“You gotta pay the band,” according to Abbey Lincoln.  

This isn’t a post about putting more than a dollar bill in the tip jar: that’s for another time.  

This post is about responding with open hearts to the marvels the musicians create for us.   

Because of JAZZ LIVES, I have been having the time of my life recording live jazz performances and sharing them in cyberspace for free.  I am so happy that people who can’t get to a New York club or Chautauqua or Whitley Bay can now enjoy what the musicians do so brilliantly.  And my readers tell me regularly how these videos enrich their lives.    

Without intending to take advantage of a soul, I have made it possible for people to see hours and hours of live music for free.  But the last two words of that sentence have come to seem an unfairness.   

Have no fear: I do not plan to stop videorecording jazz performances.  To do so would break my heart.

People have told me, “You are acting as an unpaid publicist.  These musicians are getting great publicity and exposure!”  Maybe that is true, but I think that even politely asking musicians to work for nothing isn’t right. 

When some New York City listeners tell me, “I don’t have to go to ____ club because I can watch the performances on your blog,” that’s not right, either.   

So, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  You know the song.

want to make JAZZ LIVES a medium for generosity and appreciation so that people all over the world can send the musicians tangible recompense for their creativity.  

A few musicians I’ve spoken with have dissuaded me from the iTunes model (putting a set price one must pay to view each video). 

I like the idea of a PayPal DONATE button.  People could donate what they choose as the spirit moves them.  I know that my readers would be generous!   

Let us give back to those who give us so much joy.  It’s only fair!



  1. Were the Ear Regulars working for nothing at that place in Soho? If so that is an incredible situation. I basically have considered myself a semi-retired musician because I have reached the age of 63 and there are very few gigs. But to see and hear such great musicians, in their prime, working for tips only? Each and every case of younger guys and gals playing for tips only should be indicated in capital letters on your blog. I did take a few years off from music and worked in the non-music business and made a few bucks that are now in my 401K but employers don’t match contributions and it’s hard to maintain an IRA if you are working for tips. The PayPal button is a good idea. It probably won’t change things much but it might make the bar/restaurant owners feel guilty.

  2. Another suggestion – yearly, monthly subscription arrangements?

  3. I never said that any of the musicians I have videorecorded are “working for nothing,” and I would not presume to comment on the yearly take-home pay of any of my heroes. It is not my place to do so and in this culture people are much more willing to tell you about their intimate lives than their financial ones. The point of my blogpost was to ask my readers to help me find a way to give something back to the musicians whose video-performances are circulating among the enthusiastic lovers of this music without the musicians getting any reward for the airing of their efforts and talents.

    The financial inequities of the jazz field are well-known and too sad to go into right this moment, so all I will say is that I have seen the best minds of my generation (to borrow from Ginsberg) playing for thirty dollars a night. At the end of 2004, I think, I went to a jazz brunch at a place in New York City that (no surprise!) no longer offers jazz as part of its New Orleans theme. Three of the finest hot musicians I know — with world-reputations, whose names you would instantly recognize — played from 11 AM to 1 PM with very short breaks for $75.00 apiece. The professional people I know would consider it beneath their dignity to work for this money, but jazz musicians often cannot afford to be snobbish. There! I’ve said all I want to say on this particular subject. Yours, Michael

  4. Hmmmm. How would I do this? I am (quite frankly) not looking to turn JAZZ LIVES into a business. I have no skills there and — as it is — I think I spend more than forty hours a week blogging. I don’t pay myself a salary and am doing it for love . . . but a very interesting idea. Keep ’em coming! Are you a jug player, or is your email just witty? Cheers, Michael

  5. Yeah, well… it’s “just one of those things” that sorts itself out eventually one way or another. Remember Vincent couldn’t give his paintings away. We worked for 30 at Brew’s in the 70’s. Cheatham paid me 400 for a party in Princeton with a white stretch-limo at my door – (Charlie Batemen and “Mohawk” – Ted Sturges) – and now it’s the tip jar at Arthur’s when they’re stuck for a drummer. Pay dues mother fletchers. The videos can only help!

