#jazzcongress, music biz

First Morning – Wake Up Calls

JC1-11-12-18

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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#jazzcongress, music biz

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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music biz

Waiting for Harold Vick

I fell in love with recording studios the first time I stepped into one, so in the 70s I was always happy to get to hang out observing sessions after I’d finished copying parts for the musicians. One winter afternoon my client had booked Harold Vick, (who I had never met before), to add a solo to the song “Dream of a Child” on David Forman debut album  but at session time Mr. Vick wasn’t anywhere to be seen. So we waited. And waited. Tweaked David Forman’s vocal track, listened to some preliminary mixes. And waited. And waited.

90 minutes late, Harold rushed in to the studio. I can’t recall his excuse for being so tardy, or if he even offered an excuse. And I thought to myself, “buddy, you’d better play your ass off, after making everyone wait around so long for you!”

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Harold brushed the snow off his coat, got out his tenor, put on headphones and absolutely nailed it, first take. He was perfect. Turns out his contribution had been well worth waiting for.

Unfortunately, my client’s work on the album was thrown out and replaced by Joel Dorn. And although Harold is still listed in the credits for this album, there’s no trace of the gorgeous solo he’d played on the final release.

In spite of the album being virtually all ballads, Rolling Stone thought quite highly of it – even 40 years later. I can only imagine what they would’ve thought of the record with Harold’s solo!?

My old boss at E.B. Marks Music, Don Sickler agrees with my high opinion of Harold – he was head and shoulders (literally!) above the rest. Harold was taken from us way too young, but is remembered in Did You See Harold Vick? – Sonny Rollins – a 2-chord riff of a song that doesn’t evoke Harold in any way, other than mentioning his name. It’s the least Sonny could do, considering that Harold played rings around him, IMHO.  Here – listen and judge for yourself:

Harold Vick – Don’t Look Back

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Career Advice 101

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Since I grew up craving to hear stories about how other musicians had succeeded in “the biz”, I always assumed that younger musicians and students might someday take an interest in my career trajectory. Alas, I haven’t had many opportunities to share my experience with very many over the years and as time passes and technology changes everything, my music biz life seems to be less and less relevant to anyone. Which is a shame, since it still fascinates me!  🙂

That said, my adventures were what they were, and I think I’ve learned a few things that aren’t totally outdated and actually apply to “the real world” as well as the music biz.

  • Having the desire and skills are necessary, but developing relationships with other people is absolutely essential. Nothing else will take its place. It really is “who you know” and who knows you and what you can do.
  • It helps to be a member of the clan – whether that’s ethnic, gender, age, education, sexual orientation, religion or whatever else sets you apart from the crowd.   Be aware of where you’re already included and exploit the hell out of it!

Believe me – Scientologists look out for other Scientologists and Berklee alumni look out for fellow Berklee alumni. “Birds of a feather” hire one another.

  • The music biz, like life, is not a meritocracy. (just look who’s occupying the White House these days!) Don’t waste time and energy bemoaning the unfairness of stupid music being championed as “great” – even those stars whose careers have withstood the test of time have to keep paying their publicists to stay in the public eye.
  • Once you’ve identified a gig/persona/objective you really want, stop asking for validation from your friends, family and mentors and just do it!

Upon graduation, I wanted to become a female Aaron Copland. When I recognized that I was more interested in songwriting, I did everything I could to write pop songs. A couple years later I was introduced to the jingle business and began pursuing that. Over time I began to build a sample reel, and when I was offered a full-time gig arranging music for advertising in Chicago, I didn’t consult with my teacher Hale Smith on the decision, as I thought he would probably not approve. By that time I was hell-bent on jingles and did not want any dissenting opinions on my next move!

  • You can only be who you are. It doesn’t pay to try to be anyone else. Your essential nature is what it is, and while you can strive to become “more outgoing”, for example, or “to have a tougher hide”, you’ll always be fighting your innate nature, and that’s exhausting in the long haul.
  • Listen to the “experts” but ultimately follow your own self-knowledge about your identity. Other people can point out your strengths and encourage you to consider new ideas but no one knows better than you do who you really are.

In the 70s I forced myself to make cold calls to get performing gigs, and I did manage to connect with a few booking agents, but they had their own agendas and were constantly trying to fit me into their idea of who I should be and what I should be doing – i.e. the booker who mistook my being heavy as an opportunity to get me to be a piano-playing Totie Fields– as if 25 extra pounds magically made me a comedian and not a musician!  She told me repeatedly how she could have booked me a lot more gigs if only I was funny, but at 22 years old, I took myself MUCH too seriously to fit into that mold – even if making people laugh is ultimately more rewarding than singing and playing the piano!

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FUNNY Totie Fields

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SERIOUS Marilyn Harris

 

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music biz, self-acceptance

Being “In The Room”

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Last week I had occasion to observe an audition for a college band director. My initial impression of the candidate confused me; while he was well-groomed, well-dressed and carried himself in a professional manner, I sensed something slightly “off” about him beyond what might have been attributed to nervousness. His beat patterns were clear and he appeared to have mastered the outward authority of conducting, but his “vibe” somehow didn’t register as authentic – it felt a bit like he was “phoning it in”. After a few moments, I saw what it was: he was so busy trying to look good that he wasn’t actually there in the room!

