For those of you who don’t live in Minnesota, let me fill you in:
The Artists’ Quarter, the Twin Cities’ oldest and “purest” jazz club, is closing at the end of this year. The AQ has been a safe-haven for creative music, and due to raising rent costs and an ornery landlord, they will be closing their doors.
The main concern with the AQ closing is that there is no longer an audience for jazz music. Particularly a young audience. The same argument has been made about Classical music for many years. (How many times can an orchestra play the Nutcracker Suite for only gray haired audience members and still keep a straight face?)
We’re so caught up in easy conclusions that we’re missing the point, here. We’re too quickly making the jump from “AQ closing” to “there is no longer an audience for jazz”. Those two things are related, but only indirectly.
There is no audience for jazz because the musicians have lost their way.
Yes that’s right. It’s our fault. It’s not the AQ’s fault that no one was in there listening to so and so play on a Tuesday night. OK, maybe it’s a little bit the AQ’s fault, but the majority of the blame should land on us, and here is why.
We’ve gotten lazy. Plain and simple. Over the last few decades we’ve gotten lazy. Playing a jazz gig turned in to being at a jam session, except without letting anyone else sit in. For you non-musicians, that means that many times when you’ve heard jazz, it’s been musicians who’ve maybe never played together before. Maybe never rehearsed once in their lives in that configuration (our dirty little secret).
Who would want to listen to that?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Until recently, that kind of playing was reserved for after hours jam sessions. Musicians hangs. That kind of stuff was supposed to only happen as an extra. We’ve made it the golden gig standard. Can’t find anyone to play this Tuesday night down at the club? Well lets just throw together a band and play some tunes.
No matter who you are, I don’t really want to hear that. Seriously. Even the best players in the world won’t sound as tight as a band that’s been rehearsing and working shit out. Musically, it certainly won’t be as interesting.
If we’re going to call it art music, then let’s make it good enough to be called art.
It’s not just the music, though. It’s also the way we present the music. In fact, I’d say the primary reason we’ve had diminishing audiences is because of how we present the music. Even if we’re going about it in the right way: it’s all composed, rehearsed, and ready to go but we forget to promote the show. We play too many shows. We don’t talk to the audience (but not in a cool way, like Miles used to do). We don’t engage the audience at all. There is some kind of screwed up idea that has seeped in to our minds that tells us that it’s un-cool to promote your music. It’s un-cool to be good at the business side of music. It’s like our cross to bear or something. “Jazz is not cool, but we need to keep it alive by playing shitty tunes for no one and then going home and crying ourselves to sleep” <—- seriously, people act this way.
The truth is, if we properly promote our shows, and if we have a product that is worth the ears, then people will listen to the music we’re making.
Let me throw this at you: How much more likely is each member of the band to promote the show if you’ve rehearsed four times for four hours starting two weeks before the hit? Every rock band I’ve every played with rehearses this way…
Get with the times. Young people don’t want to hear the Nutcracker Suite anymore, just like young people don’t want to hear Take the A Train anymore. Music evolves. Why would we not evolve with it? This doesn’t mean we have to abandon what we know as jazz all together. It doesn’t even mean we have to stop playing Take The A Train. It means we have to have vision, and work ethic. We have to promote and promote and promote. We have to think about things like show times, what we’re wearing, what tunes we’re playing and how all of that will flow in to a well-oiled machine. How about adding some multi-media to your next show? Compose music to new abstract video? Paintings? Silent Films? Video Games? Live action improvisation to people playing Call of Duty? Comics? The possibilities are endless.
Musicians are public speakers. Literally and figuratively. If you’re not comfortable on the microphone, find someone who is and let them talk. Engage the audience. Tell them about the process. Tell them the story. Put on a show.
I know I have friends in the business rolling their eyes at me right now, but people come to see live music to be entertained. That’s it. If we’re not entertaining them, musically and/or otherwise, they’re gone. For many years we relied on the fact that people could dance to our music, and that’s why the audience kept coming back. Well, they can’t dance in 7/8, so we have to compensate somehow. The artist has to figure this out. It’s a new age. There are no longer record labels to do this stuff for us anymore. It’s the age of DIY and you can do almost all of it from your cell phone.
Get with it, or die without it.
The required track for the Carmine Caruso Jazz Trumpet Competition. Just submitted materials a few days ago. Fingers crossed!
Here is one of Dan’s tunes called Fragile being played at the same Jazz Central gig last month. Brian Courage on Bass, Evan Montgomery on Guitar, Zach Schmidt on drums, and special guest, Chicago saxophonist Dan Meinhardt.
Here’s my tune Pittsburgh’s Song being played at a show with guest Chicago saxophonist Dan Meinhardt last month. Me, Dan, Evan Montgomery, Brian Courage and Zach Schmidt in the band. It was a fun night. Might post one more from the night in a bit…
Well…Last year felt different for me than previous years. There were a multitude of reasons, but essentially it comes down to me being in the musician work force full-time, for the first time. I’ve had to take the final step in “growing up.” No more student loans to help pay bills. Now, it’s pay down existing bills enough this year so that we have enough money to pay down the ridiculous amount of money I’ve racked up in student loan billsnextyear.
