A useful recipe for musicians

The 5th annual Jazz Education Network (JEN) conference is Wednesday, January 8 through Saturday, January 11, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion in Dallas, TX. For full conference details – including the complete schedule of activities and info on using the JEN conference app – please visit the JEN website http://www.jazzednet.org.

The tireless jazz educator and JEN founding member Mary Jo Papich has edited a new publication that will make its debut at the JEN Conference. Published by Hal Leonard, THE JAZZER’S COOKBOOK is just that, a book full of recipes for success in and access to the jazz industry. The Jazzer’s Cookbook will be launched at the JEN conference on Friday, January 10 at 11:00am at the Hal Leonard booth during the Exhibit Hall Hour. Some of the book’s contributors will be on hand and I hope to see you there picking up your copy of this very informative book. Here’s what Mary Jo had to say about the launch of The Jazzer’s Cookbook:

“This outstanding book is the last in a cookbook series printed by Meredith Music Publishers and distributed by Hal Leonard. It was the brainschild of publisher Gar Whaley and has been quite successful. I have enjoyed looking through the Choral, Band, Orchestra Cookbooks….but happen to think our JAZZER’S COOKBOOK is superb!” (Mary Jo Papich, editor)

Mary Jo asked me to contribute to The Jazzer’s Cookbook and thinking from a presenter’s perspective I gladly contributed the following recipe.

The Jazzers Cookbook

Achieving harmonious relationships with concert & festival presenters

( by Willard Jenkins)

2 cups artistic excellence
1 cup savvy communication skills
1 cup research
1 cup stagecraft
¾ cup recent recording

Improved gig opportunities

You & your band

As a jazz festival and concerts presenter for well over 20 years, as one might imagine to many artists there’s a perception that I’m one of the holders of the keys to the Holy Grail. The majority of my festival work has been as artistic director of the Tri-C JazzFest (TCJF) in Cleveland, OH, an affiliation I’ve held for the last 17 years. Other concert curating has been for Tribeca Performing Arts Center (NYC), 651Arts (Brooklyn, NY), HarlemStage/Aaron Davis Hall (NYC), the Smithsonian Institution (DC), and the Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival (MD). However the great majority of my artist communications and interactions concern TCJF.

TCJF is a 34-year old festival with a strong education focus that in addition to booking concert artists for performances also engages artist-educators for residency work. So we’re in the business of providing some significant performance and exposure opportunities to artists; believe me, I get that. However, Northeast Ohio is not one of the noted “major media markets”, nor is our target community blessed with a wealth of jazz radio. The most frequent jazz broadcaster in the area was for years WCPN, Cleveland Public Radio. But they shamefully gave up the ghost several years ago, and at this point jazz radio in the Greater Cleveland market and across Northeast Ohio is pretty much anecdotal – sadly on par with most markets these days I’m afraid.

One thing that certainly means is under-exposure of deserving, and particularly young, jazz artists. In the Cleveland area there is one club that regularly presents jazz performances, Nighttown in Cleveland Hts, where Jim Wadsworth does yeoman work to keep the pots cooking. Other than Nighttown, jazz presentations of visiting artists in the Cleveland area are also pretty much anecdotal; a concert here, a random gig there… you know the drill. So those are the parameters for jazz artists to receive market exposure and develop some measure of a following in Northeast Ohio. Without that market exposure it is difficult at best for particularly young artists to establish any measure of a local audience.

N.E. Ohio is also not a region of ticket buying risk takers; so there has to be some measure of artist recognition to entice our typical audience. That recognition has many potential faces, including radio airplay, significant professional affiliations (particularly in the case of former sidemen stepping out in leadership roles), some measure of successful performance track record in the region, or some other ‘hook’ that will grab a potential ticket-buyer’s attention.

When you couple those cautionary elements with the fact that Tri-C JazzFest is unquestionably the major annual jazz event in N.E. Ohio, it makes you wonder what young artists are thinking about when they pitch booking requests purely out of the proverbial blue for their first exposure in the market! Young artists simply must establish some measure of market exposure and audience before pitching a given market’s major jazz event; that’s one of the difficult facts of this whole equation. In the case of the Northeast Ohio market I generally recommend that artists making cold pitches should strive for a Nighttown appearance or some other market visibility before pitching our festival.

With that in mind here are a few recipe elements – from both the interpersonal and career development levels – which artists need to develop that might enable them to break through that figurative glass ceiling and make themselves more attractive for potential bookings.

