UPDATE: This article is from 2011, so apologies in advance for any ridiculously outdated information.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.