2013: Pay me my money down
In the words of every rapper, ever…”I gots to get paid!” So this brings me to the real motivation behind writing such an end-of-the-year (world?) post: The music business has changed, but it’s pretty much the same.
Let that one sink in…
In my studies at the University of Minnesota, and before that, Lawrence University, I learned a few things about music. Indeed! I did learn a few things! One of the things I learned was that successful musicians, ones that made their entire living with music as Jana and I are currently doing with varying degrees of success, diversify. That’s right, diversify.
I’m in Appleton for an old friend’s wedding this weekend and decided I’d wake up early and hit the Lawrence University practice rooms. It’s amazing how a place can have so much effect on your current levels of motivation. LU just has this vibe like everyone who walks through these halls wants to be the greatest. It’s how I felt the whole time I went to school here, and it’s how I feel now, visiting more than five years later. I went to school at two other universities and it never felt like this. I’ve always been a motivated person, so getting to the practice room to perfect my art has never been a problem, but here there is a certain urgency and focus; an energy that fills you up when you walk through the conservatory doors. As far as I know, I’m the only one here right now, so it isn’t necessarily the other people around me pushing me to do better and to get better, it’s just this place. Discovery. It’s a beautiful and rare thing. Unfortunately it’s a thing that is unattainable to most due to the rising cost in tuition to attend LU. They run the risk of becoming a place where people who are not well-off (my mom was a teacher and dad was unemployed/self-employed while I was in high school preparing for college) can not attend here. And dare I say that those who grow up in a wealthy home often don’t understand the meaning of work; real, back breaking work to pay the bills. Their parents might understand, but often that life lesson is glossed over in favor of spoiling the young ones. I fear LU will lose this driven student body and ultimately the amazing vibe here in favor of entitled college kids who expect everything to be handed to them. That’s the cost of a private institution, I suppose, but it’s hard for me to understand how tuition could have been raised close to $16,000/year* since I attended school here. Slippery slope. Don’t lose what you’ve got, LU. You will regret it.
*Update: According to LU’s website, current tuition is $48,270/year, which is over $16,000 more than where I started in 2004 (approx $32K).
You get out what you put in. Plain and simple. Work hard and whatever you’re working toward will happen. It will. It has to. There is no other option. The idea that anything is attainable really excites me. With enough work and dedication to your goal, anything is possible. It’s the very thing that keeps me pushing forward in my progression as a trumpet player and as a composer.
Six months ago I started a big band I call the “Adam Meckler Orchestra.” It consists of young, relatively inexperienced players and seasoned Twin Cities veterans. It looks like a traditional Jazz Big Band. It isn’t.
It is staggering the amount of time and effort I’ve put in to making this happen. Apart from booking the gigs, putting the band together, finding ways to get 18 musicians in the same room at the same time, there are the ridiculous amount of hours I’ve spent composing and arranging the music. Thinking about what that means in terms of money makes my whole body hurt. But it’s a labor of love, and one that will hopefully land me a position at a university someday (I have a Masters degree! hint, hint).
I’m so thankful for such an amazing group of musicians and friends who’ve generously given their time and energies to play my music. I could never have imagined I’d be where I am when I moved to the Twin Cities four years ago. It’s a testament to my opening statement that anything is possible with the right amount of conviction and work.
It gives me great pleasure to show off my awesome band by posting this track. The song is Beautiful Beatrice. It is a re-composition of Sam Rivers’ Beatrice. So basically I stole a bunch of little ideas and wrote my own piece. You probably won’t hear many similarities.
The Adam Meckler Orchestra played at Jazz Central May 29th, 2012.
Adam Meckler: Composer, Soloist, Conductor
Trumpets: Zack Lozier, Tom Krochock, Sten Johnson, Cameron Kinghorn, Noah Ophoven-Baldwin
Trombones: Keith Hilson, Mason Hemmer, Nathan Berry, DJ Clovis
Saxophones: Ben Doherty, Nelson Devereaux (soloist): Tenor, Jason Fabus, David Hirsch: Alto, Angie Hirsch: Bari
Drums: Peter Hennig (Soloist)
Guitar: Evan Montgomery
Piano: Joe Strachan
Bass: Chris Bates
We opened up the Festival on Friday night and played right before our good friends, the Stooges Brass band (video of Stooges playing Sir Duke below). Mike, Tom, and Matt are looking and listening after we all went back and changed out of our gig clothes.
We woke up early this morning and were the final act in the Festival’s parade. Stooges jumped in the van to drive to another gig, and we stick around to headline tonight’s main stage right after Doc Severnson and Allen Vizzutti destroy things together. Seriously, not cool that I have to follow those guys.
Anyways, we’re now all chilling on the porch of this awesomely southern Frat house, waiting for a ride to a BBQ for lunch. Word is they’ve been smoking that pig for 8hrs. Boom!