evening buffet is served or when the cake is cut. During this time the band would usually play background music from a laptop or iPod.

The second live performance would usually start around 10.30pm lasting 60 minutes until 11.30pm, plus hopefully a few encores!

When the performance is finished, the band will usually play more background music from an iPod until the contracted finish time. Most bands will leave this music running whilst they dismantle their equipment at the end of the night. The band should start loading their equipment back into their vehicles only after the agreed contracted finish time. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to pack down and load out.

What equipment will the band provide?

99.9% of the jazz bands working with Alive Network will provide all of their own equipment. This would include PA, instruments, amplifiers, and for bands who play at evening performances usually also basic stage lighting and either a laptop or iPod to play background music through their PA between sets.

If the band features a pianist and if there is a piano already at the venue, it is a nice touch if they use the real piano rather than bringing their electric keyboard.

Although there is a difference between the size of PA systems used by the various jazz bands we represent, they will all bring a PA system suitable for up to 150 people, which covers most private parties and weddings. Bands with larger PA systems won't necessarily turn them up any louder but the option is there if needed, and larger systems usually sound much higher quality. Looking at the size and quality of their PA and lighting systems is a good way to judge value for money between several bands. Ask your Alive Network co-ordinator if you need help with this.

Important note: If your event will have more than 150 people, or if the room where the band will perform holds significantly more than 150 people, it's worth remembering that a larger PA system will need to be considered and you should discuss this with your coordinator. As a guide, you need roughly 10 watts per person, so a 300 capacity room will ideally require a 3000 watt (3K) PA system. Most of our bands can arrange larger PA.

How much space will a Jazz band need?

There is a useful stage size guide on our FAQ page.

Allow an absolute minimum of 1 metre across per person, but ideally 1.5 metres across. Allow 2 square metres for a drummer or pianist.

Remember, space is needed in front and to the sides to accommodate the PA, speakers and lighting stands. Due to the different variations of instruments used in a jazz band ensemble, please ask your Alive Network coordinator for clarification of how much space is required.

Minimum band stage size requirements

3 piece jazz band: 3 x 3 metres
4 piece jazz band: 4 metres wide by 3 metres deep
5 and 6 jazz piece band: 5 metres wide by 3 metres deep
7 piece and bigger: 5/6 metres wide by 4 metres deep

The more room the band have, the more comfortable they'll be, and the better they'll perform. That said, bands will do their very best to fit within what ever space you have to work with, just don't expect miracles.

How long will a Jazz band's performance last?

The standard is 2 x 60 minute sets, but this can be split 3 x 40 minute sets if preferred.

For weddings and formal evening events, many clients ask Jazz bands to play during their drinks reception and also throughout their evening meal - in which case the band might perform 3 x 60 minutes for a small additional cost. When choosing the start time for evening performances, bear in mind that if your guests have just eaten, they probably won't want to dance right away. For most wedding/birthday parties, 9pm would be the ideal start time for an evening Jazz band performnce, with a final set running 10.30pm until 11.30pm.

Are there any options available to customise my Jazz band or their performance?

Different bands offer different customisation options, the most common of which is adjusting the instrumentation, for example: adding a brass section, singer, drummer or guitarist. Some Jazz bands offer the option to provide additional performances such as a solo pianist or saxophonist for your wedding ceremony, or a more 'Pop' set for evening dancing. The customisation options available for each band are shown on their profile page and are selectable when you make an online enquiry. Contact our Alive Network coordinators if you need help or advice customising your chosen band.

Requests

Nearly all our Jazz bands will be happy to customise their usual set-list based on your requests. Most bands play a 'standard' repertoire of songs for private events, carefully tailored over time to feature the songs that best suit their strengths, and which work as a cohesive performance. They'll know based on experience which songs suit a given occassion, and will often adapt their repertoire on the fly as they judge the atmosphere of your event.

