learning, music biz

Show Biz is a Team Sport

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.38.28 PMI’ve known so many gifted people – musicians, singers, writers, painters, actors  – whose talents I’ve seen only marginally rewarded, or hardly recognized at all. The unfairness of this vexes me and I’ve sought to explain it to myself somehow. Some people shy away from the spotlight, and that’s okay; most of my own career has been “behind the scenes” as a support person. But we need more art and creative insight for life to make sense, and talent needs to be championed and cultivated for how it enriches and gives meaning to our lives.Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.37.38 PMI’ve noticed among those of my friends who enjoy enduring career success that somewhere along the way, they’ve been blessed by a support team; whether early on, in the form of a nuclear family that made sacrifices, or professionals in the field who were hired and/or inspired to train and encourage the protegé. The “self-made” man or woman is pretty much a Hollywood conceit; in real life, artists need as much or more coaching as athletes.

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With my first CD of original songs, I ran out of money and tried in vain to do all the promotion and marketing by myself…. but that’s not the truth, either – because without the invaluable talents and ceaseless help of my partner Mark Wolfram, I doubt I’d have ever finished that or any other release! A few years later when I got a chance to work with Windham Hill Records, I got a taste of how the music biz “machine” functioned to package, present and market music – and it was impressive! From the publicist to the video lighting guy to the makeup artist, they all had the concept down cold, and to a relative outsider like me, it was slick and overwhelmingly professional!  I kinda felt like  Queen For A Day.  (See my similar deer-in-the-headlights look HERE as well? When you’re used to taking your own bath, it’s startling to suddenly be waited on hand-&-foot!)

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Art directors, engineers, producers and stylists put these things together, and the smart artist accepts their help with gratitude. THIS trio is obviously confident enough to appreciate what each other brings to the party, as well as all the behind-the-scenes people responsible for showing them all off to best effect:

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Bing, Sinatra & Dean – Together Wherever We Go

(It’s no wonder agents, managers, publicists and producers are frequently the first people to be thanked when a celebrity wins an award!)  No matter how “rugged self-starting individualist” an artist may appear to be, designing, manufacturing and wearing ALL the hats of Performer-Creator-Manager-Stylist-BookingAgent-etc.-etc.-etc. is exhausting…  we’ve each only got one head and there IS such a thing as too much millinery!

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As usual, Sondheim got it right:  “someone is on your side….No One Is Alone”

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music biz

Right! Here! No Regrets.

 

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Last year I read a piece in The New Yorker about Orange City, IA, and how the town has prospered, unlike so many small towns in America, because much of the population has stayed put, instead of moving on to a larger life in a big city.  It made me think of the various moves I’ve made over the years, and how inconceivable it was for me to have done otherwise.

My family moved around a bit while I was growing up – from Syracuse to Cicero to Albany, NY – and then to East Hartford and Hartford, CT when my dad got a new job. Cicero and East Hartford were the only real suburbs, and my parents hated them both – my dad referred to East Hartford as “the armpit of the world”, even tho I don’t recall it being so bad. Sure, there was baseball in middle school, which I totally sucked at – but I bought my first piano when we lived there – how bad could that be? Still, my folks breathed a huge sigh of relief when we moved back to “civilization” where we could walk or take the bus to pretty much wherever we wanted to go.

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New York City was mecca for my parents, so of course that was where I envisioned myself settling after school; I could have no sooner stayed in Hartford after graduation than I could have sprouted wings. It was terrifying but also essential for me to go – New York had been calling me my entire life! And when other opportunities beckoned, I moved to Chicago and Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. Since Arizona isn’t exactly a music biz hotbed, I’ve puzzled at times how and why I wound up here.

