Get Gigs Jamming with DJs in Clubs: Part 1
UPDATE: This article is from 2011, so apologies in advance for any ridiculously outdated information. That said, most of the information here is quite general and should apply to getting gigs with DJs. Also, please feel free to leave a comment or reach out via the contact page if there are any broken (ancient) video links.
Who says that us sax players can only play jazz gigs, sleepy coffee shops, and big fat weddings?
As one of the few jazz sax players out who’s also produced dance music (house music to be exact), I’ve been lucky enough to participate in this relatively unknown new world of live performance. If you’re open to different styles of music (and if you aren’t yet, don’t worry, almost all of us eventually grow out of the “Jazz Nazi” period), getting gigs performing live with DJs is something that I highly recommend, as it’s the closest thing to being a rock star many of us will ever get with a saxophone in our hands.
Best Music for Saxophone and DJ
I’m a bit biased towards house music for the purpose of sax accompaniment, but I do think that this is your best bet in terms of musical suitability as well as demand for sax players.
This is the style of DJ you’re most likely to find yourself playing with at a club, and in my opinion, the most fun since people tend to go nuts when they see a sax player jamming along to the beats while they’re already groovin’ on the dance floor.
Although there are more styles and subgenres of house music than either of us will ever be able to wrap our heads around, you generally want to go with the jazzier and funkier subgenres.
Here are some examples of what I’m talking about (you may want to skip past the repetitive “mix-in” sections at the beginning of each sample):
Blue Six – Musik & Wine (Jays blue silk dub) by pablo_dcp
Some more jazz-based house music artists you might enjoy:
This style of music is basically like instrumental (or at least mostly instrumental) hip hop, often laced with very jazzy sounds and repetitive loops that make it easy to solo over.
Here’s an example of downtempo/trip hop music:
More jazzy downtempo music:
Drum and Bass/Jungle
Drum and Bass is characterized by super fast breakbeats, but is usually danced to in half time. So even though the drums may be playing at 200 BPM, the dance floor is dancing at 100 BPM. This gives you the option to either float over the beat in half time, or to zoom over the beats at 200-ish BPM.
Although there are many subgenera of drum and bass that are very dark and even apocalyptic-sounding, there is a ton of mellow and jazzy drum and bass that works amazingly well with the sax.
Here’s an example of Drum and Bass:
WORST Music for Saxophone and DJ:
Many of you out there may have heard of a these styles of music made popular by folks such as DJ Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold. Trust me when I say that you’d probably rather spend a night in a porta-potty at Burning Man then have to play a gig with a trance DJ. Of course, it’s nothing against the DJs, it’s just that making this music work with a sax would be mighty hard.
AVOID gigs where this is the style of music being DJ’d:
Although there really are no rules as to what can work in terms of DJ music to jam with, by now, you probably have a good general idea of which styles of music work best with sax accompaniment. Generally speaking, as long as it’s got at least an element of jazz, funk, soul, or r&b, it should work. (And if it sounds like Enya on ecstasy, then you probably want to stay away.)
How to Get Gigs Jamming with DJs
Sure, we can practice along with recordings at home all we like, but when it comes to this style of music, it’s really all about the live aspect. Unless you already have connections to DJs or club promoters, getting yourself and your sax in the DJ booth comes down to the age-old art of networking.
Being that this article is from 2011, I’m not going to attempt to list any social networking sites or apps here, since they could be long gone by the time you read this (Myspace anyone?), but unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that social media is perhaps the most common way of connecting with people in all areas of the music world.
You can also always hit Google and type in the name of your city followed by “house music” or “downtempo” or whichever style DJ you’d like to meet.
The results should net you some names in your town. I’d browse through them to see which ones of them have gig dates listed on their profile, and if they have dates listed or seem like they spin live a decent amount, check their music out (many DJs produce their own music or at least post samples of their DJ mixes).
If the music sounds like something that you’d like to jam over, then I’d form a relationship with them (as opposed to saying “Hey hire me to play on your next gig, bro, it’s gonna be phat!”). Shoot them over some kudos, tell them that you’re getting more into their style of music, invite them to check out your profile, and let the collaboration flow naturally.
Remember, many of these guys are fledgeling musicians (yes, I said musicians) who are dying to get out there, and I have found that DJs are almost always honored to work with live musicfolk.
Other web sites
You can also find DJs to link up with on Craigslist and Meetup.com, in addition to finding DJ forums by typing, ummm….”DJ Forum” into Google.
