Making a Solo Piano Jazz Setlist

» Posted by on Apr 2, 2014 in Music Reflections, Piano Gigs | 0 comments

Making a Solo Piano Jazz Setlist

For my regular weekend gig I play about an hour of jazz standards (mostly) as background music at a restaurant while people eat dinner. After making setlists for weddings, Christmas parties, and stage events, I initially thought that coming up with a setlist for an hour of background music would be easy.

ItĀ was easier than other types of performances, but it required more thought than I expected. Music contributes to the ambiance of the room and people – whether or not they are paying you their full attention for the hour – are taking it in. They appreciate hearing a few songs that they recognize, such as old favorites that they don’t hear often, showtunes and movie themes, cool piano versions of great folk/rock songs, or jazzy takes on contemporary tunes.

On the other hand, I don’t like playing well-known tune after well-known tune like it’s a top 40 radio program, so I space out the popular ones and put a few “fillers” between – although they’re only fillers if you don’t know them. In many cases, they’re my favorite tunes to play!

I like to kick off most nights with Honeysuckle Rose – I have a lot of fun with that ones and it sets the stage really well. After that there are some slower love tunes (but not too many in a row!), which I often conclude with 2-3 Norah Jones songs before sliding into faster standards, which soon give way to a couple of arrangements that I think of as “salty.” These are a good foundation for theĀ Bossa and Latin grooves that wrap up my hour. My last 20 minutes usually look something like this: Girl from Ipanema, Little Tear, Besame Mucho, Andalucia (an original!), I Need to Know (Marc Anthony), This Love (Maroon 5). I sometimes throw a Pink Panther/007 Theme medley in there somewhere too.

Finally, I like to end with the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love over a walking blues bass line because it’s fun to play and leaves everyone in a good mood. If I have time, I work in the chorus from Hey Jude.

Nevertheless, the setlist is not set in stone! I react to the people in the room and the mood. I put pauses between songs to add to the feel of it being live music. I skip songs, do them out of order, add new ones, take requests. It is jazz, after all, so being flexible and spontaneous is part of it; and having a framework makes everything flow smoothly.