Josh Rager said...
"I totally agree with your advice on juicing the "city" for its inspiration. However I disagree with your prediction that the music business is on the verge of collapse based on a gluttony of young jazz school graduates. Personally I have only observed that institutionalized jazz education has served more to train teachers and audience members than jazz musicians. Degrees are a pretty poor indicator of career success in this field. Jazz education and being a jazz musician will always be separate (but perhaps slightly overlapping) fields."
I don't know what city you live in Josh, but in all the major cities that I've spent time in over the last two decades I can say with utter certainty that there are a lot less Jazz rooms today than twenty years ago. Even up here in PDX in the last 10 years since I've been here there has only been a steady decline, no 'cycles' as half-full types like to say. Just a downward trend, it must be a good 75% decline in the last ten years here.
The schools keep churning these kids out every year. Now, I'm not saying that Jazz education is a bad thing, in theory at least, but are the school really preparing these newly minted graduates for the economic realities that they're going to find waiting for them? How about a double major in Jazz performance and catering, or maybe a Jazz comp/barista degree? That would be a bit more realistic.
Since you seem to have found teaching gigs at some of these Jazz schools you probably have a different perspective about the scene than the kids who you are graduating. What would your life be like if you had to survive solely on gigs? It used to be possible to raise a family playing music, not so much these days.
Maybe being a Jazz professor is the only stable Jazz career that there is right now? Just look back thirty years ago. There were tons of touring band gigs out on the road all year long for young players to cut their teeth on. There were house bands in hotels and clubs all across the country that had steady incomes, sometimes for many years at a time.
Who's the biggest employer of musicians in the country (or at least in Las Vegas) now? Probably Circ Soleil! Even Cruise ship musicians are getting the axe right and left.
How much were musicians making for gigs thirty years ago? Same as they do today! Things have changed in a big way over time, and not for the better.
Personally, I am having a great time playing exciting gigs and feel that my teaching is highly rewarding. I'm making more bread with music than I ever did in the past and I haven't had a day gig in years. It is possible to be a professional musician/teacher, but it also doesn't hurt to marry a white-collar wife. :-)
So kids, don't marry a painter, dancer, writer, actor or another musician- unless they also happen to have a teaching gig at a nice Jazz conservatory. Then you just might be able to actually afford to go to a doctor when you need to.
I think that Greg Sinibaldi is right on when he notes that Jazz schools don't teach students to become artists. Shedding won't get you there. You need to actually be able to play and listen to true masters of the art of Jazz night after night in order to learn the ART of Jazz. Those are the opportunities that are getting scarcer as each year passes. Some schools are lucky enough to have masters teaching at them, but players still need a chance to play with bands that are on a high level. Chops are easy to come by these days, but profound musical ideas are usually not nurtured in the woodshed.
The most difficult thing for me about the current situation in my city is that ever though there are some world-class players around, it is really hard to develop a project and keep a band together in order to really work out material over time. I can get younger players to commit to putting in time to rehearse enough to work out difficult shit, but the final result is never as good as using seasoned pros. The guys that I want to work with are too busy hustling their asses off to support families. I can't ask them to rehearse a bunch without some nice paying gigs on the horizon, and even then...
Back in the 70's in a place like NYC you could make your rent by playing just one gig a month. This gave cats the luxury of playing sessions all the time in the thriving loft scene. Now, if you're paying $1,000 for a share in NYC it'll take you 20 gigs at $50 a pop.
All that I ask is that we just be frank with our young students about how much the financial realities of a Jazz career have changed, and are changing. I just don't think that these kids are getting much straight advice about what they're getting themselves into by majoring in Jazz performance and taking on a massive amount of debt to pay for it.
Berklee now costs as much as Harvard. Holy shit! How do you think a Harvard grad's earning power compares to a Berklee grad? WTF is that about?! $40k a year and four years later you can play Countdown changes like a champ, but you now make about $12k a year (if you're lucky). Hey, if you go on and get a doctorate in Jazz (at a good school) to the tune of about $220k all told, then you can make a fairly decent salary and think about maybe retiring one day.
OR...You can go to a two year community college to study nursing and as soon as you graduate get a gig starting at $45k/year and never worry about being out of work again for the rest of your life…AND in two or three years you'll be bumped up to$6k!
"You get a FULL RIDE to Berklee like I did or else you're going to be learning to check blood pressure and empty bed pans at the local community college. On your off nights you can play your $50 Ska gigs and try to sneak in some bop licks on your solos."
If I had kids, oh, how they would hate me.
Josh, I don’t think that a glut of Jazz grads are the sole reason for the bleak situation we’re all in right now, but it can’t be helping things much. It's simple supply and demand, the kids are messing up the supply and the old Jazz fans who are taking their dirt naps are messing with the demand. The Jazz audience is aging too fast and even the legions of failed Jazz saxophonist turned Bop loving file clerks can’t replace the old fans fast enough. If degrees are poor indicators of career success then those students in Jazz schools are sure wasting a shitload of cash getting degrees. Even if these failed careers never get off the ground, the graduates certainly still flood the labor pool of working Jazz musicians for a few years (which helps to keep wages low) until the time comes that they have to get real jobs in order to pay off their mountain of debt.
When Jazz schools fail to inform students about the quickly changing realities of the music bussiness it is called Strategic misrepresentation, or good old fashioned lying. Would you pay $120k to get a four year degree in typesetting? How would you feel when you graduated and then realized that typesetting is obsolete? More realistically- if you could only made $50-$75 a night and you could work two or three nights a week as a typesetter if you were lucky? Hey, but you get a couple of free drinks on the job and 20% off the happy hour menu. Am I starting to sound jaded now?
You know that it’s a bad situation if Eastern Europe is starting to look like a better place to make a living as a Jazz musician than here in the States. Kids, you’d better start appreciating goulash and peirogis!
I wouldn't trade careers with anyone though. I still love being a Jazz musician and I have a better attitude and outlook than I ever did when I was younger (though you wouldn't know it from reading this post).
Josh, please just encourage your students to switch majors....to something in the medical field maybe?
Now I just sit back wait for the blogosphere to erupt and look forward to the deluge of comments .