Jukeboxes - Human and Otherwise

Are you ready? Then put down that rake, because it’s time for another frankmarzano.com newsletter! 

I’ve been trying to line up gigs, but I’m doing things a little differently this time. Instead of contacting venues that already have live music (and trying to break into Erie’s impregnable music scene), I’ve been talking to venues that don’t have live music, and trying to convince them to have some. Unfortunately, most of these places are content to rely on their jukebox. 

Jukeboxes are the boa constrictors of live music. Have you seen a jukebox lately? You can program them from your smartphone. The selection is virtually unlimited; you can request pretty much any song that’s available on a digital platform (Amazon, Spotify, etc.). (However, in practice, people still choose the same 20 songs that get played on the radio every day.) For an additional fee, you can bump your favorite overplayed FM radio staple to the head of the line. Add to this the fact that the venues get a percentage of the jukebox revenue, and you can understand why they’re so hesitant to turn their jukeboxes off, even for a couple of hours. 

Moreover, a large number of the live entertainers in bars and restaurants today are “human jukeboxes”. They have ipads containing the words to thousands of songs, enabling them to accommodate virtually any request from the audience. In many cases, the ipads even have chords and sheet music, so the musician doesn’t even need to know the song that well. 

One young man I saw took this to absurd extremes. When he received a request from the audience, he would (after pulling up the words and music on his ipad) listen to a few seconds of the song on his smartphone to get an idea of how the song went! 

But on to a more cheerful topic. Shakespeare once wrote that, “the past is prologue”, meaning that history sets the context for the present. I look at the music I made during my “songwriting days” as direct preparation for the fingerstyle jazz guitar that I’m playing now. For this reason, I still look back to my “songwriting” period. 

To wit: Twenty years ago last month I performed at the Baggot Inn in New York City. I’ve taken some audio from that performance and uploaded it to my Bandcamp page: 


Give it a listen if you have a chance. I hope you enjoy these memories as much as I do. 

As for the present… When playing fingerstyle jazz guitar, I employ a wide variety of techniques: Travis picking, Piedmont blues, etc. Mainly I play a “chord melody”, in which I play the chords of the song, keeping the melody note as the top of the chord. It’s fairly easy to do, except that most songs have an “AABA” (verse-verse-chorus-verse) structure. By the time you play through it, only about two minutes have elapsed. 

At this point, a top-notch guitarist like Rodney Jones or Jack Wilkins would start improvising. But, with a chord melody, you’re somewhat limited in what you can play. The result is that I have to rehearse 25 songs to play a one-hour performance. 

I’ll continue examining ways I can improve my musicianship. In the meantime, thank you for your support as I work to keep this style of music alive. 

Rock long and prosper, 


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