A full 2 hour performance might contain between 30 to 40 songs, but if you look at the full repertoire list on their profile page it will likely contain upwards of 60 songs. This gives you a little leeway to guide the band in the direction of your personal favourites.

Please do bear in mind that building a repertoire isn't like building a playlist on your iPhone. In a live set some songs do not work well next to each other due to the key the singer may need to sing in, or the general dynamic flow of the perormance. Whilst the band will welcome your input and will be keen to ensure their performance meets your requirements, you must allow the band to build the final repertoire themselves, based on your feedback.

Some artists may also learn new pieces of music for you (for example a first dance) but there is often an additional fee for this to cover rehersal time.

If you have a particular theme for your event, most Jazz bands will make an effort to meet it, either matching repertoire, performance style or clothing. It is best to specify exactly what you want when you make the booking to be sure your chosen band can definitely accommodate.

How much will it cost to hire a Jazz band?

This depends greatly on the size, quality and experience of the band. All Alive Network Jazz bands are carefully vetted and so therefore represent the top percentage of quality live Jazz bands in the UK. Our Jazz bands range from as little as £300 for a singer/pianist playing in their local area up to £10,000+ for a top flight show band like London Swing.

The average cost of a 3-5 piece Jazz band in 2016 was between £750 - £1200, depending on the number of members.

You can get an instant online price including travel costs for all Alive Network Jazz bands by either entering a search at the top of the Jazz bands roster page (you need to add your event type, location and date), or by clicking the add to enquiry button on your chosen bands profile page where you'll then be asked to enter your event details. Once you enter a search on our web site, we'll filter out all the artists who are unavailable on your event date, and show the price that those who are available would charge to perform in your event location.

The best way to reduce costs is to avoid early arrival times (bands charge extra to arrive and set up much earlier than the time you want them to start performing) and try to find a band who are based close to your event. On the Jazz bands roster list, click the 'Neast to me' button above the artist listings to see available artists on a map! The home town location of all Alive Network Jazz bands is also shown on the roster pages and also on each bands profile page. You can also ask your coordinator to recommend the best band local to your event.

Why is there a difference between what different Jazz bands cost?

Generally, you pay more for a reputable Jazz band with a high level of experience and demand, stronger ability and good quality equipment. The minimum standard of our Jazz bands is already very high as we carefully vet everyone we work with, but you get what you pay for.

Also, when you search our web site for Jazz bands available on your event date and in your event location, those bands who are travelling from outside the area will add travel fees, and these fees are included in the prices you'll see advertised. Travel fees can sometimes be 50% extra on top of the bands local price, so there can be a big difference in the cost of local bands compared to acts from outside the area.

The number of members in the band also greatly affects cost, with 3 or 4 piece bands costing much less than 10 or 11 piece bands.

Some higher earning bands are also VAT registered which pushes the overall cost up, though most band aren't.

What security will I get when booking a Jazz band?

When you book a jazz band through Alive Network you'll receive a legally binding contract which protects you against any foreseeable eventuality. This means that short of the band being seriously injured or abducted by aliens, your booking is 100% safe.

You also get the full backing and support of Alive Network, the UK's largest live entertainment agency, as well as the assistance and advice of your personal Alive Network coordinator who will always be on hand to help if you have any questions or concerns.

You can think of Alive Network as your entertainment insurance.

What happens if the band is ill?

It's very rare that problems occur, but if the unthinkable does happen, Alive Network will help you to source a replacement artist, even at very short notice. We work with hundreds of Jazz bands across the UK and have a huge database of contacts to fall back on in an emergency.

Alive Network runs a 24 hour-a-day emergency hotline, 365 days of the year, manned by a minimum of six on-call staff. We will always have your back.