But looking back, I can see how each location we called “home” turned out to be the right place, ultimately – even if it may not have appeared that way at the time. For example, I’d been cowed by the incredible musical skills of Los Angeles musicians, to the degree that I didn’t feel adequate to pursue recording sessions as a piano player because, literally around the corner from us lived Ralph Grierson, a pianist who was expert at ALL styles of music. Plus, with so many musicians ready and willing to work for “exposure” (AKA extremely low pay), the competition felt overwhelming! Most of my experiences playing live gigs at clubs and parties left a lot to be desired. But since moving to the Tucson area, I’ve been recommended for a lot of gigs that I wouldn’t have been called for in L.A.  and I got to experience some “steady” work, playing church gigs and musical theater, as well as ongoing work in jazz trios, which increased my confidence substantially.

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My life has hardly embodied the adage to “bloom where you’re planted”, but my current perspective is that I went where I went, when I went, to the right place at the right time. If it should have been different, it would have been different.

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♫ ♩Home again, ♫ ♩home again, ♫ ♩ ♩jiggety jig!!

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growing up, self-acceptance

The Way We Weren’t

 

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I’ve noticed how my perceptions of movies have changed over the years; when I saw  GEORGY GIRL  as a teenager, I identified totally with the title character, but upon watching it 30 years later, I felt much more in common with James Mason’s  character.

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Likewise with

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LAST TANGO IN PARIS,  which I saw when I was the same age as the female lead, Maria Schneider.  I was amazed when I watched the film again in the mid-90s, to find that instead of empathizing with her, I felt for Marlon Brando’s  character. The same was true when I revisited NETWORK  after a couple decades.

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Where I had initially seen myself in Faye Dunaway  I was now was all-in with William Holden.  It wasn’t just the wrinkles… something else was also going on.

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Since its release in 1973, I’ve probably watched THE WAY WE WERE  at least a half dozen times, swept away with the “romance” and soaring (and Oscar-winning!) title song/score, and empathizing with Barbra’s  character.  Supposedly the lovers’ “political views and convictions drive them apart”,  but upon my latest viewing, I don’t see it that way any more. What I DO see is how brittle and insufferably humorless our heroine is – and wonder how Redford could abide her for even 10 minutes!? She doesn’t truly love him “the way he is/was” because she keeps trying to change him! Conversely, she doesn’t exist as a real, whole person to him – I don’t believe he even likes, let alone loves her for who she is!?

Okay – it’s only a movie. I get that. But these are the stories we all grew up on at our collective movie-theater-campfire. As unsettling as it may be to see them for what they truly are, isn’t it better to know what we’ve been fed and been feeding ourselves, than to remain ignorant of how these stories inform our lives?

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Proud To Be A Marilyn

Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Five

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The Stagecraft Masterclass turned out to be the highlight of Jazz Congress, at least for THIS delegate!  In spite of having checked her out online beforehand, I wasn’t prepared for the glory that is Marilyn Maye,  and everything from her musical chops and good humor to her playful flirtation with Paquito D’Rivera utterly charmed me! When they began to make music together with pianist extraordinaire Tedd Firth,  I literally couldn’t stop smiling! THIS is how jazz is supposed to be, folks; joyful and spontaneously combusting to beat the band!

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Ms Maye’s advice to performers is straight-ahead:

  • take the stage with energy and make eye contact
  • sing TO the audience, not FOR them!
  • acknowledge and appreciate the audience, no matter their size
  • start with happy songs about the audience (sensing a trend yet?)
  • grab ’em at the beginning and don’t let go
  • THEN follow with your ballads and stories
  • Be considerate about who’s on after your appearance
  • It should be a party!
  • use tools to connect with who shares the stage; soft respect and intense listening
  • reveal the context, i.e. describe how and why you’re performing this song now
  • make your patter have a payoff
  • use rubato judiciously
  • if you’re “a woman of a certain age”, wear sleeves and cover your knees!

She made me proud to be a Marilyn!

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Bringin’ It All Back Home!

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Four

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All the Jazz That’s Fit To Tote!

I attended my first Jukebox Jury 13 years ago at the JazzWeek Summit in Syracuse, and it was a trip; seeing radio programmers responding to new releases was edifying, to say the least. When they all got super-excited about the newly-found recording of Monk & Trane, my heart sank; so much for those of us still living, writing NEW songs!? After I expressed my dismay to Mark Winkler, we got a new song out of our angst, They’re Gonna Love Me (when I’m dead).

Fortunately this most recent incarnation of the Jury at the Jazz Congress didn’t include any new releases by dead people, so that was encouraging! The list of 20 new releases was well-received by the panel of radio programmers ( Mark Ruffin, Gary Vercelli, Eric Jackson and Arturo Gómez), and the comments they and moderator Brad Stone made were nuanced and helpful in understanding WHY certain tracks would “make the grade” at their stations. While some recordings were criticized rather harshly, (watch out, vocalists!! especially those of you with “tribute” projects!!), mallets players are in luck, as the vibraphone and marimba appear to have made a comeback, with enthusiastic reception from everyone on the panel. And apparently radio promoters are more essential than ever for getting your music on the air, as music directors are inundated with more and more product than ever before…. especially from those pesky singers!

The Jazz Radio Roundtable session later that afternoon continued to reveal radio programmers’ secrets – I was grateful for JazzWeek’s sponsorship of both of these events and really missed seeing Ed Trefzger,  who was unable to attend the Congress. I’m continually struck by how avidly jazz fans pursue the music – one would never guess how marginalized and practically invisible it is to the music biz overall.

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#jazzcongress, music biz

Hail, Jazzer, Well Met!!

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Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Three

One of the most appealing aspects of industry confabs like the Jazz Congress  is the opportunity to make new jazz friends and reconnect with old friends. I went to this latest event with a bit of an agenda, having researched the Attendees List that was thoughtfully posted online. Armed with 80 CDs of my music, I targeted singers and their agents, who I wanted to make aware of my songs, and radio music directors, who I wanted to be sure had recordings of mine that might work with their stations’ programming. I had my work cut out for me, as multiple panels filled the busy 2-day schedule.

The first evening reception proved more cumbersome than I’d hoped; live music, while adding to the party atmosphere, made it difficult to hold a conversation, and the room was very full indeed. I spied people I knew, like vocalist Judy Wexler and pianist/composer Deanna Witkowski , then turned around and they had disappeared in the crowd. I was able to touch base briefly with radio promoters Josh Ellman & Mark Rini,  Jim Eigo, and Michael Carson,  and radio programmers Dr. Brad Stone, Ken Irwin, Arturo Gomez, Derrick LucasMary Foster Conklin, and Neil Tesser,   Even though they weren’t on the list of attendees, I’d hoped to run into David Berger,  Kit McClure, Gene Seymour, Howard Johnson, Kate SmithJudi Silvano and Bob Dorough. A tall order for a 90-minute schmoozefest! But I’m a bit greedy that way. And I DID manage to distribute almost all of the CDs I had brought!

One of the best parts of this trip turned out to be spending time with my songwriting collaborator Carol Heffler,  who I hadn’t seen in a long while – she’s one of those friends where you can pick up where you left off and never miss a beat. After I got home I realized that 4 days is too short for me to visit NYC – there are too many people I love there, who I just didn’t have time to see. It was still great to hang out with the jazzers, tho!

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#jazzcongress, music biz

First Morning – Wake Up Calls

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Jazz Congress Confidential – Part Two

I have never been a “morning person”, and living on Pacific and Mountain Time for the past 25 years has only exacerbated my inability to fully function before noon in the Eastern Time zone. That said, I really DID want to get as much from attending the Jazz Congress, so I’d done a lot of research and had planned to attend the panel on The Power of Crowdfunding. At 9:30 AM, for me, it just didn’t happen. I DID talk later with others who had managed to be there, and they filled me in on how moderator Mac Randall  had led the discussion with  Leigh Lust , Jon Madof  and Maria Schneider.

 

It probably didn’t help that, in addition to the (to me!) relatively early hour, I really dislike the concept of crowdfunding. It may be “the wave of the future”, but I’m old-school and find the idea of online begging repulsive. In the past, organizations like the NEA helped artists finance their projects, and even though the recipients were utilizing “other people’s money”, the funding came from a collective; the US taxpayers. Artists weren’t reduced to figuratively standing hat-in-hand, begging for survival from complete strangers.  And trying to entice donations by offering premiums and pseudo-creative involvement cheapens the paradigm that much more – I don’t know about other creators, but I sure don’t want anyone peeking over my shoulder while I’m deciding the next word or next note or next chord in my project! I want to wait until I’m sure I’m finished with it before you get to hear/see!!  While I know there’s a current trend towards soliciting input from the community, requesting the audience’s opinion and pretending we’re ALL creating together, I prefer a little more respect for the creative impulse, which, like a shy person in a public toilet, doesn’t want to be observed. For me, there’s a time for privacy (composition) and a time for the spotlight (performance) – at least when it comes to non-disposable art that the creator actually values!?

So it’s probably just as well I couldn’t pull myself together first thing that first morning – I might have said something I would have regretted. As it was, I had to bite my tongue when I passed by Maria Schneider later that day; “Girl!”, I wanted to say, “you HAD a recording contract with a major label! You won freakin’ GRAMMY awards! What is WRONG with you? Why couldn’t you enjoy letting the music biz machine work for you and just concentrate on the music part!?” Something I may never understand.

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I DID make it to the next panel on the schedule:  Gender & Jazz – discussion starts at 1:36:00 in  with Michelle Mercer  moderating Terri Lyne Carrington, Ingrid Jensen , John Murph and Ellen Seeling . I had high hopes when the discussion began with the words “systemic sexism” because to me, that’s much more important than reciting specific instances of individuals being sexually assaulted by their bosses and/or peers, and addresses the ocean of misogyny in which we all swim. But Terri Lyne and Ingrid have apparently never had to grapple with this to the extent that most females I know have had to, and their comments revealed an airy-fairy reality that doesn’t actually exist for most of us humans! There’s nothing wrong with being aware of “the soul connection thread of life”, but let’s not ignore the elephant in the room, eh?  Terri Lyne and Ingrid seem to believe that meritocracy always trumps gender, which makes me wonder: are they innately superior musicians, able to deny the problem actually is a problem, at least for them? Where does this leave the rest of us mere mortals, who are not superstars?

 

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Ellen Seeling – photo courtesy of Sandra Marlowe http://www.sandramarlowe.com

On the other hand, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with everything Ellen Seeling said – from her description of decades of gender discrimination on the bandstand and its impact on women and girls – to her well-reasoned solutions to correct this prejudiced treatment. While not discounting the spiritual nature of creating music, Ellen focused on how soul-destroying misogyny is in the real world, and offered suggestions of how to level the playing field in real life. I applauded her resilience as a musician forced to confront sexism every day of her career, and the audience and I embraced her practical ideas of how to change the landscape by portraying and promoting women as musical mentors, judges and leaders. The Girls Jazz Camp pioneered by Ellen and her partner Jean Fineberg is a life-changing opportunity for young female musicians to learn the musical and social skills needed to compete. Active encouragement for girl music students starting in elementary and middle schools, to shape their self-esteem in spite of all-pervasive patriarchal pressure to the contrary, is the beginning of equality for all.

In the professional world, Ellen identified established groups that systematically exclude women from consideration, including our hosts, Jazz at Lincoln Center, whose big band amazingly hasn’t included a single female instrumentalist in 30 years! The lack of a standardized code of conduct demands to be addressed, and women musicians need to organize and educate their communities about the discrimination that persists in spite of decades of effort to achieve equal treatment. At the very least, OPEN job listings for available positions and blind auditions are called for.  Boycotts of jazz festivals that fail to feature women instrumentalists will bring more awareness to this problem, including boycotting sponsors of these sexist events. When asked how audience makeup affects sexist attitudes, Ellen responded that including women on stage will increase audience size – and I believe she is right! I’ve watched for 45 years as women musicians have been passed over, ignored, minimized and… #timesup !!

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