What keeps the NYC jazz scene going?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Freddels, Jan 21, 2006.

  1. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    So as to not hijack the thread on the local jazz scene I figured I'd start this one.

    The jazz scene in NYC is apparently the most vibrant and I got to thinking what makes it tick? Clubs all around the world need to make a profit to keep the doors open. What are the NYC clubs doing to keep the doors open? Even if the musicians are getting paid $60 (or the door) for the night, the venue still needs to pay it's employees and the rent. What else are they offering to bring in the customers and to make the money? Are these restaurants, coffee shops, deli's, martini bars, etc? Do they offer great food, the best coffee, etc? Or is it that NYC is just so loaded with jazz fans that it doesn't matter so long as the music is good?

    What can venues in other cities learn from these establishments so that more jazz venues can open and remain open?
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I think NYC is a beast unto itself.

    The thing that makes the music scene so vibrant is the players. The city offers a dense enough population that there is a crowd for anything. The thing we have here, though, is there is such a glut in the musician scene that there isn't any money at all for jazz in town. You gotta play other stuff or go on the road to make any money. Even if you do manage to land some steady work for decent money, there will be students (or other ne'er do wells) come along pretty quickly and cut you off at the knees.

    There's nothing you can do to improve your playing like staying alive (physically and musically) here for a while, though. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But, maybe a Testore... :)
  3. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    I understand that the level of players tends to be very high in NYC. But if the venues closed, the musicians would have to find another place to play. I guess what I'm getting at is what keeps the venues in business?

    Can any idiot just open up a place and have jazz musicians play and the place will be a success (or at least make enough to keep the place open)? (I understand that the musicians aren't making much).

    If all the top musicians just decided to relocate to another city, would the new city now have a vibrant jazz scene? Would the second stringers just fill in the void in NYC and things would continue w/o missing a beat?

    One would think that Boston would have more jazz clubs than what it does but something is amiss. There is a missing ingredient (or two).
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Wow. I know where you're coming from. But, until you've hung here for a while there's no way to get a taste for what it's like.

    The musicians keep the music alive. There really aren't that many 'jazz clubs' per se. Just a lot of music. At the clubs, for sure, but at peoples' apartments, rehearsal spaces, on the street. About a billion restaurant gigs. Rehearsals, sessions, little recording projects, etc, etc. The Jazz Clubs, the local ones, don't pay beans and scrape to stay alive. The big places, like the Vanguard and the Blue Note, make money and pay the bands, but these are mostly road groups, and although you'll find locals in the group it's only because they're in the band.

    Top tier? NYC is like a human lava lamp. Folks are coming and leaving, shining and sucking, etc, etc so much that you really can't put a finger on it or anyone. It's so much bigger than you can image -- and so provencial at the same time.

    Get a ticket and come hang for a while.
  5. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Although I'd probably get my ticket punched . . . fast.

    I wish I could. Perhaps in another life, but I've the kids, dog, wife and house thing so that'll probably never happen. I will try to make some weekend trips in to check out some music though.

    My current teacher is moving back to NYC this summer. I may travel in once in a while for a lesson or two.
  6. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    That's the groove! Not in the way that you'd think, though. You learn at how high a level players can attain -- some ahead of you and some behind -- and you also learn how to be yourself the best you can be. There ain't a best, but copius bad-asses.

    As far as playing the business here to get where you want to be, I'll let you know when I figure it out. Persistence is my only weapon at present.
  7. musicman5string

    musicman5string Banned

    Jan 17, 2006
    Any gig I've ever done at any NYC "Jazz Club" hasn't paid squat. I've done the gigs to try to make connections and get noticed, maybe pass out a buisness card here and there, and along the way have played with some really great musicians.

    But to do it to make money, that doesn't happen.
    Sure, if you're playing at the Blue Note or whatever, I'm sure you do ok. But they only have big names in that place, and I haven't done any "big name" gigs.

    So, my income is split between teaching and doing restaurant/cocktail hour/etc. type gigs. They can be fun, but playing "Autmn Leaves" for the 234,985th time can be a drag, even with great players on the gig.
  8. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    I wasn't asking how the musicians make money. I was wondering what the venues do to keep the doors open (so that the musicians can play there).
  9. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    It's a great question. I've been trying to figure it out, so that I can book the right places and make sure that we're getting what we could here. It seems that in places where you get a percentage of the bar, you end up with almost nothing. Which suggests that the bar is generating any revenue which begs the question "how do these places stay open?"

    It's fine to say we're worth more, but I know that the venue has to make money in order for the musicians to make money or it won't last. How does it work?

    On a stint in New York. I know that I'd get chewed up and spit out, but I'd still like to have the experience some time. I may beg you guys to let me follow you around one of these years.

