Jazz Life @61

Just turned 61 2 weeks ago. Grateful to have made it this far. Just celebrated my 40th year in the music business. It was 40 years ago I left Manhattan School of Music and joined Eumir Deodato’s band to tour the world. It’s been quite the wild ride, to say the least. Many things happened that were unexpected, and lots of things are different now than 40 years ago in terms of what a musician does to sustain a career in music.

What has most noticeably changed is that there are less live music performance and recording situations now than in the 70’s. Back then there was an abundance of recording dates involving live musicians, frequently in large ensembles, for the purpose of making records, underscoring for television and film, and even live concerts that were televised. I played the Tonight Show, Mike Douglas Show, and Parkinson show in London with the Buddy Rich band. There were a multitude of touring big bands as well as house bands at many hotels. The recording studios in New York and Los Angeles were cranking out music day and night.

The record date of today is a vary different animal, at least for me. More often than not, I go into a small studio and overdub saxophone onto one or more tracks. Occasionally I get to make a live recording with a band.

Back in the 70’s we tried to procure a deal with a recording company who would provide some sort of advance to make the recording, produce artwork, and promote the music in the press and at radio. Even the smallest jazz labels had the wherewithal to get your music out there. Artists were selling lp’s and eventually cd’s, and one could make a respectable living in jazz as an artist/writer/publisher. Today there are many fewer labels. Those that are still around are very frugal with their budgets and cautious about who they work with. The Yellowjackets sold cd’s in the 6 figures back in the early eighties into the 90‘s, and today sell in the low 5 figures. Downloads have cut substantially into cd sales, and the income from downloads is not nearly what cd mechanical royalties used to be.

What is still the same is the fervor with which we work on music, writing as a vehicle for our playing with the people we love to play with. The music is as good as it ever was. It’s just the vehicle for getting the music out there that has changed. Youtube, Kickstarter and Facebook have picked up where record labels have left off.

It is more critical than ever to have a focused vision as far as what you want to present musically, and the fortitude to follow through with conceiving the music and presenting it to the public. It is much harder to make a living being a jazz artist. Hence we supplement our income stream with teaching, writing/arranging, and doing whatever we can.

Why do we do this? No choice, really. It is our passion to write and play good music with our partners. Passion is the key to a good life. After 61 years I can look back and say I’ve stayed true to my passion. What a gift!

I am grateful to have developed a way of living that is healthful through diet and exercise. What I realize is that we develop a better grasp on how life works as we age. It really means a lot to be in good shape to enjoy these insights as we get older.

So take care of yourselves, cats, and do whatever it takes to be able to spend time on your passion!

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