Blog # 10: New York Scene: Living the Dream
I had a moment the other day where I was talking after a session to a new drummer friend that just moved to town where I really felt a sense of things coming full-circle. The way he was talking about moving to NYC really just brought me back to a time when I was 22 years old, in college in Allentown and dreaming of moving to New York City one day and hoping to make it in the Jazz scene. Back then Branford Marsalis had a forum on his website and it seemed EVERYONE was there talking about music, jazz and the scene. People were sharing their opinions and mingling without divides.(there was also a lot of shit-talking and ridiculousness that was fairly entertaining). I remember thinking 'God, some of these guys that have made it seem SO jaded and dark about the scene'. I thought that: they are playing gigs at these well-known venues I've heard about with other famous musicians; they must be making money and living the dream. What is there to complain about?!! If I'd heard of them(as a 22 yr old kid in Allentown) surely they were a big name and could get a gig ANYWHERE, pack the house and have people just loving their music. I remember hearing about 'The Up and Over Cafe' and it sounded like all the young people to watch were playing there, their futures as 'jazz stars' were secured. I even had bootleg recordings of Jaleel Shaw and Marcus Strickland performing at the Cafe.
I was so wrong. Just cause you've heard of someone doesn't mean they were landing gigs easily, and reaping the rewards of their talent. Anyway you slice it, its a hard life being a musician in New York City. I know in the neighborhood I live in now there a tons of musicians who are far more established and well known them me, and if they're living here, they're not doing that great. Its so weird when you realize you can be incredibly respected and famous in the jazz world and STILL be fighting for gigs at even mid and low level places in the city.(a lot of these places you might think are cool, you'll be playing for FREE and treated like SHIT).
I now play with a many musicians that I was hearing about before I moved to the city, and realize they are pretty much in the same boat as me. Playing some gigs here and there and either working a day job or doing a lot of teaching to make sure they can make enough money to pay rent. Another thing I've realized is how many musicians there are; great ones you've never even heard of. Those levels that you thought existed between the guys that are heavily hyped and everyone else don't really exist. I like to tell the joke: "Q: What's the difference between a good jazz musician and a great jazz musician? A: a publicist." I know personally I'd rather see someone doing something very different or original than just shredding some crazy technique, because EVERYONE in this city is a virtuoso.
I dunno, its weird. In a way, I feel like I'm now in the position of the guys I used to hear about, which isn't to say people know who I am or are talking about me or whatever. But I feel like I've come full circle and those guys that I used to think were just super dark and jaded, were really just frustrated because you can be playing gigs and appear to be 'going place' and are really just spinning your wheels in the mud, making no money and playing half-empty rooms. Labels that you thought were legit, where you pay for your own recording. There's a big difference between what you think is happening and what REALLY is happening. This shit ain't easy, and I don't think it ever was or ever will be.