Get yourself up in da club.
Although you may be able to score gigs off of online networking alone, if you really want to truly establish yourself in any music scene, then you must make some personal appearances and become a recognized face. DJs and promoters will appreciate your support, and since we’re all most comfortable working with people we know, once you tell them that you play sax with house music DJs or are looking to do so, then it will not take long until you get invited to play. In fact, if you happen to have your horn in the trunk of your car, you may even be asked to jam along with the DJ right there on the spot.
Start by frequenting the smaller clubs first, maybe something that’s held at a small bar or restaurant. It’ll be easier to become known, and having you come up and jam won’t be such a big deal.
Which brings us to the the next part in our series where we discuss what equipment we need to have, and how to approach the musical aspect of playing with a DJ.
October 12, 2010 @ 1:56 pm
Your concept of playing along with a DJ with your saxophone is really silly. Personally, and speaking as a jazz musician, I’d rather get a job with a live country band, or play on the street corner for tips for that matter. W’s resession has hit us all hard, but I still have pride as a musician. Sorry to be so critical. We sax players need to stick together. However, I’d like a job at a fast food place better than playing my horn for a bunch of idiots………….me
October 12, 2010 @ 2:52 pm
Barry, I can definitely appreciate your opinion. It really comes down to personal taste. For those who have more of a taste for traditional, non-electronic music, then you would have to really open your mind to be able to appreciate something so foreign to the sounds of Coltrane and Miles, etc. As someone who who has also DJ’d and produced electronic music, I can tell you that these are skills *just as challenging* as playing a musical instrument. Don’t believe me? Go produce a track that people scramble to the dancefloor for as soon as it’s played. Sure, you don’t need to know Coltrane changes to do it, but you need to know about things such as signal flow, compression, picking the right sounds, song formatting, etc etc etc.
As for the sax performance aspect, it’s so much fun to see people actually dancing and having a great time, as opposed to simply chatting while your music is relegated to the background as so often happens even in established jazz clubs.
I personally don’t look down on anyone for their taste in music, and don’t consider the people I’m playing too, who also warmly appreciate my playing, idiots, but that’s just me.
Either way, thanks for your input Barry, I love discussing these sorts of things. :-)
October 13, 2010 @ 6:26 am
Maybe this should be a DJ blog?? Not one labeled the Greatest Sax Website?? I’m into listening music, not music that’s jumped around to. I’ve had to play music for dancers in the past to make money. Those days are behind me. Sorry if I’ve been rude. You sound sincere and have treated me better than I deserve..Barry
October 13, 2010 @ 9:37 am
Haha, the whole point of having a comments section is to get folks’ opinions, so as long as criticisms are *not personal*, then that’s fine. Feel free to attack a genere of music all you like.
As for my website being a DJ website, of course nothing could be further from the truth. The name of my site is a goofy play on words based on the comic book guy from the Simpsons whose catchphrase is “Worst. Episode. Ever.”
Anyhow…my aim is to not simply regurgitate the same stuff that everyone else is saying, but to offer new perspectives on the things that sax players are dealing with *today.* Like it or not, styles of music change, and that can be a tough pill to swallow for some.
As you may know, when Bebop first came out, Louis Armstrong called it “Chinese Music.” Besides being incredibly politically incorrect, he happened to be incredibly short-sighted there are well.
October 13, 2010 @ 11:51 am
There are lots of different kinds of music out there and some of it is OK! But just because something is new, that dosen’t make it hip.
Rap and Hip Hop are examples of what people will do to make a buck. Pop music has always been like water, it seeks its lowest level. I’ve done producing, been a studio arranger, done sequencing arrangements for others,
and have produced background tracts and played along with them on gigs. After doing this for a few years I started feeling like a Karaoke act. I’ve gone back to jazz and live music. There is room for all kinds of bad stuff out there. The worse you can make it, the more those idiots we play for will love it. I now play for myself. I’m happier for it.
October 13, 2010 @ 12:20 pm
I hear what you’re saying, and agree that a lot of the new music out there is total crap often times containing out of tune singing and clams galore, among other musical indignities.
The good thing is that you’ve been able to step away from the unrewarding stuff you don’t like and stay in areas that are fulfilling for you.
October 13, 2010 @ 6:31 pm
For club goers there is barely anything more stimulating for having a good time on the dance floor than experiencing the DJ being accompanied by a nicely blended live performance of any kind. Let it be it an MC, a percussionist or a saxophone player.
