Zen and the Art of Depping

"Um, boss? The flute dep has arrived, and you're not going to like it..."

“Um, boss? The flute dep has arrived, and you’re not going to like it…”

One day, eager young tritone-hopper, when you leave this jazz temple, the day will come when you won’t be able to do a gig and have to put in a replacement. There will be a “you-less” hole at the Pillock & Bucket residency, while you’re earning a fortune playing the diddles in Act III of Tannhäuser for a TV special. Or something like that.

Gigs are like everything else in life – feast or famine. The diary will be a barren wasteland with a few tufts of sustaining grass along the way all year, then you’ll hit a lush streak. There you are happy to do the usual night with the guys. Five phone calls later, and you’re supposed to be playing klezmer in Amsterdam on stilts, supporting the latest Y(OYOY)-Factor sensation at the Festival Hall, doing a studio session with a rock band called God’s Socks that’s bound to overrun by at least a week and playing at your uncle Ernie’s 80th birthday party in Wigan all on the same night. Plus you’ve got a hot date, and can’t decide which gig to invite them to…

Well, I’d hope uncle Ernie would get favourable treatment under these circs, but you do see what I mean. And you can’t turn down the work, right? So you juggle favours.

The golden rule of depping in a player is to remember that they are there to represent you. You are not so much sending a “dep” (deputy) as a “rep” (representative).


If you’re tempted to put in someone who will struggle, thinking that there’ll be sighs of relief when you get back on the gig, think again. All you’re doing is making problems for the rest of the band, the dep feel very uncomfortable and yourself look like a small-minded wanker with poor judgment. “Willkommen, ungetreuer Mann” (gratuitous Wagner gag).

When you have to dep, for whatever reason, find the best person you can. Pick the best person and best fit you know, preferably “better” than you are. If the band turns round and says they want to sack you and keep the dep, then they’re not worth you (or maybe vice versa). And any dep worth their salt would refuse the “takeover bid” anyway.

I once depped out a whole month of solo piano gigs while I was off travelling and later learned that the management had been offering my residency to the deps. I’m proud to say that every man Jack of them said something along the lines of: “that isn’t the way it works, this is Jason’s gig – talk to him when he gets back.” Well, all apart from one, and he doesn’t seem to be getting much work these days… (talk about karma)

Most jazzers are pretty flexible and easy-going. But be appropriate. If the gig is a blow, send a blower. If it’s a reading gig, send a reader. If it’s funky shit, don’t send a harpist (although maybe…) And always send someone who you really think will get along well with the guys. Someone you know will click on not just a musical, but a personal level.

So don’t so much “dep” as “rep” – send your representative, sure, but also the custodian of your reputation

It’s worth bearing in mind that a cheap weekly residency is actually worth a couple of grand a year to you. Doesn’t make sense to bust that for the sake of a one-off gala paying £200, does it?

Do take those Tannhäuser gigs. It could be a great break for you and no-one will begrudge you that – and sometimes it is about the “money-money-money”. No problems. Just don’t leave people in the lurch on bread and butter gigs.

Or, as Jimmy Durante put it: “be nice to dem on da way up, cos you’ll meet em all again on da way down!”

No matter how much caviar you may have tonight, you will always need bread and butter in the future. And of course, today’s bread and butter gigs could be where tomorrow’s caviar comes from…

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

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We play every month at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London.

Fri Mar 30th 9pm, £15 (£9 adv)
JLT feat Duncan Eagles ten sax 

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