  6. Dear MB,

    In the name of affectionate clarification: I wrote this post because I wanted to, not because my musician-comrades spend all their time whining into my ear. In fact, the musicians I talk to seem to be very proud people: they don’t whine about their wages because they are thrilled to be playing . . . although the thirty dollars rang a bell — I know sometimes that is the pay for a gig and this is 2011. But no one is behind the scenes asking me to be champion of the economically downtrodden: I wrote this post because I want to be more fair to the people I admire and the music they play. And (just to belabor the point, perhaps) no musician has ever said to me, “Michael, you owe me a bunch of money for taking my creativity for free.” No one. Be well, MS

  7. Hey Michael
    What is fair is fair
    Because of you we get to relive Chautauqua and a vicarious visit to the New York Scene, which we have not visited in far too long. It also gives us a window of the happenings that you are able to take advantage of.
    So I would be happy to contribute. Let me know what the consensus is
    And say hello to your significant other. One day we will catch up with you in your wonderful town.
    All the best

  8. As Red Allen used to say, “NICE!”

  9. Bobby Hacksaw

    caught your blog post about supporting the artists today, and somehow it set me to thinking. I really believe that success is more likely when things (in a sort of Aristotelian way – a $5 word there) operate according to their nature. From my perspective, Jazz Lives is a kind of eye that focuses on the cool things in our world, and lets us watch what’s going on, through Steinman’s filter (a good place to be, to quote Ralph Gleason). One of the amazing things you’ve done is connected a bunch of scattered jazz fans who really give a shit about what you like and who support us musicians. So how ’bout this:

    A Jazz Lives online ‘store’ page — not a real store where business is done, but rather a sort of ‘lens’ where Jazz Lives readers can be directed to purchase recordings, or attend an event, or donate to a cause. Of course, you already do this daily with your blog pages, but one would have to do a lot of scrolling to find all the information, which hardly anyone wants to do, except those with a lot of time on their hands. It could be a simple thing — a page listing CDs you love, and maybe a link to what you wrote about them, and a link to the establishment that sells them. So, for example, an artist’s CD would have a link to CDBaby, or Arbors or Amazon. This would make it easy for someone who stumbles on your site, sees a video and wants to buy a CD Right Now to do so, and in doing so you help out the musicians in a way in which they couldn’t help themselves. One thing that is priceless on the Web today is authenticity, and my man, you are dripping with it! Using that authenticity to help sell recordings seems like a cool way to give back.

    Just an idea! You know that you already give us all far more than we can expect from the Universe!

  10. Yes Michael, I realize that your motive and purpose in writing this post is pure- “responding with open hearts to the marvels…” There can be complexity involved when it comes to “recording” live jazz music and using it in someway. For exampIe, as you say: (a. When some New York City listeners tell me, “I don’t have to go to ____ club because I can watch the performances on your blog,” that’s not right, either) For sure! (b. These musicians are getting great publicity and exposure!” Maybe that is true, but I think that even politely asking musicians to work for nothing isn’t right.)These thoughts and the sight of the tip jar evoked my comment above.
    I come from a generation where a few pretty great players had a coniption if they caught sight of a tape recorder… and a few guys my age today have that same worry. It never bothered me. Never. There are variables, that’s all. If there is no work and the cats are playing for a meal, they eat- that’s a good thing! And if they just want to jam and not ask for money, they have fun- that’s a good thing! And to see you have the time of your life recording/promoting the music you love with such passion – that’s the greatest! And if a musician “whines” when you tell him the bread is “this”- that’s ok, too- he/she may have certain standards which I/we must respect. We have takers and givers as your writing above hits upon. Obviously you are a giver! Your early “recordings” have always brought me immense joy and the bands you are capturing today are marvelous! Perhaps the only way to bring recompence to the musicians you video-publicize (today) is to encourage your blog readers to buy their cd’s at every turn- and come to hear the band- LIVE! Are your videos helping to generate work for your musician comrades? I have to think so. With all the varibles associated in life, and in this case jazz music, things have a way of sorting out. You gotta take the bitter with the sweet- that was the point I was trying to make above. Sorry if I missed the mark.
    As ever- mb

  11. @ Win–No, the Ear Inn DOES pay the band a fairly typical amount, and they show their sincere appreciation and treat the band great. We love playing there, as you might have guessed. We pass the tip jar around to try to bring the take home amount up to more than the usual pittance.

    Naturally, I like Mr. Steinman’s idea of creating a virtual tip jar here, and Mr. Hacksaw’s (great name!) suggestions re a page or pages with easy links for buying CDs and whatnot. I appreciate the others’ comments, too.

    all the best, good people!

  12. Oh yeah, and me and the EarRegulars (and other cats) do sincerely appreciate all that you do to spread the word and support the music and the musicians, Sir Steinman! Thanks a million!

  13. Thank you, kind Sir! And now we’re both Knights: dig it! (But — as the old joke goes — once a Knight might be enough.) See you Sunday and Sunday and Sunday! MS

  14. Shoshana Michel

    I think that a PayPal button would be great. It makes a gentle statement. I’m in line for those that want to give. I really do appreciate all of the videos that you put up. I’m a practicing musician, not a performing one (at least not at the moment), and besides all of the enjoyment that I get from listening to your videos I also use them as learning tools. So thank you again, to you and all of those wonderful jazz musicians out there that you record. And I also think that it would be a great idea to offer a link to CDs and stuff.

