Sure-Fire Tips for Planning a Great Party!

September 22, 2008.

Here we are 10 days ago, entertaining at a casual garden party at the Hayes Mansion, in San Jose. After two days of pretty intense seminars, all the guests wanted was a chance to relax, kick back, and enjoy each other’s company. It was a wonderful California evening — a fabulous dinner and the perfect background music, ranging from “Stardust” to “Tequila”. Thanks for the nice photo, JoAnn. Left to right: Dale Mills, me, Gary Milliken, and Andy Norblin.

Well, it’s been a busy summer around here! To name just a few familiar locations, we’ve entertained at hotels (Ritz-Carlton, Clarion Hotel, Dinah’s Hotel), country clubs (Ridgemark CC, University Club, Menlo CC, Palo Alto Hills CC, Decathlon Club), businesses (Mountain Terrace, Testarossa Winery, Deja Jewelry, McKormick & Kuletos) and historic facilities (Rengstorff House, Ralston Hall, Dunsmuir House, Hayes Mansion, Stanford Faculty Club). And of course, every summer we play at numerous garden parties at people’s homes.

How about you? Looking to jazz up your next party? Or do you have friends planning their wedding? Please recommend us. They can preview us in Palo Alto and San Jose on October 4th, or in San Francisco on October 7th, or right now at More about this later.

But first, a story. I love this one. About 20 years ago, a gentleman called me and invited me to lunch at his soon-to-be nightclub in downtown San Jose. When we met, he explained that he recently managed a Disneyland-type club in Florida, and he wanted some advice from me about converting the old building we were sitting in, to morph it into a hot entertainment showcase, presenting a wild party every night. Well, we began talking a little about cosmetic things like how to position the stage, the bar, the dining tables, and the doorways, when out of the blue he asked me, “By the way, when does the tourist season start around here?”

What? He was lost from the start. How could he plan a project like that without first asking, “IS there a tourist season out here?” Unbelievable. Since that time, I’ve seen plenty of small party-planning oversights, but nothing like that one.

Chances are good that you’ve planned a party sometime, or even hired a band once or twice. In the process you most likely learned a few helpful tricks and important things to consider, so the next time around your planning will be easier. I’m always helping people go through the process of planning a party (and hiring a band) for the first time, and here’s my own “How To” list (it’s on my website, too). Please look it over and tell me if I’ve skipped one of your favorite “planning” items.

By the way, you can modify this list to help you plan ANY party, or hire ANY event professional — a caterer, facility, planner, wedding coordinator, florist, photographer, decorator, etc.

Here goes...

Planning music for your party can be easy and fun. Sure, you’ll need to make many decisions, but because you have so many options, taking a systematic approach will help you make everything fit together perfectly.

The following suggestions come from experience. Playing nearly every day since January 1975, we’ve helped make thousands of special events memorable. We’ve seen that whether a party needs to be one-of-a-kind or just-like-the-last-one, the planner helps make it successful by selecting the appropriate music.

So, how do you begin? How do you select the right band for the perfect party? It’s simple — just ask yourself the right questions. They’ll help you quickly find exactly what you want.

No matter what styles of music you’re considering, ask yourself first about the atmosphere you want to create. Picture the overall mood you want for your guests. Formal, elegant and sophisticated? Casual and mellow? Upbeat and rousing? Want a unifying theme for your event?

Keep this image in mind as you continue selecting your music. And don’t plan just what it’ll look like. What do you want your party to sound like? What should being there feel like? How will your guests move around?


Whether your heart’s set on one favorite musical style, or if you’re open to a few different styles — for example, jazz, classical, top 40s, rock, disco, or country — examine what’s available:

Ask for recommendations:
* Friends and Colleagues
* Event Professionals (musicians, coordinators, facilities, photographers, caterers, florists, decorators)
* Event Magazines and Entertainment Agencies
* Local Entertainment Listings (internet, newspapers, radio)

Then, when you contact possible bands, here are a few points to check:
* Speak with the musician who’ll actually lead your band.
* Develop a comfortable rapport — be sure the “chemistry” is right.
* Check their experience. Get references.
* Request a free demo CD, tune list, and related information.
* Arrange to hear a live performance whenever possible.
* Other practical issues: Can they act as MC? Can they provide a PA system? Can they provide music during their breaks? Any additional fees for travel or overtime?


Thank goodness you can choose among dozens of musical styles. The Magnolia Jazz Band specializes in entertaining people with popular swing standards, traditional jazz classics, and Latin favorites, and we’ve got what it takes to jazz up hundreds of parties every year.

While many people share our musical preferences, they’re certainly not for everyone. Whatever musical styles you prefer, searching systematically will help you select the right music to make your party perfect. Thank you for considering us, and best wishes for your next party!

So that’s my list, assembled from experience. We’ve spent years honing our skills, learning what makes parties succeed, and we strive for our very best at every party. Let us do the same for you. Is a significant event coming up in your life? Throw a party and include us.

Today I’m talking with people planning parties for Halloween and Thanksgiving. If you’ll have a party on one of these days, or on any day in between, now’s a good time to plan the details, including the music.

Call us at 408-245-9120. You’ll love what we do. We’re easy to work with, so let our experience help your celebration. We play at private parties nearly every day, and you can preview us “in action” twice on Saturday, October 4 (inside Macy’s in Palo Alto and later at an elegant benefit party in San Jose) and on Tuesday, October 7 (at a lively benefit party in San Francisco). Visit for details on these events and more.

Sat, Oct 4, 12–3pm
Macy’s Stanford Shopping Center
El Camino Real, Palo Alto

Sat, Oct 4, 6–9pm
Corinthian Event Center
Third Ave, at St James, San Jose

Tues, Oct 7, 5-8pm
McCormick & Kuletos
Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco