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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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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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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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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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Mama may have…

JC1-11-12-18Jazz Congress Confidential – Part One

As a singer/songwriter myself, the panel discussion on Jazz Vocalists and Repertoire last Thursday was of great interest to me.  Ann Hampton Callaway, Jazzmeia Horn, John Pizzarelli and Catherine Russell joined moderator Deborah Grace Winer for an hour of talk and performance.  I was especially interested in seeing and perhaps meeting Ann and Catherine, as I hoped I might interest them in some of MY songs.

The discussion began with the obligatory joke about advising female singers in their early teens against adding Love For Sale  to their repertoire.  Then there was a lot of talk about how critical the lyrics were – the apparent sanctity of the words of a song completely overshadowing the significance of the melody, rhythm and chord progression. I might have bought into this partially, at least – except for the performance of “God Bless The Child” by Catherine and John towards the end of the hour – which inspired winces when she substituted the wrong words and he played some very un-choice chords behind her. You can see/hear for yourself HERE  – starting at around 57 minutes in. Both John and Catherine were apparently quite pleased with themselves, as was much of the audience – but after carrying on about the sacred nature of the lyrics and their ability to convey the message of the song, I’m here to tell you that to me, there’s a world of difference between “though the Bible says” and “so the Bible says” – also “empty pockets don’t even make the grade” vs. “empty pockets don’t ever make the grade”.  The devil is in the details.

I have a great deal of respect for both John and Catherine as established legacy artists, i.e. their parents were “heavy hitters” in the music industry – and so I hold them to a higher standard than generic club date musicians/singers. They know better, thus they should do better! Sloppiness in performance affects meaning and creates the wrong impression of the song. Catherine and John need to remember that while most people in the audience are well acquainted with Billie Holiday’s work, for some people, this could be the first time they hear this song. For someone else, it may be the last time they hear the song. Being careless is perhaps caring less than a performer should – and an industry panel on repertoire is not the place to be careless!

So I say: God Bless The Singer and the Musician… who care enough to get the lyrics and music right!!

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