Bearing in mind that I never studied music education in college and didn’t have the language to clearly articulate what I found troubling, I still knew that something didn’t feel right;  I repeatedly noticed that when he asked the band to go back and replay a certain section, he didn’t say anything about what he thought was wrong nor provide suggestions what the musicians might change to make it better. Consequently, nothing improved. He didn’t bother to stop the band and start again when their entrances were raggedy, and there were other details about the players’ attention and posture to which he seemed oblivious, not to mention musical nuances. While he physically occupied the space on the podium, instead of actually being there in the room with everyone else, he seemed to be projecting an image of what he thought a band director should look like, showing off for the video camera that was recording the rehearsal. I got the sense he was playing the part of Conductor.

I began to feel concern for the students in the band, should this director be chosen for the position; would he be able to get past himself, would there be “room” enough for them to exist, for their problems to be addressed, or would the maintenance of his self-image displace their education?

I know what it’s like to audition for a gig and how nerve-wracking it can be to interview for a new position, so I can empathize with however much anxiety he may have felt that day. But I also know how necessary it is to show up for life, no matter how scared I am.  I have to risk being seen, risk becoming known, and I’ve learned it isn’t any good to sell other people on an idea of who I might be, only to have them become disenchanted when I can’t measure up to that idea. I have to show up and actually be “in the room” to connect with other people.

Ram Dass  wasn’t kidding when he wrote his book “Be Here Now“.  There’s really no other place to be. There’s really no other time than now.

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growing up, learning, music biz

Believe Them The First Time

I can forgive myself for wanting people to be better than they are – to make good on their promises, show up on time and behave honestly – despite many experiences to the contrary. I’ve certainly let myself down, so why shouldn’t other people? But there have been a few instances that stand out.

I’ve learned major lessons from each CD we’ve released; the first one (in 1993) taught me that expenses will run over – there will be tracks that need to be “fixed” and some that will need major reworking, so count on needing more time and money than you’d originally planned. The second one (in 2004) taught me that radio promotion is not enough – you’ll need publicity to make any kind of a splash, no matter how awesome you know your recording to be. The third CD (in 2006) taught me “Caveat Emptor” – in bold relief. And that Maya Angelou was a very wise woman.

We’d been shopping for a publicist for a while, asking our jazz friends about their experiences. No one we knew would recommend anyone (which may tell you something about the nature of the publicity industry!?)  So when a collaborator began to sing the praises of one couple he was working with to promote his jazz career, we were excited to meet them!

When she said, “I don’t know what we can do for you”, that should have been the first clue to heed, since:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AMBut we were impressed with their big fancy house in a fashionable part of town and their list of successful clients in all media and we were tired and time was growing short for our release date and we desperately wanted to work with someone (anyone???) who was connected in the biz, to get the word out about the new CD!!  And yet:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AM

And then there were their adorable dogs, and the photos on the walls of their past triumphs and we could see how wonderful it was going to be when they promoted our wonderful CD and got us reviews in all the trades and even a mention in People magazine andwe joined those triumphant success stories on the wall, and… and… and…
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Even though she had told us that she didn’t know what she could do for us (and she was right – she did not know and wound up doing virtually nothing!!), she was more than happy to take our sizable check. And great was our ultimate disappointment.

If only we’d believed her the first time.

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music biz

Old Dog, New Tricks

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Out of nowhere right before New Year’s, I was invited to play with the Tucson Symphony for a couple of Byron Stripling concerts.  He’s a very talented trumpeter who also sings and was doing a Louis Armstrong/New Orleans type of thing with the TSO in conjunction with the Tucson Jazz Festival. I was a bit hesitant because I’d never played with an orchestra, had no idea who had recommended me for the gig and I thought it might be too much work for not enough money (a trend these days!?) But then I thought, “heck, this is Tucson. How many other piano players could do it better than I could, if I put my mind to it?” and I couldn’t think of too many, so I said yes.

I picked up the music at the orchestra office and felt a bit daunted – LOTS of notes! – I’d have to actually read, and not just chord symbols! LOTS of complicated rhythmic figures and changing tempos and time signatures, due to the medley-nature of the charts. LOTS of empty bars of rests to count! (Being a pianist who usually plays club dates and private parties, I haven’t had to count bars of rests very much in my professional life – I usually just play wall-to-wall! I’m here to tell you, it’s mighty nerve-wracking to count measures of rest if you’re not used to it.)

I researched as much as I could online on Mr. Stripling – looking for YouTube videos so I could hear his patter, how some of the pieces should sound, his bio, etc. And I practiced a couple hours every day for 2 weeks with a metronome!!  Sometimes right before bed, but always at least once through the show, because some of the tunes were burners, and I was afraid I’d mess up if I didn’t have them under my fingers – (these days I don’t usually play anything that fast!!)

I felt pretty well prepared by the time of the rehearsal. That night’s concert went well, and the following day’s matinee went well, too. A couple weeks later the paycheck came in the mail. I feel pretty good that I took on something that was a bit out of my comfort zone, devoted the necessary time to learning it, and then performed pretty well! I even found out who had referred me for the gig – a percussionist I’d hired for a church gig many years ago!? (you never know, do you!?)

Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you’re patient and keep calm, eh?  🙂

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