If so, how much? What a thorny question this is.
He said playing the music was what he loved and that he would rather do it - even for a sum that would not quite cover his travelling expenses - than sit at home in front of the TV.
Should traditional jazz bands register with such agents? On the whole, I think they should, provided that the agency is reputable. From what I have observed, the best agencies are small businesses (a husband and wife, for example) and they set up very effective interactive web-sites with plenty of information about the artists available - usually including videos. The agencies also advertise in Yellow Pages. They supply very detailed contracts for both the booker and the band to sign: this ensures clearer and firmer arrangements than those under which most bands usually operate. For example, the contract may stipulate how the band should dress, what breaks the band will be allowed to take, and whether drinks and other refreshments will be supplied to the musicians.
A flourishing agency will represent many musicians and other entertainers - not just from jazz - so it is the size of its portfolio that keeps the agency in business.
A typical traditional jazz band in England will not get many bookings through its agent (perhaps half a dozen in a good year) but they may be its only lucrative gigs.
If you are a jazz band looking for an agent, do not assume the agency will automatically take you on. The agency has its own reputation to consider. It will need first to be convinced that your band is good, smart, well-behaved and reliable. But once a band has been accepted and a rapport has been established, the relationship between the band and the agent is likely to benefit both sides for years to come.
This is not to say that bands are unwilling to play once or twice a year free of charge in aid of good causes. Most of them undertake an occasional engagement of this kind - but it is for a cause of their own choice. An example is the Prostaid Cancer Fund-Raising Jazz Day in Leicester, England, when bands throughout the day play for nothing. This annual event was started as a tribute to a local popular jazz musician, who died of prostate cancer.
I'm not arguing that traditional jazz musicians should be paid more, even though I think they deserve more than they get. (You could say the same about people in many other jobs.) I am simply describing how things are.
I must finally mention the horrible 'Pay To Play' system. The Musicians' Union is vehemently opposed to this; and rightly too. What happens is that a venue invites a band to come along and play and then reveals that it expects THE BAND TO PAY for the privilege of 'hiring the floor space' on which to perform! I have come across only two examples of this and I'm pleased to say the bands firmly refused the invitations.
I have received this email in response to the above by a man I greatly respect and admire, Fred Burnett.