The Other New York

Chrysler_Building_Midtown_Manhattan_New_York_City_1932I was talking with the guys on the gig this past weekend down at Fat Cat, and they were asking how things were going for me here in New York. Having no “other” vision than the current reality of “New York” and all that that implies in my head, I told him things are fine; really good in fact.

I’ve learned that things weren’t always this way.

First off, and seemingly the most obvious difference between reality and, well, the “other New York” is our economy. The unemployment rate in New York City is around 10%, we’re clearly in the midst of a National Recession, and basically every major music market has been drastically affected.

After speaking casually with people out here, there seem to be fewer private parties, especially those big, high paying ones. You know, the ones with shrimp at the buffet (and musicians could eat), fancy dresses, VIPs and valet parking? Well, when those parties don’t happen and the musicians aren’t getting the big calls, they can still play their regular gigs. This is not a musical slam, oh no, these regular gigs employ some of the finest musicians on the planet! All of the house bands, Broadway shows, orchestras, operas, club dates, experimental ensembles, touring groups and soloists are still cranking out music on a daily basis.

It’s just that the subs don’t get as many calls.

Broadway pits have reduced in size compared to the “other New York.” This seems to be reflected in people’s excitement over large, full pit revival productions. Everybody loves a full sound, especially on these classic productions. There are a few shows running, however, who use the barest minimum of live musicians possible. Simulated big band music can be heard, but still… simulated big band music can be heard. Hmm. Those who do have the few great seats in the pit are using their seatbelts.

It seems that the Latin band scene is gone or has diminished. The “other New York” must have been heaven! This place is fantastic. Right here, right now.

Another sign of the times is that the record companies are cutting way back. Recording sessions have been in decline for years. This seems to affect this city more than many other music towns, especially within the jazz circles. I personally feel it’s a massive after-effect from major labels shutting down their jazz rosters, essentially stopping the flow of corporate money into the scene. The race to sign new talent is a long-gone thing of the past. Being from Minneapolis, (a major jazz scene without a major label) I recognize the feeling of optimism among artists coupled with the creative desire to put out music, no matter what. Smaller labels recognize this as well; some are going “boutique”, or charging artists to release an album. Thankfully, there are some high profile, strong willed, and creative independent artists and labels still here, as always.

An inevitable side effect of concentrated excellence is that the young and dedicated stream here from all over the planet. This next generation of musicians, of which no major label will hear, would blow people’s minds. All of them are conversant in modern marketing methods and have the musical chops to back up their savvy. I was in a conversation with a fantastic, nationally recognized figure in the jazz world regarding booking shows around town, mentioning that I was competing for gigs with 19 year olds and he said, “We all are.” While financially frustrating, the potential for musical creativity and collaborative genius is unparalleled anywhere on the planet. This is jazz. New York hosts a global effort pursuing a musical dream of communication through improvisation.

The night I was subbing at Birdland with the Chico O’Farrill Latin Jazz Orchestra, one of the band members said to me on break, “You picked a hell of a time to move to New York.” At the time, I think he was comparing the status quo to the “other New York”, but in my opinion, I couldn’t have picked a better time to come here. The unyielding optimism I’ve seen in New York’s jazz artists is a wonder in itself. It’s a tangible thing; you can actually feel it. Without fail, each show that I’ve played has put me in a fantastic mood, and has challenged me to my core. It’s like plugging into a pure source of ki. There’ve been amazing performances, amazing music and consistently solid crowds. All of the musicians share a single purpose:

They’re all here to play.

And they’re really nice. (Seriously, these people are really, really nice human beings!)

So far, I’ve been honored to perform with these groups: The Joshua Shneider Easy Bake Orchestra, Chico O’Farril’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, George Gee Big Band, Michael O’Brien Greater Than Five, Anti-Social Music, Lou Caputo’s Little Big Band, Howard Williams Big Band, a special guest appearance with friends The New Standards (out of Minneapolis) and a new recording project by Daniel Alexander Jones.

Plus I’ve played and/or caught up with more people than I can keep track of, but here’s a short list: (in no particular order) David Gibson, Frank Kimbrough, Alexander Pope Norris, Geoff Vidal, Jon Davis, Joe Burgstaller, Pablo Masis, Michael O’Brien, Max Seigel, Shawn Edmonds, David Smith, Mark Miller, Stephanie Richards, Welf Dorr, Eric Halvorson, Joshua Shneider, Tom Bergeron, Lori Ann Taylor, Russ Nolan, Frank Greene, Mike Engstrom, Matt Novachis, John Walsh, Avram Fefer, Nate Wooley, Nick Videen, Paul Francis, John Guari, John Raymond, Mark Gross, Christopher Rinaman, Greg Diamond, Omar Abdulkarim, Wilmer Wise, Matthew McDonald, Thomas Heflin, Jeff Hirshfield, Matthew Jodrell, Ted Nash, Kirk Knuffke, Peter Evans, Laurie Frink, Howard Johnson, David Berkman, Roger Lent, Jason Wiseman, Dave Douglas, Billy Fox, Chris DiMeglio, Ty Citerman, Daniel Kelly, Chris Carroll, Daniel Alexander Jones, Sam Burtis, Rudy Albin Petschauer, Benjamin Healy, Evan Mazunik, Andy Gravish, John Eckert, Jim Seeley, Charles Blass, Eli Asher, Arturo O’Farrill, Bill Crow, Justin Mullens, Noah Bless, Frank Basile, Curtis Fowlkes, and many more…

And I can’t even begin to list the wonderful musicians that I’ve heard play live. Wow, what a town. Maybe someday, this will be my “other New York”.

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