Monthly Archives: October 2017

MONEY BLUES, or BEYOND “FEED THE KITTY”

Go to a jazz club, bar or restaurant that offers live music, and there is often a tip jar (tip vase, tip pumpkin, in the latest incarnation a tip brown paper bag).  Very few people bother to put anything in it, and those who do often think a lonely dollar is just recompense for the hour of music — created by human beings — that they’ve just heard.  I’ve been to nightspots where one of the musicians walked from patron to patron, asking for “tips for the band,” and some people look embarrassed, offer coins, or — in one case — hand the musician a five and ask for three back.  And when the patron is on his or her third drink, it seems offensive to say, “I am worthy of twenty-five dollars of alcohol but the musicians are furniture that makes sounds.  I don’t pay chairs when I sit on them.”

The professional who performs a valuable service (be she an ENT doctor or an estate lawyer helping you write a will) has studied for years to earn that credential, and must keep re-certifying to retain it.  I think such levels of skill deserve more pay than — let us say — folding jeans at the local chain clothing store, with all respect to the folders.  The musician you listen to has probably put in ten thousand hours of practice on her instrument, and keeps working.  That’s worth more than a dollar.

But there’s an intrinsic problem, as Blanche DuBois found out, in relying on the kindness of strangers.  Sometimes people are more strange than they are kind.

A musical interlude at an angle to this theme:

Eric Whittington, owner and spiritual Chief of Staff of Bird & Beckett — bookstore, cultural center, concert space — in San Francisco, has written cogently about this on his blog:

A healthy arts culture requires public subsidy. To us, it seems as simple as that.  

At Bird & Beckett, we generally ask you to put up $10 to $15 to $20 when you come to a show, and that goes a long way. And when you and your neighbors donate to our nonprofit, that supplements the money you put in at the shows and also underpins our overhead costs — so that we can stay in business as a venue and as a bookshop.

Is $10 or $20 a lot of money to hear talented performers play live music?

Not really. How much did you pay for your last burrito? How much did you tip the wait staff in that nice restaurant down the street for visiting your table several times in the course of serving you a meal that cost you $20 to $75? How much did you pay to see a movie over in West Portal? What price the popcorn?

30 people at the bookshop putting in $10 apiece comes to $300. For four musicians, that’s $75 apiece, with nothing to the venue. If there are only 12 people in the room, $15 apiece is only going to total $180 for that Saturday night quartet, though we pay out $400.

But your pockets on any given day are only so deep!
Again, a healthy arts culture requires public subsidy!

As an individual, you are personally making a substantial and crucial contribution when you seek out live music and put up your cash, whether by paying a cover charge, by throwing money in the donation buckets and tip jars, by spending lavishly on a performer’s merchandise and a venue’s food & drink. Still, it’s not really enough unless you’re able and willing to pay a $50 cover instead of $15. Subsidy is necessary. How do we get there? How do we distribute it?

Jazz in the Neighborhood – a wonderful organization that’s been sponsoring performances in non-traditional venues all over the Bay Area the past several years – has just launched a fund to supplement musicians’ pay. Their efforts can’t cover all the musicians in all the venues. Nonetheless, they’re raising the bar, raising consciousness and setting a standard. $150 per show per performer is the goal they’re establishing. You’ll be reading about their efforts in the media. They’re our allies, and champions of the City’s (the region’s) working jazz musicians. Google them now! Wrap your mind around their efforts.

The problem, simply stated is this: It’s unusual for musicians to get decent pay in this city when they play live music. Some get steady work, and sometimes that work is decently paid, but that’s rare and they almost always travel far and long for a 2-3 hour gig, lugging gear, setting up, breaking down and schlepping. Practicing incessantly, working side jobs. And most find gigs only occasionally — teaching or doing what they can to stay in music. For most, pay is paltry and, we believe, insultingly low. Often a just a tip jar to split, or a percentage of the door. Playing your heart out for $35 isn’t unheard of. Playing for less happens too.

How would that sit with you if you were in their shoes?

And here’s another development of the same generous idea, as explored by Burt Dragin in the East Bay Express, called “A New Model for Paying Musicians A Living Wage”.  Here’s the relevant text:

Bay Area trumpeter Mario Guarneri is sympathetic to the plight of freelance jazz musicians. The septuagenarian has a long career performing with symphonies and for television and film, while teaching at various institutions. But in recent years he’s seen up-and-coming jazz musicians struggling just to get by.

“Most venues don’t pay a guaranteed fair wage,” he said. “Instead, they offer a percentage of the door, or ask musicians to split the tip jar.” If you do the math, he said, “the hourly wages often amount to less than the SF city minimum wage.”