October 13, 2010 @ 6:33 pm
I agree Sven, as that’s been my experience every time. I remember playing a gig to a super-uptight crowd years ago at the Sundance FIlm Festival. The DJ before us was actually awesome, but nobody danced until the sax came out.
People at clubs just dig the sax and I think that this makes for an awesome gig that most sax players have never even considered looking into.
October 26, 2010 @ 12:34 pm
Doron, the reason the people got excited when the sax player came out is they were hungry for live music. Trouble is, people are just too cheap to hire a live band. Technology has ruined the arts.
October 26, 2010 @ 2:03 pm
Hey there Barry,
I agree, people love the live music, and my personal opinion is that mixing live and electronic works best. I don’t see a point in lamenting reality, and I still hold to my opinion that creating art with electronic media is a rich and important contribution to our culture.
As always, though, thanks for your viewpoint!
Do Sax Players Really Need to Double? | Best. Saxophone. Website. Ever.
November 1, 2010 @ 9:42 am
[…] Gigs jamming along with DJs at dance clubs […]
November 3, 2011 @ 9:11 am
Hey man, I dig the hell out of playing with more electronic sounding music. I also dig the hell out playing straight ahead jazz… I think as a modern musician to shut out the idea of playing with a DJ is a giant mistake. There’s a lot of people out there saying it’s not music because it’s played on a computer, it’s not real, etc etc… but weren’t those folks parents saying the same types of things when rock and roll came out? And even jazz… whenever a new/foreign music comes around there’s always going to be the haters and the nay-sayers. I fully support the electronic music scene (as well as every other music scene I can get my hands and ears on).
Check out Dominic Lalli… his electronic gig is called Big Gigantic. He does all the production, has samples, loops, etc. and a live drummer as well as playing sax live. I think he absolutely kills it!
November 3, 2011 @ 9:17 pm
I agree Mike! Nowadays, it’s all about versatility. I too love me some bebop and Coltrane, but I just don’t see how making music that sounds straight out of 1961 has any relevance to life these days. Of course, there is some great neo-bop music out there so I’m not knocking all of it, but I think that nowadays it’s all about breaking down the borders between the genres.
Big Gigantic sounds cool, definitely some very unique jam-band kinda stuff.
November 22, 2011 @ 9:12 pm
Very nice article. First time poster here.
Jazz is an amazing artform and is my chosen vehicle for expression. That being said there are other cool styles of music. I don’t think people should look down on musicians if they choose to jam with a DJ. People have the right to make music however they choose. There are also a lot more DJ based gigs these days then jazz gigs. So, if people want to just perform regardless of genre than go for it I say!
Now, the question is how do you get more jazz gigs if playing with a DJ is not your thing? I recently wrote an article with a few tips. If I may share it I would be obliged and would love your thoughts as well. Thank you!
[Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this comment]
November 22, 2011 @ 9:35 pm
Well, I don’t play jazz gigs for a living, but I think that the same principle applies regardless of the style of music – that is – *show your face* in the places where you’d like to be booked and with the people you’d like to play with.
If you’re showing up to a club over and over, then the owner will get to know you, and it will quickly come up in the conversation that you play and it won’t be much trouble to get a demo recording into their hands.
If you show up at someone’s gigs over and over, they’re going to appreciate the support and get to know you, since most jazz musicians don’t have that many dedicated fans when you compare it to prominent rock and pop musicians.
People enjoy working with people who they like, so become that down-to-earth cool person that they like hanging with, and assuming that you can prove yourself either by sitting in or handing over a recording, it’s quite likely that they’ll call, or at least recommend you at some point soon.
I hope that helps!
Socrates De Jesus
January 12, 2012 @ 11:26 am
Hey Doron,I’ve playing house and soul music for a while i’m based in New York city,if you need a sax player email me.
January 12, 2012 @ 4:29 pm
Unfortunately, being that I’m a sax player in Los Angeles and not a club promoter, I don’t think that I’d be of much help to you. If you can go out to some of those clubs and network with the promoters and DJs, or maybe just do it on Facebook and MySpace, then you have a decent shot at getting some of these gigs.
Best of luck with it!
May 24, 2012 @ 4:09 am
Can you help me out with some more great club music.
I got a ‘gig’ in two weeks and need some music where i can play on.
Thanks in advance,
June 12, 2012 @ 9:43 pm
Just saw this comment! As far as club music, are you responsible for bringing the backing tracks? Wouldn’t that be the DJ’s job?