  10. musicman5string

    musicman5string Banned

    Jan 17, 2006
    well, most of them are bars, and bars sell drinks, and a drink in a NY bar costs anywhere from $6 a beer to $12 a martini.
    And any bar I've been in in NYC in the last 15 years, on a Friday or Saturday night, is packed. You do the math. 1 person=3-4 drinks=$25 a person, X 50 people (conservatively)=several grand a night.
    They're doing ok or else they wouldn't be open.
    This is what NY is about on a weekend. People come from NJ and Conneticut. There's nowhere to park.

    Here's the thing: I don't understand how a quintet can play a place like "Detour" with the room packed and not make anything....literally ANYTHING.

    I don't have any answers for you; but the clubs are doing it, and musicians make THE SAME amount they did 30 years ago.
    That's true.
  11. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    In Boston and Providence there are bars and they sell drinks for about the same price. They're packed too but there's not much jazz music (or any live music for that matter).
  12. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Maybe it is just random chance that the bars in other cities do not hire as many musicians. Since... it sounds to me as though the joints in NYC are only paying bands a miniscule percentage of their nightly revenue. Maybe the Boston bars could afford it easily, and just choose not to or feel that they don't need it.
  13. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I spent some time in Buenos Aires last year (Great jazz/other scene, by the way) and started hatching a theory about the relationship between the size of people's apartments and their propensity to go out. You see a lot of people meeting in bars or cafes for conversation that you could expect to in a place where people had an option of having their neighbor over. Also, I think density and public transit have something to do with it. I know that the fear of parking in Seattle is a deterrant to people going out sometimes. Plus, the top clubs in New York appear to be largely supported by tourism. I can't imagine that locals are routinely putting up with the steep cover, drink minimum per 5 song set bit at Smoke and Irridium on a routine basis. But you guys tell me?

    I think it's tough to compare anyplace to New York. It's just New York, there will never be another city like it in the US.

    Just my thoughts.
  14. jazzbass72


    Jun 26, 2003
    New York, NY
    Yes, you're probably right.

    Yes, you're definitely right.

    However, Seattle is a beautiful city. I am glad you guys are making a jazz scene happen there.

  15. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    That and the demographic of the area. NYC has probably a much higher concentration of people per capita with an education/higher degrees that live and work there. It's a huge city with alot of big industries (like banking, communications, consulting, etc.) that employ those people. When you have those two in connection, then they'll have more disposable income to spend on a night at the Vanguard, or any of the other arts for instance. With wealth can come alot of other things that can be supported. Those types with disposable income in NYC will probably stay out late more, dine out, and enjoy other night life events.

    And then I think it also helps that NYC has an established foothold for jazz in common culture. Compared to San Francisco, I don't think we have jazz established in our local culture in any kind of mainstream way. For instance, we don't have trios hanging about and playing every day in the BART (subway) stations for tips. I think that's unique to NYC. Things like that too.
  16. bassame


    Mar 25, 2004
    Brooklyn NY
    Yeah, lots of good points. I like to think that jazz is New York City's folk music, in the sense of a regional form of expression, shared of course, by New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia, [and all the other places you guys are going to throw at me now]:bag:
  17. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Oh I love it here, don't get me wrong.

    It's tough to compare any place to any other place, just like it's tough to say what makes one person different than another.
  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Part of it is history - jazz has always been around uptown, downtown, midtown.

    Part of it is geography - Manhattan is a pedestrian friendly city. The Vanguard, Blue Note, Smalls, Sweet Rhythm, 55 Bar, Arturo's, Arthur's Tavern (and formerly Bradley's, Visione's, the Spotlite, Village Gate etc.) are all in walking distance (or a cheap cab ride at most) from each other. Not to mention a bunch of other "non-venue" jazz joints.

    Part of it is population - Bradley's (most famously) was just a neighborhood bar that became Paul Desmond's watering hole because it was close to his apartment. The owner liked jazz, played jazz on the juke box, other musicians started hanging out and the next thing you know, cats were playing there. Desmond left Bradley his piano (now at the Jazz Gallery). There are any number of places that weren't venues in the beginning, they were just joints. Joints that neighborhood musicians started playing in, only these neighborhood musicians are world famous.

    I think the biggest thing that seperates NY from the rest of the world is that the scene wasn't "created', it just coalesced because of the concentration of musicians (and their drive and ability to attract others who want to be a part of that) and the (geographic) concentration of the market.
  19. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    The short answer is yes, any idiot can open up a place and have decent jazz musicians play. Success, well... if the business fails, it certainly won't be because they've paid the musicians too much. As Ray notes, for every competent musician who expects to be paid, there are 100 equally or more competent musicians in town who will work for tips or just for experience/exposure.