Knowledge is power. Local 802 was once again the setting for our fourth Jazz Mentors program, which was presented earlier this summer in the Club Room. The all-star panel included virtuosic drummer-bandleader Sherrie Maricle, top-ranked vocalist/educator Amy London, versatile jazz drummer Alvester Garnett, prominent guitarist and activist Marc Ribot and bassist/educator Ben Allison. The union’s principal business rep in the jazz department, Todd Weeks, moderated the event, as the panel exchanged a freewheeling flow of facts and opinions on the changes and challenges presented to artists in today’s music business.
Alvester Garnett has performed and recorded with many different artists and spanned various genres of music. Recently, he played in the revival of “Shuffle Along” on Broadway. He spoke about the benefits of a steady job on Broadway vs. the challenges of being freelancing in the jazz world. “There’s a lot of competition in New York City,” said Garnett. “To be a successful musician you need to be flexible and open to all opportunities that present themselves.”
Sherrie Maricle, who is the leader of three different groups (her big band Diva, the trio version of Diva, and her quintet Five Play) offered salient advice on the vicissitudes of leading a successful big band. She reminded the audience of the many challenges facing a bandleader, including vital operating expenses such as payroll taxes, insurance and the like. Together with the many other costs involved in the music business, producing your own gigs can be an expensive venture.
But Maricle clearly believes in what she does. She told the audience, “I have had to self-fund many of my own shows; it’s part of the cost of doing business. However, I consider it an important and worthwhile investment.”
Amy London has taught vocal jazz at the New School for more than two decades. She discussed her recent role as producer of her highly-touted CD, “The Royal Bopsters Project.”
“In the current climate of the record business, you have to produce your own recordings,” said London. “There are ways to fund it yourself. Then, if you’re lucky, a label will pick it up the finished product in exchange for promotional support and radio play. That’s how it works. But it’s important to follow your dreams. If you believe in yourself, you will take the plunge.”
As president of the New York chapter of the Recording Academy (formerly NARAS), Ben Allison spoke with authority about the relationship between the recording industry as it exists today and the artist’s ongoing need for control over intellectual property. Currently the Academy (which produces the Grammy Awards) is working on digital copyright issues as they relate to streaming. Allison explained, “This overhaul will take about two to three years. We first need to understand the situation in order to find the correct solutions and discover the most effective way to get the message out there.” Allison aptly remarked, “When Taylor Swift talks, people listen. We need our artists to get involved.”
Guitarist and activist Marc Ribot has established himself as a major player in the music community through his diverse interests, projects, and performances with a wide array of musicians. Ribot’s focus of late has been on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, taking on behemoths like Google, YouTube, Pandora and Spotify. At a previous Jazz Mentors, composer/conductor Maria Schneider spoke about the exploitation of musicians by YouTube. Ribot reiterated the same point, “YouTube posts everything and then requires you to pay them to protect yourself against unlawful downloads. It’s criminal,” he said.
Both Allison and Ribot applauded 802 and the AFM’s involvement in this matter and agreed that it requires all of us as musicians to get involved. We need to learn about the subject, talk about it with others and use our power as a collective to vote for politicians who are committed to changing the laws in favor of artists’ rights.
After four Jazz Mentors programs, it is clear there is a need for this kind of event to help educate, stimulate and motivate the next generation of jazz musicians. These discussions have started an important and pertinent dialogue between established professionals and the jazz community at large. Each session delves more deeply into the complex issues surrounding the music business as it relates not just to jazz but also to issues that affect all of us in the music community and indeed, the industry as a whole. We invite you to join us at the next Jazz Mentors panel on Monday, Oct. 3 at 5 p.m. Details will be posted at www.local802afm.org/about/benefits-services/jazz-mentors.