The View from the Sacbut Section by Clark Gayton

Musings of a New York musician

A Working Musician’s Guide to Surviving Hard Times: The Game Part I

Posted by sacbut on April 17, 2009

You may be thinking, “Is there such a thing as a working musician, surviving?” Why, yes, yes there is. And I’ve got the scars to prove it. Literally.

I came to New York over 20 years ago to be a professional jazz musician. I come from a family of musicians who had achieved various levels of success. Most family members worked day jobs to supplement their musical habits. Others attempted to make it as professional musicians, but had to change careers as their lifestyles changed.

What I have learned to do best in New York City, which is probably something most New Yorkers can say, is survive. New York is a tough town for working musicians. Not only are you competing with established, famous and sometimes dangerous, musicians who have lived in the City for years, you’re competing with everyone else in the world who has your identical aspirations. You may have come to New York with your All State Band letters, fans, family, and local newspaper clippings. It doesn’t matter. No one cares. That is not what New York does. The people who live in New York are there to feed New York. Unless you provide the city with sustenance, you have no business being there.

That isn’t to say that New York doesn’t have its charms. As with any seductress, the charms are available to everyone.  The seduction can lead you to an early sacrifice to the music gods, or you can keep the city entertained for One Hundred and One Nights.  Me, I plan on living a long time, so I keep the seductress interested.

Do I want to encourage competition in the enchanted city? The competition comes daily without my beckoning. What I would like, and what I hope to encourage, is an qualified adversary. It’s no fun just taking away the candy from an unsuspecting adolescent. I want to give you a fighting chance.  Here are some tools to help you with the game.  In anticipation of your demise, the first thing I want you to is [to be continued...]

copyright 2009 by Lautir Publishing

Posted in jazz, music | 4 Comments »

The Grammys are to music as …

Posted by sacbut on February 17, 2012

It may be time to create an event that is dedicated to representing exceptional music in America. I guess it would be hard to determine who is going to decide what is good and what is not. Well, as far as I’m concerned, we all know deep down. It would just take some folks who want to have an event, and make the best choices.

The frauds will be peeking around the corner, wondering why they weren’t chosen. They’ll pretend not to care at first- why would they? There won’t be big endorsements, no big dance routines, no gift bag with a Cartier watch in it… why would we want this award? Will Justin be there?

An event about music would have everyone reeling right now. A modest, but significant award meant for artists, not entertainers.

Anyway- I think there’s something wrong with trying to seek acceptance from people who don’t like you. I say, just move on.

Fighting for your rights is so… 20th century.

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Jambands.com – Need We Say More? News Ollabelle to Perform _Neon Blue Bird_ This Friday

Posted by sacbut on October 5, 2011

Jambands.com – Need We Say More? News Ollabelle to Perform _Neon Blue Bird_ This Friday.

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American Jazz History – Is the music racist?

Posted by sacbut on September 9, 2011

The word “jazz” has always been associated with exploitation. Just read the other day that they are taking the word “n#^*$%” out of Mark Twain novels now. What does that say? That there was no racism in the 19th century? The word “jazz” is drenched in racism, more than freedom to play what you “feel”. Early jazz had working hours, popular tunes that HAD to be played, and there were no “progressive” musicians with the attitude of not needing a gig, and insisting on playing their original music.The music happened despite restrictions imposed on it. Should we believe that Charlie Parker played standards because he loved the songs? He played them because the record companies wanted to generate publishing for their publishing companies, and made him play those songs. Bebop was a protest to this system. A code. Of course, the standards we all play are beautiful, but there are so many contradictions when it comes to music, so many foul characters of all races blurring the truth for personal gain. We can’t bury our heads in the sand when talking about the history of American music. The history is the reason it sounds as it does, not because we live in a vacuum, never letting social conditions or surroundings effect your expression, even if oppressed. The “can’t we all get along” view point is lazy and irresponsible, and can’t be trusted. IMHO, of course.

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And another thing … did I already talk about appreciation?

Posted by sacbut on August 25, 2011

It’s important to thank the people who have helped you, or given you good advice over the years. Most of the older musicians in this business have earned the knowledge that they have, it wasn’t given to them. In other words, what took them 20 hard years to learn, they GAVE to you in one or two sentences.

The other day, a trombone player that I turned on to a few gigs years back, talked to me like I was a rookie, I guess because he is doing very well now. He went on and on about how well he was doing, his new house, and how he just can’t take any more work… well… what do you say to that? He never called me for any of the jobs he couldn’t make! It was fine, because at the moment, I’m doing O.K., and I’m able to do what needs to be done. The problem here is, this screws up the musical eco system. You have to turn on the guys that helped you with work in order to keep the balance of music and employment in check. At present, the eco system is broken. There are not enough paying gigs in New York to sustain a living as a musician.

Where ever you make money is where you put it back. Invest in the community and people that put you on the map. The same goes for a band or club. If a certain band or musician gave an establishment credibility, that establishment should return the favor, and re-invest in those musicians, because they may be struggling now. Help THEM out!

