Over the years I have received thousands and thousands of emails from young musicians who want to perform at The Jazz Gallery. First of all, thank you. I feel really honored and humbled to have been asked. Each time. Because without cats, we are nothing.
Secondly, I want to talk about how you should think about yourself as the star of whatever you are doing.
Many of the emails try to get my attention by saying, “I will have Ambrose Akinmusire in my group if I get a gig,” “This is the CD release for the album I recorded with Larry Grenadier, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Mark Turner,” or “I have performed with Vijay Iyer.” And I have many things to say about that type of approach. Lol.
One, I know these people. If you are making up whatever, it’s very easy for me to find out and you’ll look foolish. So don’t do that.
Two, you can’t have a long-term plan with “All Star Band.” It’s not sustainable because these people are too busy for you and you can’t continuously afford them.
Three, you should really think about building your own band in your own terms. This is NYC. There are so many musicians here and this is the only city where you can call pretty much anyone for sessions and most cats would be happy to hang and play if they got time. Take advantage of that and play with different people and find out who you click with.
Four, CD release is great but OK, (subcategory) one, do you have enough things to say at this point in your career to be putting an album together? Two, I want you to use performances at The Gallery to work things out and try things out. I’m much more interested in your process and being part of that. Not just presenting what has already been polished.
Five, having a special guest or two won’t affect the attendance. Jason Moran fans want to hear Jason doing Jason thing. Not Jason playing your music.
Six, because this music involves heavy amount of in-the-moment communication on the stage, you would want to play with people who gets you, no? Not a special guest you have to make sure that s/he is comfortable and you are somewhat (in a good way) afraid of.
Seven, why would you hire a cat who will outshine you and take over your music? Yes, it’s not about cats and it’s about music. I get that. But ultimately you have something to say and you want to communicate you and your ideas with the audience. You don’t want that to be covered up by someone who is older and has more potent presence on the stage. I’m not saying that you should be selfish but you should really think about if that is the best way to communicate yourself with the audience.
Eight, yes you might not have a packed house right away but this music is a long game. Don’t look for a short term solution. It doesn’t work. Have a goal and dream and be focused on that. If you are doing something, believe me, I will hear it. I heard Vijay, Lizz Wright, Ambrose, Gretchen Parlato, Matana Roberts, Darcy James Argue, Becca Stevens, Dafnis Prieto, Gerald Clayton, Amir ElSaffar, Kris Davis, Lionel Loueke, and the list goes on and on. There artists cut their teeth on our stage. I was working with them long before. I have supported plenty of musicians who did not pack the house right away. When Miguel Zenon first performed at The Jazz Gallery back in 2001, we counted 19 people for the entire night. These cats worked on their ideas and they all build their own platforms. No jumping on the bandwagon. They all still have life in this music. People who tried to cut corners…. I don’t know where they are now.