Tuesday, July 27, 2010
And my first foray into product reviews:
Russ Spiegel's For Gearheads Only
Friday, July 2, 2010
Notes of a Jazz Survivor I – Welcome to Jazz Reality
Hi there and welcome to my new series, “Notes of a Jazz Survivor.” As someone who has been surviving as a jazz musician for over 20 years now, I was delighted to be asked by Yotam and Joey over at earbits.com to share some of my thoughts, experiences and insights into what it takes to “survive” as a performing musician in an environment of rising costs, low wages and diminishing performance and recording opportunities.
Welcome to Jazz Reality
Sorry to start with a downer, but probably the first thing I wanted to touch base on with all of you is that, to be in this for the long haul, it is necessary to understand the situation you find yourself in. Our present situation puts us in a place that was probably hard, if not impossible, to conceive those 20 years ago when the musicians of my generation decided to make a go of it in the music world. At that time, there were still record stores and successful jazz record labels, travel was relatively inexpensive (especially overseas), and few people had heard of sampling (though synthesizers and drum machines had already started putting “real” musicians out of business, or conversely, were challenging them to get a handle on the new technology).
And, actually, things weren’t that much better back then. I remember when I was at The Berklee College of Music in Boston back around 1987-88. Pat Metheny was spending part of the year in the city and someone had the great idea to invite him over to their house and talk about music and his experiences, and on whatever else he felt like speaking. Pat actually agreed and with a bunch of mostly guitar players each pitching in ten bucks, there we were with Pat Metheny giving us a very personal interview.
I remember Pat discussing how he got started, how he was turned on to jazz at a very young age and how obsessed he became with playing the guitar. I was impressed how open and friendly he was, but what I took away from that day was when he compared the state of jazz from when he started to the present situation (the late ‘80s). He mentioned that when he began touring, there were jazz clubs pretty much all over the country and it was possible to “barnstorm” (his word) from place to place and fairly traverse the country playing his music. Now, he said, many clubs had closed, gas and hotels were more expensive, and the only thing that hadn’t changed was the pay for musicians.
Well, I took that information to heart and decided then and there to make a move and head over to Europe and try to make it there. I ended up staying for 13 years and never regretted my decision. And since I came back and settled into New York City, I found that all those things he mentioned were more true than ever, and that things, as I intimated above, have gotten even more complicated in terms of trying to survive as a jazz musician in this country. I plan to touch on many aspects of this in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned and keep playing.
I welcome all comments and critiques and if anyone would like to share their experiences and ideas on this subject, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t promise a response to every email, but I will at least try.
Russ Spiegel was born in Los Angeles, and raised in Santa Monica, California. He studied Composition, Arranging and Guitar Performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship, and went on to get his Masters degree in Jazz Performance at the City College of New York. Russ is a commissioned composer who has released several CDs, written music for film, TV, and musicals, toured Europe and Asia, and much more.