Underpaid freelance musicians is nothing new. But lack of union support, the Internet’s supply of “free” music, and an abundance of talented musicians in a buyer’s market have exacerbated the problem.

Years ago, Guarneri decided to do something about it — by paying musicians out of his own pocket. But he realized his method was a band-aid approach to a systemic problem. So, in 2012 he created Jazz in the Neighborhood, a nonprofit whose goal is “to improve the economics of jazz performance in the Bay Area by presenting affordable concerts, paying musicians a guaranteed wage, and supporting the work of established and aspiring artists.”

“Suffice it to say, the music scene as we knew it in the Bay Area in the 1980s and ’90s was a very different scene than it is now,” said Jon Herbst, a sought-after composer, arranger, and audio engineer who helped Guarneri start Jazz in the Neighborhood. “We saw the whole sort of degradation of the music scene take place and were aware of it. We saw that it was affecting many, many talented players that we knew and were associated with; it hit them hard.”

Jazz in the Neighborhood took a major step in 2013, becoming a member of the Intersection Incubator, a program of the nonprofit Intersection for the Arts, which allowed it to receive tax-deductible contributions. Jazz in the Neighborhood has presented nearly 200 concerts in Bay Area venues such as Piedmont Center for the Arts, Community Music Center in San Francisco, and Copperfield’s Books in San Rafael, paying $140,000 to more than 300 musicians. “There was no tip jar allowed and no splitting-the-door percentage deals,” Guarneri explained. Sponsorship comes from a variety of sources: members, grants, corporate and private foundations, local businesses, and ticket sales.

Bay Area jazz guitarist Terrence Brewer has performed at several Jazz in the Neighborhood events and was recently named to the group’s artistic advisory committee. “I love what Mario is doing,” Brewer said. “He has made us realize there is a partnership to be had with young artists and professionals coming together.”

Last year, Guarneri expanded his efforts further by creating the Guaranteed Fair Wage Fund. A survey of Bay Area jazz venues by Jazz in the Neighborhood revealed that musicians were paid an average of $95 each for a three- or four-hour performance. The fund ensures that musicians earn at least $150 per performance by subsidizing up to 40 percent of that amount after the venue guarantees the initial 60 percent of their pay. During a pilot program last year, Jazz in the Neighborhood supplemented musician’s salaries by $2,000 (adding about $60 to each musician’s pay) over the course of eight concerts. This year, Jazz in the Neighborhood received a $3,000 grant from the SF Friends of Chamber Music to fund a concert next year showcasing three young professionals who have come through the nonprofit’s Emerging Artists programs. The concert will be held Feb. 16 in the SF Community Music Center.

While jazz musicians typically haven’t had the support of the musicians’ union, Guarneri hopes to change that. “The union supports the symphony, opera, ballet and theater orchestras because they bring in revenue to the union through work dues and thus have a strong voice in union policies,” he said.

David Schoenbrun, president of the Bay Area Musicians Union Local 6, is sympathetic to what he called Guarneri’s “noble quest.” But he cited several obstacles to revisiting such prosperity. “Patrons once found a value in live music and a willingness to pay for it,” said Schoenbrun. “But there’s been a cultural shift in the value of music, and people often feel it should be free. That’s been a difficulty, and it’s sure to get worse.”

There’s also been a shift in the musicians’ union membership: Most members are in their 50s and 60s. “We have fewer and fewer young people joining, which was not the case in the 1950s and ’60s, when the union could ensure the minimum number of musicians in the room, no matter what kind of music they were playing,” Schoenbrun said. “The only young people joining are fresh out of the conservatory and want to play in orchestras, which requires union membership.”

Younger jazz players are reluctant to join because there is no work for them that requires union membership, Schoenbrun continued. “And they see no reason to expend money on dues if they don’t think the union can protect what they’re doing.”

Another element in the mix is the fact that many musicians do club work “as an avocation, without expectation — or hope even — of ever being paid. It’s a labor of love,” Schoenbrun said. This development, he noted, “takes it out of the professional realm. Club owners plead poverty because they don’t get enough traffic, and only take musicians who have established a following.” Experienced jazz musicians are left to hope that a gig will provide a chance to sell a few CDs.

But there may be a warming in the relationship between Jazz in the Neighborhood and the musicians’ union. Recently, Guarneri and the Jazz in the Neighborhood staff made a presentation to the union board about his nonprofit’s accomplishments. “We’re not sure how we can partner together to help musicians, but they clearly appreciate that we’ve paid professional wages to over 300 musicians and seem to want to help,” Guarneri said.