The current wages New York clubs pay are the same wages they paid in the late ’60s and early ‘70s. Because of this, most “jazz’ musicians teach at clinics and universities. This is fine, but what’s happening now is that there’s nowhere to go after you graduate from these schools except back to school. Is this irony, or just sad?

Anyway, I’m ranting.

For the sake of the music, next time you see a musician that has helped you in any way, whether that musician called you to sub for them, gave a gig at the circus, or you just heard them play, thank them. Repay them if you can for their dedication to playing live music. Give them a call when they’re sick or having trouble. Believe it or not, this will help us all in the end.

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The Vagrant Dude

Posted by sacbut on February 16, 2011

I would practice almost every day on the “A” train. Second car from the end, right side of the train, I would find a seat that felt “right”. The ride from Washington Heights to mid-town is about a half hour of practice time. To Brooklyn, I figure I could blow about an hour. This method seemed to work out really well, and I would continue this ritual for years.

“Stardust” almost always was my opening warm-up selection. I noticed that in most situations, this particular song would win the approval of the other passengers in the car, and transform me from “the annoying subway musician bum”, to “the guy over there with the funny horn who ain’t really hurtin’ nobody.” I could then go to my scales and exercises in the comfort of my newly acquired invisibility.

Eyes closed.

The only time that I would open my eyes was when I had to reach for 6th position. I didn’t want hit anyone with my slide. In that instant, I would notice people that I had seen before, and People I hadn’t It was distracting a bit, but the rehearsal went on.

The only Person that would grab my attention was this one vagrant black man. He wasn’t unusually noticeable in appearance or odor, but he always seemed to get my attention. When he entered the car at the front, his left hand extended, he asked everyone for a donation without uttering a word. Then exited the car at the back. His level of disconnection always blew me away. “How can anyone become that far removed?” I thought to myself. Like I mentioned before, this routine went on for years.

At times, my thoughts would drift.

Money problems, the gig tonight, the lack of a gig tonight, my family and friends, being alone, why I torture myself with this music thing.

“Do you like J.J. Johnson?” a voice said one day. I looked up, and it was this vagrant dude! I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been seeing this guy for years, and I had never heard him say a word. I don’t know why I assumed he couldn’t speak, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to mention one of my favorite players.

“JJ’s my main man!” I told him.

“I can tell you like Curtis Fuller too,” the guy said.

“Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say.”

I dropped some change in his hand and we talked a bit about music.

“Alright, it was nice speaking to you. I’ll see you soon.”

”Yeah, I’ll see you around,” I said.

The next time I saw him, I said hello.

There was not a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. He looked through me and kept on walking. I had to laugh to myself.

I tried to acknowledge him again on other occasions, but I always got the same reaction.
Months passed. Maybe a year.

On the train, my thoughts would drift. Money problems, the gig tonight, the lack of a gig tonight, my family and friends, being alone, why I torture myself with this music thing.

“Hey.”

I looked up. It was the vagrant dude.

“You know, you should always play music because it makes people happy,” he said. He gave me a half smile, the train stopped at 59th street, and he scurried off the car.

I never saw him again.

© 1997 Ritual Ltd.

Posted in gigs, music, musicians | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Clark Gayton with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Posted by sacbut on December 17, 2010

http://www.vevo.com/watch/bruce-springsteen-the-e-street-band/songs-from-the-promise-live/USSM21002203

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Writing Charts and Conducting Effective Rehearsals

Posted by sacbut on August 24, 2010

The whole idea of writing a “chart” or “arrangement” is to save time. SAVE time, not to waste time. How is that done? Well, the first thing to do is learn how to write a chart. 

It’s not always necessary to take a class, but if you can’t get anyone to help you out, the best thing would be to take a class or join a rehearsal band to observe how it’s done. 

Hint – Don’t assume everyone is interested in your music

Most of the time, they’re not. Most folks are just trying to make the gig, meet some musicians, or to look busy. Therefore, half baked charts are a drag for most. 

If you didn’t care enough to write a decent chart, why should anyone care? Crossed out bars, music written on the back of another song, or using faulty materials is a sure way to lose the interest of the player. 

There will always be impromptu charts written on the back of a napkin, but ideally, your music should be written in ink, or by a music program. 

Hint – Find out what a “Coda” is

If you use a program, you still have to learn how to construct a readable chart. Know the appropriate terms and how they are used.

People sit up and pay attention soon as they see a properly written piece of music. Attention drifts when one sees crooked lines or crossed out measures. Just the way it is. 

Hint – Make decisions about your music

A sure fire way to have cats not return your calls is to call rehearsals to go over the same music over and over. If you’re been tweaking the same chart for more than two months, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Make a decision, and live with it. Move on to the next project and see it as a learning process. The next song will be better. 

Hint – Have articulation and rehearsal letters on the chart

Don’t have articulation on the parts? If you don’t, you’ll have to explain how you want the notes played – a classic way to get everyone to mumble under their breath!

