For a long time, I wanted to be a topdog. Whatever that means.
Yes, I admit to my ego and vanity and to my need to be recognized. I wanted accolades. I also thought that I can be more effective in helping artists if I had more external power. Like, my simply saying, “hey, so and so is the shit” would open doors for that artist. But it wasn’t happening. Yes, I always had an enormous artistic freedom to do whatever I like at The Jazz Gallery but I felt like everything I was trying to do went mostly unnoticed by power that be. And whenever I encountered an artist I really like to push, others took my opinion with grains of salt. Big ones.
It took me a long time to realize that it actually was an incredible blessing in disguise: to be an underdog. It made me bold and courageous and independent and I was able to operate just the way I like without being picked on or criticized, because I didn’t really matter.
Since I felt that I wasn’t getting love and nods from whatever/whoever is considered mainstream, I stopped caring about what was happening outside of The Jazz Gallery. When it came to deciding what would happen on The Gallery’s stage, I didn’t consider anything or anyone outside of my head. I didn’t pay attention to any reviews nor to critics. I didn’t even want to read artists’ bios that came with submissions. I just wanted to listen to what they were telling me through the music. My gut has served me pretty well thus far and I have decided that I should trust that.
It is not as easy as it sounds. To trust one’s gut. Especially for the last 10 years or so. All sorts of information is available to us online constantly about what others are doing and what others are achieving, which, to me, registered as what I’m not doing and what I’m not achieving. And as much as I hate to admit, being an immigrant female of color took away from my credibility at times and it can be tough to stick to my guns when that happened. Self-doubt is a bitch. But I can only be me and I can only work from that place. I soon realized that what I thought and can be an obstacle is my strength and a secret weapon. To be underestimated gave me a tremendous advantage.
Because the scene at large was not paying attention to me or what I was trying to achieve, I had mental and actual freedom to present what I wanted in the way I wanted. There were number of artists I continued to support simply because I believed in them. I didn’t have to consider how they are being perceived outside of The Jazz Gallery. I was an underdog and The Jazz Gallery was literally a hall in the wall; I mostly always have worked with artists who were virtually unknown, at least in the beginning. All these elements allowed us to position ourselves away from and independent of whatever the “trend” was.
As I talked about in another blog post, I didn’t start out thinking that I’m gonna nurture young artists. My original and continuous goal to this day is to present music that is soulful and creative and honest . It was just that we didn’t have a budget to speak of (which is still very small, by the way) and I thought that if I worked with young artists who were coming up, what they wanted (to be heard) and what we wanted (to present the music) would match and we can operate without going bankrupt.
Our financial constraint gave us creative directions and our obscurity gave us an ability to create exactly what I had imagined. Imagine that.
Things at the moment can only be what they are and you at the moment can only be what you are. Somehow, we all have to get with that and work from that place. Simply wishing things to be different is futile and we all have power and creativity to change whatever it is. Take the elements you have, take them apart, and then figure out different ways to put them back so that it can work to your benefit. It’s just that it takes a vision and faith and hard work and grit and time. Ultimately, though, that is all anyone can do, right? To work with what we got and to be creative with what we got.