Cooking up a tastier dish of festival and gig readiness…

Very important: RESEARCH
•Resources – (jazz specific) annual JazzTimes, Down Beat magazine international jazz festivals guide; (education) JazzTimes jazz education guide, Down Beat “Where to study jazz” issue; JazzEd magazine; (general) Pollstar Talent Buyer Directory; and the universe of online resources…

Investigate festival & jazz presenter web sites:
•Determine who, what, when where info, but also carefully research their booking patterns, who and what type of artists they are likely to present. Question: do they book and present lesser known or emerging artists? Do they present student ensembles? Do they have a significant jazz education component? Educate yourself thoroughly on what these festivals present, how/where they present (# of venues – cite MJF); you must determine if this festival or presenter is even a good fit for what you present.

You must have: a recent recording
•to exemplify who you are and what you play, to use as a “calling card” to substantiate your artistry, to be made available to the presenter for their local radio outlet and PR/Marketing efforts, etc. NOT a demo – a commercially available recording, even if it is only available through the web or downloads.
•A viable web presence with press kit elements, including press clips, b&w and color photo(s) (quality images, not necessarily of the sweaty guys/girls on the bandstand variety, but images that translate well in hard copy and online reproduction.

Tailor your communication skills
•Communicate with festivals and presenters in a collegial manner, don’t be overly aggressive, walk that fine line; keep them abreast of your activities without pushing or being an annoyance; be in touch respectfully and collegially; remember to treat your booking as a joint venture with the presenter in more respects than just showing up and playing the gig. I’ve established communication relationships with artists that may take a couple of seasons before we’re able to realize an actual booking. But I will always favor persistent, collegial, cordial, professional communications. Be pleasant and persistent but NOT insecure and pushy. Take the position in your mind that my music is so good that sooner or later this person is going to present me/us. Be confident and savvy in your communication; make sure the prospective presenter keeps abreast of your gigs and major career developments, and make sure presenter-prospects are up-to-date on your recordings and activities. Make it your point to meet & greet, but not in a pushy way – there’s a fine line you need to walk. Through the years it is often an artist’s music AND personality that compelled me to find a way to present them.

Stagecraft (here’s an area I examine very critically when checking out an artist’s performance; and like many who present, even when we’re out catching performances purely for pleasure we’re always scouting…)
•Your stagecraft is an important element in your overall presentation. Try to never let ‘em see you struggling; be mindful of your onstage body language and what that might convey. Play as if you mean it, regardless of the audience size. Dress & onstage demeanor are of great importance (neatness, body language, etc.).
•Here’s an increasingly controversial element, particularly given young artists’ penchant for playing entire sets of their original compositions: I always advise young artists to carefully craft their set lists to balance originals with some measure of music that will connect with your audience – i.e. cleverly arranged pop or standards material, playing some blues, etc.; playing a complete program of originals may be satisfying to you but may leave your audience puzzled and clueless – when you combine unknown players with unknown music that can double that audience puzzlement factor and leave them less than satisfied by the experience… which will NOT invite return engagements. Re-work some “standards”; you needn’t play Real Book arrangements of standards; reconfigure them in fresh, exciting ways. For example, dig what the challenging pianist Vijay Iyer does in reimagining Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
•Check out how a band like The Bad Plus can go as out as they wish when playing something the audience can hang their collective hats on; arrange known pieces that haven’t been explored extensively. PLAY SOME BLUES – the blues connects with an audience in a very visceral way (e.g. musicians from the always edgy perspective of the collective known as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) have always been very crafty in no matter how far out they go, grounding their audience with some blues perspective somewhere during the course of a set; such “grounding” can give even the most experimental musicians a freer license with their audiences.

•Introduce yourselves and your music from the stage, and do so with good humor; TALK TO YOUR AUDIENCE, it will do a world of good and immeasurably assist you in truly connecting your playing and your music to the audience. Far too many jazz artists feel all their audience is due is good music, but it has been well-documented that audiences like to feel that connection to the musicians and the music they’re presenting through verbal communication; and don’t be inhibited in allowing your good humor to come through in your audience repartee.

•Accompanying the drummer & bass player when they solo is a good thing. Why is everyone else in the band generally accompanied when they solo, but the drummers and bass players are so often left alone to their own devices? Jazz band stagecraft plays a big role in audience acceptance, particularly with that sector of the audience to whom either you or the music may be somewhat of a new experience. I’ve taught jazz history courses where part of a semester’s assignment is attendance at a live jazz event. For some it may be shocking to know that for so many college students this is their first ever-live jazz performance. Students have reported in their subsequent term papers on their live jazz experience that they were put off when one or more members of the band left the stage when someone was soloing! Be very mindful of your stagecraft… And show up to the gig looking like you came to take care of serious business, not like you’re about to go out in the backyard and rake some leaves.

Willard Jenkins
Home of The Independent Ear
Twitter: @Indyear
Facebook: Willard Jenkins

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