If the artist you've booked is ill, and given sufficient notice - you will always be fully informed and involved in agreeing a replacement. In many cases bands have deputy members who are able to cover for members who are ill, in which case you would still get the same band, but with the missing member replaced. If the whole band needs to be replaced and you aren't happy with the replacement band that we suggest, you can choose another similar priced act from our web site yourself, or else receive a full refund. If you chose a more expensive artist, you would need to pay the difference in price.

If an emergency happens on the day of your event and we cannot contact you, we will liaise with your venue, and send the closest matching alternative artist so you are not left in the lurch. You still have the option to send the artist away if you are not happy to accept them, but if you do accept them, the terms of your exisiting contract would transfer to the new artist.

Is there anything I need to provide for the band?

The band will need a safe performance area, with at least 3 or 4 power sockets in close proximity to the stage / performance area.

They will also require parking, and if you can ensure they have easy access at the front of the venue to park and unload, this will ensure the band can get in and get set up quickly.

For bands performing in the afternoon, refreshments and sometimes food (depending on how long they’re at your event) will be required. Soft drinks, water, tea and coffee are usually sufficient, but please make sure you inform the bar staff that these should not be charged to the band (you might want to set up a tab for them). Please ask your Alive Network coordinator to confirm whether your afternoon jazz band will require food.

Evening bands will require food and refreshments (preferably a hot meal as they'll be on the go for approximately 12 hours and will be hungry). If you are unable to provide a hot meal, some of the evening buffet will usually be sufficient. As above, soft drinks as well as tea and coffee should be provided for the band. Food is usually provided before or after the bands first set.

A changing room is very much appreciated including enough seats for all the band members, and if possible, a mirror.

The dress code of the event is important. The band should be advised in advance if it is a black tie or evening dress event.

Is there anything else I need to know about booking a Jazz band?

We've put together a selection of useful tips and insights provided directly by our artists. Tilo, Bobby Swing Band quotes “The band is on your side and wants to make your event a success. They will normally go out of their way to accommodate changes or delays in the event. Don't be afraid to ask their opinion, they have usually played at hundreds of events and can give good advice. A professional and friendly approach always works best, and a hot drink on arrival is always welcome!”

Emma, Jazz Beat quotes “All bands on the Alive Network web site are of high quality, so book with confidence! The musicians are professional and great entertainers!”

Matt, All That Jazz quotes “Bands are always eager to provide the highest quality entertainment for your event. It is the one thing that, after having booked the correct band, you should not have to worry about on the day. I would always recommend giving the band freedom to choose what to play. This will enable them to respond to the audience, and put together a set list that works musically. Other than specific requests such as the first dance, just a general understanding of the sort of feel and style that you want to create is really helpful. The more freedom you give the band, the easier it will be to create an atmosphere that will be remembered for years to come.”

How do I make a booking?

To make an enquiry simply submit an enquiry form from the artists profile page on our web site (click the 'add to basket' button and follow the instructions) or give us a call on 0845 108 5500.

Once we have all your event details we will contact the artist to confirm their availability, discuss any requests you might have made, and get a confirmed quote.

Once your Alive Network coordinator sends you a confirmed quote and you're happy with it, simply let them know that you'd like to secure a booking with the artist. You can do this via phone or email. They will contact the artist to confirm the booking based on the quote submitted.

You will then be required to pay a deposit, usually over the phone by credit card, and we will send you and the artist a booking confirmation form which shows exactly what you've both agreed to and all your event logistics.

Once we've sent you the booking confirmation, both you and the artist have 48 hours in which to cancel the agreement should you no longer wish to go ahead, otherwise your booking is in place and is non-cancellable.

If you need to discuss any aspect of your booking, or if you need to make any changes, your dedicated Alive Network coordinator will be on hand to support you as much as you need.

You will be put in touch with the artist approximately 3-4 weeks before your event to run over the arrangements, fine tune the details and make any changes necessary.

Useful links

Jazz and Blues band roster pages

This article was written by Alive Network, with contributions from members of Jazz Beat, All That Jazz and The Bobby Swing Band

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