My idea for musical communities (2010)

“My Idea for Musical Communities”

Here is my written plan for creating musical colonies around the country in an effort to help make improvised music successful beyond New York City:


Musicians who create the majority of their art through improvisation are approaching a major breaking point. They all live at a high cost in New York City and most struggle. I feel it is important for the survival of this music to create communities around the country and world that will sustain themselves. In most art worlds, there is a pre-existing situation that would be defined as “making it”. Classical musicians can land orchestra jobs, a major publisher can publish authors, rock musicians can end up on tour supporting a top-40 hit, but improvisers do not have such a landing point. Is their dream to play for a week at the Village Vanguard? Is it to headline a major jazz festival? While these may be realistic, and certainly are excellent goals, they are a lot more transient than what has been previously mentioned. The orchestra job, the published work; these are things that last and will always exist. Since the jazz musician does not have these targets, “making it” seems to mean moving to New York, and making enough money to stay. For artists who have no doubt put just as much effort and thought into the preparation and execution of their work, this is an unacceptable existence. These musicians deserve as much viability and exposure as any other artist. My goal is to outline a plan in which this can become more possible, outside the unbelievably high cost world of New York City.

The notion that New York City is the only place to make this music happen is entirely false. There are people in every part of this country who love improvised music and will support it if given the chance. Here in Rochester, NY, the Rochester Jazz Festival gives us one week to pay to hear the finest jazz, but for the other 51 weeks of the year, we can only rely on the output from the Eastman School of Music, and without that there would be little to no improvised music. I grew up in Buffalo, where the population is greater, but the amount of high-quality jazz to be heard is decidedly less. The fans are there, but are left wholly unfulfilled. The New York migration exists because it seems that the greater the population, the greater the chance that someone will like the music. It also implies that where more clubs exist for all types of things, the percentage that exists to host improvised music must yield a higher amount of venues. This has proven to be inaccurate. More and more musicians in New York pronounce that it is increasingly difficult to find places to play music and be economically viable. Noted Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout recently declared jazz “dead” in the economic sense. Bands can play for free in many places, but it is only improvisers that are holding themselves to such a low standard. (When did you last receive a copy of the latest best seller at no cost?…)

My plan is to argue in favor of creating communities that support creative music throughout the country. In each city, there needs to be a core of 10-15 musicians strongly dedicated to this cause. Each network must then develop a fan base using the newest trends in social networking (Facebook, YouTube, etc). By securing this fan base, it will be easier to find a few places in town to create residencies & recurring showcases for this music. Having a strong fan base would allow these places to charge admission (the goal is to attract people who want to hear and support improvised music). This will take work, but any artist that believes in their product is already willing to go far beyond normal work hours to promote it.

Once these colonies are established, they can create a network of cities where they know there is an audience. A band from Rochester can connect with the group in Hartford and know that there is a place to play, where a group of people will come and support the music. This way, musicians are living in cities where the cost of living is less, and the comfort of living is greater. The biggest argument against this plan is that the best of these musicians are living in New York City. This brings us back to the beginning of the argument: there is no real reason for that. If these artistic communities are created, it will help expand creative music nationwide, while easing some of the struggle of living “the artist’s life”.


What do you think? Comments welcomed.

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