Posted on June 11, 2012

I’ve been gathering a lot of opinions on what it means to be a working musician, and it seems to be, like many other things in life, all about the connections you make.

I spent a few weeks considering going to graduate school – something I never really considered before – because my professor Myra Melford suggested that all the musicians coming up now went to some sort of grad school. She noted that you couldn’t really get mentorship from older more experienced musicians by just being out on the scene anymore. All of this mentorship happens in universities now.

Speaking with other people seemed to confirm and explain what Myra said. My friend Joyce (of the esteemed blog, Jazz Toilet) is currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music. She really likes it there, but she admits that you are really paying for the connections you can make. She gets to study with Theo Bleckmann and has the opportunity to perform with her cohort of students and professors, not few of which are already successful as musicians. The people you play with in grad school are ones you will be playing with your entire life, noted Dave Liebman in one of Joyce’s classes.

These kinds of connections used to happen predominantly in clubs and in after-hours jam sessions. It makes sense now, though, that they have migrated. Jazz is not as popular as it used to be, and it is no longer supported so well in the club scene. The best musicians now get tenured positions in academia. To say nothing of this effect on the codification of the music, I have a feeling the move to universities has affected the amount of time spent with other musicians at late night sessions. They are already doing this during the day at school, with the preselected best of the best.

Nevertheless, I cannot yet convince myself to go get my Masters in Performance. I am not sure enough of what I want to accomplish, and am in no way prepared to face the daunting auditions against other kids who are still playing circles around me. Because of these reasons, I cannot justify shelling out the roughly $100K for a networking opportunity.

For now, I am beginning to make connections on my own. Two weeks ago I got to review the Offside Jazz Festival for Untapped Cities, which proved to be a great networking opportunity for me. Through it, I not only got plugged into Untapped Cities (which is already getting me into shows for free, as “press”), but I got to meet festival founders Alex Pinto, a local guitarist, and Laura Maguire, who books music for Viracocha. Both really care about the SF jazz scene and are actively trying to build it up. They also both appreciated my review, so I feel like I’ve made connections to a couple really good resources in this city.

I am also meeting a lot of musicians. After a long period of being too busy/lazy to go out to jam sessions, I went to three last week. The first was at 355 Bar, hosted by Sam Ospovat and These Are Our Hours, and was notable because of the unique format. Sam asked anyone who wanted to play to come talk to him and tell him what style they wanted to play, and then he put together groups from the people he talked to and had them play. The real defining feature of the night was that freely improvised music was not only an option, but strongly encouraged. I ended up playing atonal, completely free jazz with Mark Clifford and Rob Ewing among others late on a Sunday night to a bar full of surprisingly supportive patrons. I originally thought that I’d see a cool set by These Are Our Hours, and then have to go up and call a standard like “Just Friends.” What ended up happening was much better; for the first time I felt like I actually made good music and connected with the other musicians at a jam session. Hopefully Sam can keep his session going, because I feel like that environment could be a good home for me.

Speaking of connections, a photo I took got featured in NPR’s jazz blog A Blog Supreme in their write-up about the Offside Festival. I could not have imagined this happening a few weeks ago. Getting connected with Untapped Cities and with Laura and Alex, however, seems to have opened some obscure doors. Hopefully I’ll have similar badges to show for my music soon.

Edited by: Mary Dollins