Skip to main content

"Do You Know...?"

The Jazz Repertoire in Action

Every night, somewhere in the world, three or four musicians will climb on stage together. Whether the gig is at a jazz club, a bar, or a bar mitzvah, the performance never begins with a note, but with a question. The trumpet player might turn to the bassist and ask, “Do you know ‘Body and Soul’?”—and from there the subtle craft of playing the jazz repertoire is tested in front of a live audience. These ordinary musicians may never have played together—they may never have met—so how do they smoothly put on a show without getting booed offstage.

In “Do You Know . . . ?” Robert R. Faulkner and Howard S. Becker—both jazz musicians with decades of experience performing—present the view from the bandstand, revealing the array of skills necessary for working musicians to do their jobs. While learning songs from sheet music or by ear helps, the jobbing musician’s lexicon is dauntingly massive: hundreds of thousands of tunes from jazz classics and pop standards to more exotic fare. Since it is impossible for anyone to memorize all of these songs, Faulkner and Becker show that musicians collectively negotiate and improvise their way to a successful performance. Players must explore each others’ areas of expertise, develop an ability to fake their way through unfamiliar territory, and respond to the unpredictable demands of their audience—whether an unexpected gang of polka fanatics or a tipsy father of the bride with an obscure favorite song.

“Do You Know . . . ?” dishes out entertaining stories and sharp insights drawn from the authors’ own experiences and observations as well as interviews with a range of musicians. Faulkner and Becker’s vivid, detailed portrait of the musician at work holds valuable lessons for anyone who has to think on the spot or under a spotlight.


“This book consists of a seamless blend of anecdotes and analysis, filled with delight and insight. Robert Faulkner and Howard Becker, writing from their twin perspectives of professional jazz players and renowned scholars, offer an unprecedented understanding of the interpersonal dynamics of jazz performance and the implications of using jazz as a model for understanding negotiations in other realms of human interaction.”

Barry Kernfeld, editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“Faulkner and Becker’s argument that repertoire is a process has broad implications for understanding collective action in different fields of endeavor and for rethinking the place of the art work in music studies. Writing with characteristic skill and wit, the authors illuminate the vital interplay between the factors shaping repertories and the cultivation of individual artistic voices. They take readers on an exacting journey through jazz musicians’ daily challenges as they prepare for performances and create music on the bandstand. Analyzing musical triumphs and failures, the authors illuminate the deep aural knowledge and skills of ‘ordinary’ musicians. This is a book that will inspire readers to listen with new admiration and attention.”--Paul F. Berliner, author of Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation

Paul Berliner

"Jazz musicians everywhere play together pretty easily, even when they don’t know all the same songs and have never rehearsed. Faulkner and Becker draw on their own long experience as musicians and sociologists to ask the right questions of other musicians and to discover even better questions and answers along the way. The result is a model of qualitative research that provides a master key to rethinking one of the great sociological puzzles: how people can work together effectively, or at all."

Mitchell Duneier, author of Slim's Table and Sidewalk

Table of Contents


1          How Musicians Make Music Together  

2          Repertoire as Activity: The Basic Elements   

3          Learning Songs and Building an Individual Repertoire: Sources  

4          The Skills You Need to Play the Contents of the Song Reservoir  

5          Things Change: The Organization of Musical Life  

6          Things Change: The Music  

7          On the Stand: Putting Repertoire to Work  

8          The Results of Bandstand Dynamics  

9          Playing the Repertoire Game: What We Wanted to Know and How We Learned to Ask a Better Question  

Appendix: How We Did the Research  



Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press