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I have no doubt in my mind that most of the complaints that you find in the music industry are legitimate, especially those experienced by jazz musicians and composers. Yes, indeed I support any effort that goes towards addressing those issues. By the same token, I believe jazz folks need to frequently take stock of where they are in terms of their career path.
First let us unpack what it means when a jazz composer/artist has arrived? There are several components to this question and I will deal with each individually. The single most important thing with a composition or a live performance is what your audience finds appealing enough to want to come back to the next performance. During an amazing and informative session we had with Branford Marsalis, he pointed out something incredible about his journey to success and that is, when his father asked him how the show was after every performance. His response was, ‘The audience was complaining about one thing or the other!’ Well, he is lucky because his father’s response was, ‘Fix it and go back!’ This was after many years of live performances. But not only did he not stop, he went further to solicit opinion from other jazz musicians.
Nduduzo Makhathini, who has just about challenged himself in anything and everything jazz, said in one of the lectures, ‘Until you begin to appreciate the role of a disciple in jazz, then you have not learned enough to progress to the next level. Better yet being a jazz disciple is not a temporary state from which one graduates!’ Once again, he is an individual who has been in the jazz business for yonks. I could not help but admire Laone Thekiso’s courage and hard work in taking jazz and marimba band to the next level. In his silence, he has done so much including world tours.
The people I have just mentioned are but a few of the many who continue to work hard and they do not consider themselves as people who have arrived.
The second component is the type and size of the audience that you attract as a jazz composer/artist in terms of live performances and music sales (in whatever format). There is a starting point and indeed a progression path. The third component is that, even if you may be that good as a composer/artist, it has to be matched with demand for your performances and recorded music.
There is also the fourth component I consider to be far more dangerous by comparison to others and it is being told you have arrived when there is no basis for comparison. The problem is when one starts to behave in a manner that makes them feel they have arrived and develop a sense of entitlement.
It is a lot of work to achieve the arrived status. Sadly, the majority of jazz composers/artists seem not to appreciate the effort that goes into achieving this status. Yes, I totally agree that you may have the prerequisite talent but that is not an automatic qualification to be classified as arrived. Some time ago the It Has To Be Jazz® project team was running auditions for one of its recording projects. One of the young musicians did a Billie Holiday standard on video and submitted that for her audition. She did the video clip when she was about 14 years. We then requested her to submit the most recent clip since she indicated that she was 18 at the time of the aforementioned auditioning. First and foremost, she told us that people had told her she had arrived and she sent us a list of demands which included us taking both an entire band and recording equipment to her house. This is a person who has never had a single show in her entire life. Obviously, this was a non-starter but sadly you still find the so-called jazz composers and artists who behave in the same manner when in actual fact they have very little or almost nothing to offer.
Here is an important lesson for those who think they have arrived when in actual fact they have not even started the journey. Remember, there are audiences out there who expect their money’s worth. They want to realise the true value of purchasing a ticket, your music or even sponsorship mileage. It is your responsibility as a jazz composer and a musician to provide that value. In fact, the audience has the right to demand more from you.
Before you make that first demand, I suggest you ask yourself what it is in actual fact you are offering in exchange. Remember, it boils down to a simple financial transaction; your future and theirs. And do not take that relationship for granted.
So, why did this subject make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? This is to create awareness and help with some of the tools for measuring success and encouraging growth.