Normally the DJ brings the tracks and you simply jam over whatever they have for you. Hopefully it has a jazz/disco/soul influence to it that lends itself to sax accompaniment.
Regardless, you just have to figure out what key the tune is in, try to nail the changes, and play along with the record as though the record was a live band that you were playing along with.
I hope that helps,
June 13, 2012 @ 6:14 am
Hey, I just saw another reply to this and figured I’d add my 2 cents (again). I understand why some folks would get upset about the idea of a live musician playing along with electronics… but at the same time, we’re musicians guys. We’re here to serve the music, we constantly strive to push forward, experiment, try new things, new styles, new licks, new bands (or DJs) to play with!! That’s the beauty of music, someone playing with a DJ, or with the greatest band ever isn’t going to hurt anyone. In fact it’s going to bring a lot of joy to people. It may not be for everyone, but let’s think about before the electric guitar was rock & rock not considered the devil?? Wasn’t even all of our favorite instrument (yes, the saxophone) considered to be the ‘devil’s horn.’ Music, people, society, everything progresses. We, as musicians should be at the very forefront of that progression, and I feel that if we’re not that’s tons of opportunities & gigs that we will miss out on because of our stubbornness and someone else will get that gig.
So, all that being said this article along with my love for music, production, and wanting to find a new outlet outside of playing with a band (now I don’t have to rely on everyone else & their schedules) I’ve finally got my newest project off the ground. I call it ‘Sohma.’ I personally produce, and play everything on it except for when I’m doing remixes of other artists (i.e. pop songs, that I’ll take the vocals and totally reproduce the music to fit my tastes and my style). My intent is to not just play with a DJ, but be the DJ as well as the saxophonist. I’ve also got my live rig set up in a way that I completely control the loops, grooves, and everything else to give it more of a jam feel from one tune to the next. I’d love to get some feedback on what I’m trying to do. I’ll have an EP out and will be starting to do gigs within about a month.
My website is http://www.sohmamusic.com or you can find the facebook – http://www.facebook.com/sohmamusic
Doron, thank you for this post. Clearly I’m very passionate about it and feel very strongly that it’s a GOOD thing and that it’s extremely fun to cross over the club scene with what an every day sax player is trying to do. Thank you!!
June 13, 2012 @ 10:28 pm
Thanks for chiming in again! Obviously, we are on the same page. I’ve had some of my best playing experiences on stage with a DJ and I think that combining jazz with other musical styles is one of the most important directions for the future of jazz.
And it’s very cool what you’re doing with your own musical production, keep it up my friend!
January 27, 2014 @ 4:08 pm
I want to try with sax and with a house music. What kind of sax in your opinion is the best for playing house music in the club? I love this tone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5DwmKmR5wo
What kind of sax it is?
January 29, 2014 @ 11:19 am
The sax in the video is an alto. One could say that alto works a little bit better since it’s higher range cuts through bass a little bit more than tenor or baritone, BUT, any sax could be cool. I am a tenor player, and as long as I have my clip on mic with the volume turned out loud enough plus a little bit or reverb or delay, the tenor works awesome too.
August 19, 2015 @ 2:32 am
I want to get involved how do we do this?
January 29, 2016 @ 7:00 am
I live in the north east of England and I’m after a sax player to play alongside a DJ for my 40th birthday, any recommendations?
January 29, 2016 @ 1:50 pm
I’m located in Austin, so I don’t think I can be of any help aside from posting it on the Facebook page. I’ll let you know if I get any bites. Best of luck!
March 15, 2016 @ 6:40 pm
Hello my friend .. i have just .. gottin turned on to this.. ! i think is great.. i have been researching and looking into this … i have been playing all over the world … using backing tacks . but i see this is the wave of the futrue ..
can you please direct me or pass on my website to anyone that may be looking for a sax player .. i’m open to travel anywhere …. usa or oversesa’s
thank you for your time a great article… !
February 17, 2019 @ 3:21 pm
Which type of saxophone is best to play electronic house with please?
February 20, 2020 @ 12:30 am
i ng about Washington’s jazz clubs with a new sense of optimism. But some things have changed: The scene has evolved significantly, with smaller venues in the District and its surrounding suburbs helping to fill the void of Bohemian Caverns and other lost venues. Musicians are exploring opportunities beyond the usual hot spots, playing Saturday night gigs in the basement bar at the Graham Hotel in Georgetown, or taking the stage at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, an all-ages, alcohol-free spot in Brookland.