Hint – Triple check your parts

Look for accidental mistakes and missing measures. You won’t catch all of them, but at least give it a try. Transposition mistakes are very common, but a drag just the same.

Quality musicians will play whatever you have with style and beauty, but you never know who will be reading your music, that’s why it’s best to nothing for granted. It’s in YOUR interest. 

When your musicians see a thought-out arrangement, they’ll find it easier to listen to what you’ve written, and be happy to play it.  Your reputation as a good writer will spread quickly and you’ll find musicians looking forward to working with you.

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1980s Flashback #1

Posted by sacbut on February 9, 2010

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Getting Paid – or Beer Does Not Equal Rent

Posted by sacbut on August 24, 2009

What to expect

What should you get for a big show at a large room? Well, there is a union scale, but not only is it different in different cities, you are rarely going to find any union reps to help, so YOU have to do the negotiating. Your price is whatever the market will bear, or whatever you think you’re worth. Either they’ll pay it or they won’t.

Most likely, you will be offered a fee. If you need the money, you’ll probably take it and say nothing. If you want to start making more than what you’re offered, you have to take stand at some point and not accept the offer, EVEN IF YOU NEED THE MONEY. Otherwise you’ll find yourself playing in a band you’re not happy with for years, making the same cash. You don’t want to be the “bitter” guy in the band!

If there is a video being made, ask the management (politely!) if there is any compensation for the re-use of the performance. If not, no need to lose your temper.  Have them sign a release stating that they can record, but it can’t be used for commercial purposes.

You can draw up a very simple agreement on the spot (date, gig, rate, number of hours, signatures, etc.). If they don’t want to sign it, then you probably will be beat down the road, but once again, you have to make the final decision. One that suits your needs at the time.

Beer does not equal rent

Don’t let anyone distract you from the fact that you are your own business.  When you forget that, people take advantage of the fact that most musicians want to be popular. It is not a bad thing. Being popular gets you more gigs, more money, more of just about everything. Because of that, any vibe or request that you send out that is considered “unpopular” may diminish your “likeability” and therefore your “bankability.” Clubs, producers, labels – the list is endless – know this about musicians. Therefore, although I have not yet filed the lawsuit, it stands to reason that they have conspired to make it “unpopular” for musicians to ask for to be paid money like any other worker on the planet.

Oh, they’ll offer all the beer you can drink, food from the kitchen, nuts from the bar – anything but hard cold cash. Is your work only worth the wholesale value of a six-pack of beer? A cheeseburger and fries?

Most musicians take it.

Not just green ones – established, respected, should have known better musicians. Because we’re suckers for this.

Some of us have heard it all “We’re taking a risk on letting you play here” and “We get famous people to play here all the time, and they don’t give me attitude like you do,” in an effort to intimidate you so that they don’t have to pay you or your band any money.

Here is a personal favorite: “You’ll get ‘exposure’ for you and your band”. Hmm.  Well, there is something to be said about too much “exposure”.  The way I see it, if a photo is over exposed, you can’t really make out who’s in the picture.

Folks who sense that you are trying to take the gig seriously, will tell you to consider it “advertising” and a “cost of doing business.” What you are advertising is that you are willing to work for free and the cost of the establishment doing business with you is less than that – because if the food isn’t eaten, or the alcohol isn’t consumed, it is a write off. Are you able to “write off” the six hour performance till 2 in the morning? No. Because you are not operating like a business. You are a volunteer.

I can guarantee you one thing – once you play for an establishment where you played for free, it is almost impossible to get them to agree to pay you in the future.

Here’s another pitfall.  These days, there is a booking method called “festival bookings” which means there are many acts performing that night. These kinds of gigs are set up by the club manager, not YOUR manager.

Under this method, the club counts the patrons that supposedly are there to see you and your band. Some are honest, but how do you  know how many came to see you unless you’re there the whole time counting yourself? It’s a shell game at best.

They tell you that only “six people came to see you, and here is your $30 bucks for you and your band.” Thanks for the beer.

If it’s a venue you want to play, by all means, do it. You just aren’t going to be paying bills with this gig.

When anyone asks you to accept something other than money for your performance, I want you to do something. Ask who is getting paid in the establishment. Are the dishwashers getting paid? Is the bartender? Are the owners?

If the answer is “no” to all of those questions, you should not play there.

I’m serious.

Either they are lying or you are playing at your cousin’s birthday party. Think about it, even at your cousin’s birthday party, someone is probably getting an allowance.

If you insist on getting paid, even if it is a nominal amount, you are doing a few things:

  • Establishing yourself as a professional musician – not pretending to be one
  • Creating a paying market for yourself
  • Asserting your value as a productive and creative contributor to the benefit of this planet and

You get to pay your rent.

Not bad.

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Clark Performing with Levon Helm Band, Ramble at the Ryman, Ophelia on PBS

Posted by sacbut on July 29, 2009

Starting August 1, 2009.

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