The beginning of 2009 has already shown to be an interesting time for all. I’ve spent some time pondering the subject matter I’ve chosen to pursue for this particular issue, and have decided to go out on a bit of a controversial limb. I ask only that you read this column in its entirety before delegating any judgment you may have on me or this magazine that grants me the opportunity to speak out.
Two enlightening events put me on this opinionated path. The first was a bumper sticker I saw that read “January 20th, 2009—the End of an Error”. Now, before you jump all over me for seemingly using this forum for a political agenda, let me briefly explain my need to reference that particular phrase.
In terms of the “Arts” (which is the essence of my intent for bringing up that particular antidotal), the facts remain clear that in these last eight years we’ve experienced the most dramatic drop in funding of the Arts in our schools that this country has ever seen. Just a couple days before writing this article, a student of mine told me how he had to go out and purchase a pickup for the schools bass in jazz band because the school wasn’t able to come up with the funds to buy a single pickup. I’m sure there are many more stories of underfunding like this in schools all across the country, not to mention the elimination of entire music programs as well in our educational system. [Falling under the guise of looking for logic where it doesn’t exist, never mind that it’s been well documented that students involved in the arts do better in their overall studies than students not involved.]
I beg your indulgence as I continue to express what I feel are “realities” within the scope of the Arts and artists in general, as well as the music business here in this country. It’s important to acknowledge that there are always exceptions to any point of view, and I’m critically aware of that, but I’ll follow with what I perceive to be truths within the Arts and the music business in general these days, dark as it may sound.
The music business………that’s like the comedian Lewis Black saying, “Dick Cheney……..and I don’t have to say any more”. And beyond the “Arts” being looked at as one of the most dispensable parts of our scholastic architecture, let’s also take a closer look at what I would refer to as the “mentality” that prevails toward the “artist” in our society.
To wit: A musician plays a gig at a typical club here in the states and is offered the same amount of money for his (or her) services for the evening that he made literally 25 years ago, but is then offered half off on food and drinks, and is expected to say, “Cool, that amount you offered me is ‘now’ OK”. A new jazz club opens in any town USA and the amount the club offers to pay the band for the gig is…Nothing….but you can put someone at the door to collect money and we’ll be sure to take just a “small” percentage of that. And the infamous L.A. policy, “pay” to play”? I could go on.
Along these same lines, in my interview with Ron Carter, he stated that he saw tremendous talent in the younger generation of players coming up, but expressed his concern for wondering “where” all these talented players were going to be “able” to play. Directly tied to that remark is my question, why do even the most famous jazz icons of our time, representing the music this country “founded”, have to look to Europe to be able to sustain a tour?
Let’s look at this in another light, with a real-life comparison of wages. A new baseball player (a rookie) is offered a $72 million contract for his services over the course of a few years. After recently talking to a musician that I feel is no doubt one of the finest artists in every respect “in the world”—and I hope you’ll trust my opinion— shares with me that he had a good year last year and made a little over $100,000.00. I’m sorry, but that comparison of wages with all due respect is pretty pathetic.
A final comment: It’s the oldest joke in the musical community (that would be joking, and not) that, sadly, still remains within our culture: The question, many times asked with an air of total sincerity, “Do you have a ‘real’ job beyond being a musician”?
I could easily expound upon these hyperboles I’ve chosen to share, but I think I’ve made my point, and the obvious here is, yes, I can be a cynic with the best of them. But now let me change course with the second event that I spoke of which fueled my need to go to the dark side first, and which, I have to admit, was a bit of an epiphany for me personally.
I received an e-mail from Nathan East with a picture of himself and Barack Obama taken at the inauguration festivities. After reading Nathans message attached to this photo, I had no doubt that the purpose of this communication was about sharing the immense pride that he felt at that moment in time. This was much more than a pictorial marketing tool; this was a snapshot in time of the joy this man was feeling being involved in this very auspicious occasion with our new President—–it was, in his own words, “the thrill of a lifetime”.
So, what is the revelation I experienced through that communication? it’s as simple as this: In this era, where changing the status and appreciation for the importance of the Arts in this society, as well as cultivating the due respect that any artist unequivocally deserves looks to be damn near “impossible”, I would suggest that we all take a look at what we could learn from a discussion with our new President as far as conquering the notion of an “impossibility” is concerned. That thought was an undeniable “light bulb” moment for me personally.
Awareness is the first step in the pursuit of imposing change within our society, and I hope in some small way I, as well as this magazine, have contributed to that first step…..said another way, I hope we’re making a difference.
Jake Kot, Editor