Much like I did, the Irish bassist Ronan Guilfoyle spent last week overindulging on jazz in New York City. He has
a massive blog post about it, and his conclusions ought to be required reading. Some of the salient points:
"On the one hand there's an extraordinary concentration of great musicians in a very small area, making for a hothouse creative atmosphere and an abundance of players on every instrument who play on a very high level. If you've got a creative project that you want to do, you will definitely find the right musicians for it in NY."
"Being a jazz musician in New York also means being exposed to an endless stream of great gigs too and opportunities to hear some of the best players in the world playing in intimate settings. As a player you can measure yourself against some of the best and this can drive your development and technical abilities (sink or swim!). You can also get opportunities to play with great musicians in informal settings that don't really exist outside the NY 'session' scene."
"On the minus side it has to be said there are just far too many musicians in New York for it to make any sense on an economic level. The money paid for playing clubs in NY is laughable –- there is no way you could make a living by solely performing creative music in New York. The abundance and availability of musicians and the lack of places to play drives the price musicians can charge for NY gigs down to below subsistence levels. It's a buyers market for the clubs and the musicians suffer."
"The US jazz scene, as a national scene, is almost non-existent. Apart from NY there are some scenes of reasonable size in a few places — Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and maybe a few others. But all of these pale into insignificance beside the bloated New York scene. ... What you have in the US is one huge scene with far too many musicians and no money, and a series of cities, often with over a million people in them, with virtually no scene at all. ... the touring circuit is certainly gone. To get an idea of how difficult it is economically to tour in the US, have a look at this."
"In Europe you have a variety of different and relatively healthy scenes based around different cities. Paris, Berlin, Koln, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, London, Barcelona, Rome, Helsinki and Stockholm all have sizeable scenes -– none on the scale of New York, but big enough to sustain local musicians and create a touring circuit both for them and for visiting Americans (Europe is still the financial El Dorado for a lot of NY musicians). If a city were to emerge in Europe in which all the activity of the European scene were focused, in the way that exists in NY, the other city's scenes would wither and die, just like the regional scenes in so many US cities have withered and died."
Guilfoyle is no real stranger to the U.S. scene, having recently recorded with top-drawer musicians like
saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and
drummer Jim Black. But his points ought to be a breath of fresh air. He concludes, in part:
As a jazz scene New York reminds me of one of those huge edge of town malls that arrives in an area and sucks all the economic life out of the high streets of any town within 50 miles of it. Nearly the entire US scene is based there, and this 'gotta go to New York' mentality means that it's almost impossible for a regional scene to hold on to its good players. They in turn all arrive in New York where they have to scuffle and jostle for financial crumbs.
All that said, it seems like the Internet age should make a network of healthy jazz scenes across the U.S. possible. It's more possible than ever to become known on a national, even international stage without being based in New York. (Many musicians will tell you there's a glass ceiling to winning press coverage if you aren't heard regularly in New York, though.) It just isn't happening. Anyone care to theorize why not? [
New York Jazz Holiday]
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