It’s called the music business for a reason. The business side of music is often anathema to most musicians – something to be ignored, feared or misunderstood. Historically, music conservatories and other higher educational institutions have put little weight on the business aspects of a musical career and more emphasis on performance. Local 802 and the Council for Living Music want to do something to try to fill that void. On Thursday evening, March 10, Local 802 and the Council for Living Music hosted the first-ever Jazz Mentors night, part of an ongoing series dedicated to educating younger musicians about the business of music.
The brainchild of new Local 802 Recording Vice President Andy Schwartz, the series has been created to educate, enrich and facilitate awareness of the business of music – with special emphasis on jazz performance, touring and recording.
The first Jazz Mentors program featured panelists Paquito D’Rivera, Jazzmeia Horn and Bob Cranshaw, and was moderated by Principal Jazz Rep Todd Weeks. The audience was a mix of students and professionals all eager to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how to deal with the many challenges in today’s music business.
The subject of this first session was “Organizing a Career in Jazz.” The artists answered questions put to them by the moderator and the audience, which consisted of both union members and other musicians from the community.
Paquito D’Rivera, the Cuban-born clarinet and saxophone virtuoso, was in fine form, regaling the audience with several anecdotes illustrating the need for business acumen in the jazz field. “One of my first gigs in New York,” remembered D’Rivera, “was at a restaurant with an excellent band put together by Mitch Froman. Bobby Porcelli was in that band, and so was Jon Faddis. But the pay was $5 and a hamburger. I naively asked for a cheeseburger. I was told it would cost me a dollar to add cheese. So my pay was $4 and a cheeseburger. I realized that this was a business, first and foremost. Music is an art, but for me it’s a profession. That’s why we have a union.”
Bob Cranshaw spoke eloquently about his illustrious career as a bass player and the changes in the music business since his arrival in NYC almost 60 years ago.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Cranshaw. “I’m a super side man and I’ve always worked. But I’ve almost always taken all the work I could get. Not just jazz. I never made jazz my whole meal. I made the work of being a musician, first and foremost, the entrée. And if I could get some jazz in there, that was my dessert. You really have to stay open and do everything.”
Jazzmeia Horn is the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute Award Winner for Vocal Jazz and a new member of Local 802. A native of Dallas, Horn moved to New York City to study at the New School. When asked about her transition from student to professional, she recounted her college experience of working at Applebee’s, then running to Smalls jazz club to sing until the wee hours before heading back to school in the morning to attend classes after only a few hours of sleep. She made it clear that there is a fine line between being a student and a professional. As a student musician, performing can be as much of a learning experience as being in the classroom as it also provides an introduction to the ins and outs of the music business.
As her career developed, Horn realized quickly that she had to become her own leader. So she set up her business as well as forming her own corporation. She spoke frankly about booking and hiring her band. “It’s a delicate balance,” said Horn. “I’ve had to get used to the idea that every musician I hire will not always be available to me. Sometimes they get big and start their own groups and go on their own tours. It’s important to have a group of fine players to cull from that you know and trust. And know that by bringing them out with you that you are nurturing their careers as well as your own. That’s the way of the business.”
All the panelists talked about knowing your own worth as a jazz musician.
D’Rivera put it eloquently. “One must look for the economic equivalent of your work.” That is not an easy task in a world of club owners who are often looking to their bottom line. Horn wants to maintain a standard of good wages for herself and her band and has found that in order to maintain that standard, she must sometimes turn down gigs. Cranshaw, who can command high fees for his work, told the audience that at this point in his career, he will often play for “less bread” if it’s for a worthy young, emerging artist. He proudly announced to the students in the audience, “If I can help that young musician pack the house, then I am there. I don’t have a lot of time left – so please use me!” (Cranshaw is 83.)
Being a jazz musician takes talent, skill, persistence and passion. But it also takes endurance, education and the knowledge to be able to navigate the business of music and create a fulfilling, viable career. Because young jazz musicians often lack access to good information when it comes to managing their careers, Jazz Mentors seeks to connect these players with established, seasoned professionals to help fill the information gap, to create a dialogue about the business of music, and to improve the lives and livelihoods of up-and-coming jazz artists.
The next Jazz Mentors session will be on Thursday, April 28 at 6 p.m. here at Local 802. Drummer Matt Wilson will join bassist/composer Rufus Reid and pianist Rachel Z. as panelists. Call (212) 245-4802, ext. 185 or ext. 152 for more details.