I field a lot of interesting questions from young musicians, but one of the questions that I get the most is, “How did you get the gig with_______________”. I’d like to talk about the process that helped me get to where I am right now.
While I was a student at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, I would make it a point to attend as many masterclasses, student recitals, club dates, and concerts as I could. One of most memorable shows for me was hearing the New Life Jazz Orchestra at the Berklee Performance Center. The featured soloists for this show were Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, Jeremy Pelt, and RaShawn Ross. That show and the clinic they gave earlier that day changed my life. From that point on I knew that I wanted to give people the same feeling I recieved from that show after I left.
During my formative years in Boston I did the whole networking thing the best that I could which lead to many gigs and playing relationships that I am very thankful for to this day. Many of the inspiring shows that I went to left me with the dream of playing with players of that caliber in venues big and small. So I ended up studying, listening, practicing, jamming, etc. all my waking hours to the detriment of a healthy social life. I didn’t really participate in any activities that weren’t music-related and most if not all of my friend were/are musicians. I met many of these musicians while playing at Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston. Many of you already know about this club and the importance it has to the scene in Boston and the development of jazz musicians young and old. Wally’s has been a “school away from school” for me ever since I moved to Boston in 1997 and it’s the place where I learned how to connect with people who aren’t familiar with jazz. That experience I could never have gained in music school.
I didn’t grow up with computers at home so I didn’t really get into emailing, websites, and the whole world of technology until my 2nd year at NEC. I began to discover that many of my favorite musicians had websites and email addresses that I could actually contact them through (this was before the age of myspace, facebook, and other networking sites, btw). So around the year 2001 I decided to contact every prominent musician that I dreamt of playing with. This turned out to be a massive email campaign where I ended up contacting about 500 musicians that I was interested in playing with. Of those that I contacted I think I received responses from about 20+ of them. Of those 20 or so responses 2 or 3 of them were positive. One of the emails that I sent out was to saxophonist Greg Osby. At the time he was scheduled to perform at Harvard University and I asked him if it was okay for me to sit in with his band. He had never heard of me so I wasn’t surprised when he said no. I thought to myself that there must be a way to get some of my playing into his ear and the rest of the musicians that I wished to play with. I decided to look into online sites that I could host mp3s of my playing for all to hear. I then came across a music-hosting site, Soundclick, and posted some clips of my playing for all to hear. Mind you this is about a 1 ½ to 2 years after the initial mass email. So I decided to send out another mass email to musicians I dreamt of working with. Of the up to 1,000 emails I sent out this time which included a link to my soundclick page, I must have received about 30 responses. All of the musicians had great words of encouragement for me, but only one musician considered me as a sideman: Greg Osby.
Greg Osby to me is one of the most forward-thinking, history embracing, knowledge-sharing artists around right now. He and Steve Coleman were the founders of M-BASE(Macro – Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations), great collective of thinkers in the music He’s one of the few players of his generation who’s demonstrated a keen interest on younger musicians, a modern-day Art Blakey. Many great players have worked in his band and gone on to have very productive careers, i.e. Jason Moran, Matt Brewer, Eric McPherson, Rodney Green, Damion Reid, etc. I think that this form of apprenticeship is one of the most important experiences any young jazz musician must have in order to become an effective leader.
Greg was impressed with the playing on my clips and offered me the gig with him in support of his current cd at the time which was St. Louis Shoes. I already had that cd and I knew a lot of his music from his previous cds from the time I spent transcribing as a student, so joining this group was definitely a blessing for me. At that time the members of the band were Tommy Crane (drums), Matt Brewer (bass), Megumi Yonezawa (piano) and later James Gordon Williams (piano), Greg on alto, and me on trumpet. We never recorded in the studio, but I recording every gig we did and Greg, Matt, and Tommy played on my debut cd Songbook along with Leo Genovese (piano, Rhodes), Ravi Coltrane (tenor), and Warren Wolf (vibes).
When I was on the road with Osby I learned soo much from him, from dealing with promoters and directors, to getting the best sound out of a soundcheck. It was the first form of on-the-job tutelage that I had ever received and I am forever grateful because it has helped me become a better musician/bandleader/person. He hipped me too a lot of alternative marketing techniques (which I have yet to implement though) and taught me a lot about the business side of the music; all things that I never learned as a student in Boston. The things that I learned on stage will have to be a blog in itself!!
Also a big kudos to my wife Colleen because she has been a source of inspiration to me ever since we first met 7+ years ago. She kept me on the right track when I thought of giving up on the whole musice thing. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for her guidance!!
More to come,
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