  15. Jackie Kellso

    Love the blog, Michael, and love how much you want to support our beloved. I also think links to Amazon, et al, is a great idea for easy access to purchasing CDs.

    How about motivating your readers and fans to also donate via a Paypal button by giving them a chance to request a tune that will show up on an upcoming gig you’ll be recording…of course, with the caveat that the tune is approved of by the band leader?

  16. Fascinating idea! — although, being a worrier, I think there are lots of small logistical wrinkles in it, which all could be ironed out.* I wonder what my musician-readers think of the pay-for-your-request-up-front idea? So I know I’m going to X club, and someone asks me to ask the leader if (s)he will play DIANE, for instance, and would I make a DVD of it for Diane’s birthday for a set fee? Something like that? Opinions, anyone? Most importantly: what does the newly-healthy Rubie think? Love, MS

  17. The asterisk was, of course, to note my stringing two cliches together in a row . . . !

  18. Andreas Kågedal

    On the one hand it would be really great to be able to donate money to the players whose music I enjoy through your blog. I would love that.

    But, my worry is that this would mean too much work for you. Keeping track of who played where etc. and making sure the right people get their proper share of the collected money.

    I’m also worrying that the players expectations when you film them will change. Now you are just a nice guy putting their gig on YouTube and writing about it in your blog. But once you implement this, there might be musicians who start viewing you as a potential “employer” who can give them money.

    I’m worrying that this would make you stop blogging. A nightmare.

    And, your blog is part of what is worth supporting too. It is good for the musicians who get great exposure, and it is great for us readers. I think you should get a share of what you collect as well.

    Where I come from (Sweden) transparency is quite important. If you say that “all musicians on this gig will get a share of what you donate” then you must somehow be able to make people believe that this will also happen, including that guy that sits in for one song and plays a relly great clarinet solo. exactly how you would do that I do not know.

    My proposal is that you don’t say that. Instead you should have a way to donate to “Jazz Lives” (for running the blog) and the “Jazz Lives foundation for supporting live Jazz” (or similar) which you can use to distribute money to musicians as you see fit. In this case people donating will understand that you take the decisions on who and when money is distributed. Not every musician on every gig will get payed by you.

    I would prefer some form of subscription, where I can pay per year or similar, instead of having to press “donate” buttons all the time.

  19. Andreas, I admire your heart and your brain! And some of your worries are my worries, too. But this is an experiment only. If it works, it will be a bonus — a way to show the musicians that the people out there who are at the moment anonymous, the men and women watching the videos, are sending their love in a tangible form. You are right about “dividing the wealth,” and I don’t know how that will work. But I think that the musician who will look at me as a potential employer is not yet born. I don’t dress the part! So let us see how it goes on. I like the idea of being able to give people something for doing what they do so well. And if the idea becomes cumbersome or onerous, I will adjust it or discard it. Believe me, I do not want to turn the blog into a burden for myself either . . . As far as a subscription, that at least is easy. I can imagine someone who doesn’t want to be bothered by the DONATE button simply making a more ample contribution once a year or when the spirit moves him or her. But I think that many interesting ideas run the risk of being undermined at the start by the people involved thinking, “Oh, my goodness, this is going to be so much trouble, let’s not do it!” I am committed to the idea of an experiment for fairness . . . let’s see. With affection, Michael

  20. Well, hire an insomniac! They’ll figure everything out for you! I’m kidding, but seriously…sleeping habits die hard. And so does that experimental phase in one’s life, I see. But I do believe that artists need to be recognized in more ways than a mere tip jar (sorry, Philup). So your idea of a PayPal account intrigues me.


  22. Jackie Kellso

    Well, my husband pointed out that the band loves to honor requests without having to guarantee playing them, for many reasons, and especially based on donations — it wouldn’t be manageable. Okay, it was just a thought. I’m big into using techniques that motivate people to buy, what can I say?

    We’ll keep thinking!

  23. xo back, Miz Pointmaker. Let’s see how the cyber-tip-jar works, too . . . it’s ALIVE, as they say! Be well and warm — MS

  24. Andreas raises some good points.
    The way we work the actual tip jar (Phillup DeBucket) at the Ear Inn is that we divvy up the money equally among the four players that were actually hired for that particular gig. We don’t include our friends that “sit in,” and I am not aware of other bands that employ tip jars that do that, either. Not that we don’t appreciate their contributions or abilities, but the nature of sitting in is that it is voluntary, and done for the fun and joy of it. I don’t think anyone that sits in expects to receive money for doing so.
    But I agree that it should be made clear how folks’ donations will be divvied up, and I assume there must be a way of at least denoting which band is to receive the tip/donation. I also agree that a portion should go to Michael Steinman, but he seems to not want that.

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