In the meantime, Guarneri continues to scour the Bay Area, putting on shows and making a pitch to venues and promoters to sign on to the Guaranteed Fair Wage Fund model. Jazz in the Neighborhood will hold a major fundraiser at a private home in Marin on Sunday, Sept. 24, featuring jazz notables Mimi Fox on guitar and singer Clairdee.

Is it possible for Jazz in the Neighborhood to improve the lives of local musicians? Guarneri could have retired long ago. But that’s not his style. “It’s a struggle to change the dynamic, the way musicians are treated in our society,” he said. “But in trying to alter the system, I always ask, ‘Do we have to do things that way?'”

Another interlude:

Bessie Smith and Fletcher Henderson were ground-breaking artists, seriously influential and much beloved.  Neither of them died prosperous.  If you value the music, it is logical to value the artist who creates it.

May your happiness increase!

AFTER HOURS AT MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): JOHN MERRILL, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE LEPORE

I’ve been listening to the fine understated guitarist John Merrill for a few years now, almost always at the West Tenth Street shrine Mezzrow.  We’ve talked of capturing him on video when the cosmic forces were properly aligned, and they were on the evening of September 3, 2017, for what is billed as “after hours.”  In deference to people like myself who are — as Jo Jones termed us, I think dismissively — “nine to fivers,” the set started at eleven o’clock (after two wonderful sets by a Tad Shull trio, which you may admire here).

John had with him Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Joe Lepore, string bass.  They created two performances that are, for me, Instant Classics.

I SURRENDER, DEAR:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

I look forward to another appearance by this trio.  Who knows, I could take off a Monday . . .

May your happiness increase!

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART TWO: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

I never know what might surface in this aging-boy’s den of things that I call my apartment, but often it is pleasing and surprising. Some weeks back, I posted the first segment of an evening of jazz, hot and sweet, performed at The Cajun, long gone, by the Red Onion Jazz Band in its summer incarnation, which means that many of the “regular” members were absent, although the “subs” were superb. You can see it and read about it all here.  (And you can admire the still photograph of the ROJB just below.)

Overseen by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, The Cajun was a novel in itself: ask anyone who went there or made music there.  But that’s another, unwritten blog.

I reprint Dick Dreiwitz’s essay on that night, because it is so good and so apt:

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

The band, for that night, was John Bucher, cornet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Alan Cary, banjo; Ronnie Washam (“The Chelsea Nightingale”), vocal. In this segment, they performed BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / ON THE ALAMO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / JUNE NIGHT (vocal Ronnie Washam) / ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ronnie) incomplete //.

Here, the songs are CHINATOWN (vocal Sam Parkins) / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Ronnie Washam) / FOUR OR FIVE TIMES (with ensemble commentary).  And in the name of accuracy, that’s someone else ordering “another glass of champagne.”  Drinking champagne and videoing do not mix.

I’ve edited these segments a bit, so here’s one anecdote that got cut.  At the end of this set, while the band is packing up, one of the patrons mechanically asks the band for “one more,” to which one of the musicians quietly says, “Three and a half hours is enough.” I agree with the tired, underpaid artists, but I wish I had another twenty hours of this band on video.  I treasure what did get captured.

May your happiness increase!

SOUL FOOD (Part Two): TERRY BLAINE and MARK SHANE (April 30, 2017)

A meteorological note.  Yesterday was the end of September, and it finally turned chilly.  (No more short-sleeved shirts, alas.)  Were I more traditional, I would be offering AUTUMN IN NEW YORK on the blog.  But I prefer music that warms from the inside out.

Singer Terry Blaine and pianist Mark Shane are heroes of mine, and if they are new to you, you have some catching-up to do, but it will all be delightful, as opposed to studying for the final.  I found them most recently at the United Methodist Church in Saugerties, New York, where I recorded their heartfelt performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s BREAD AND GRAVY.  Here are four more beauties from that same afternoon.

Fats Waller’s I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE  TO ME, complete with Marx Brothers relish on the side:

The Fields-McHugh I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, with the lovely verse:

And a “new” bit of Fats-enhanced love, JUST AS LONG AS THE WORLD GOES ROUND AND ROUND:

A sustaining optimism, a warm embrace of the music and of us: Cupid’s arrows that turn into hugs.  Terry and Mark will have another duo gig at the end of January 2018 at Bernard’s Restaurant | Sarah’s Wine Bar (that’s 20 West Lane, Ridgefield, Connecticut).  Keep a warm space on your calendar for them.  Details to come.

May your happiness increase!